In preparing for my Sunday School lesson this week, I needed to consider pruning -- the pruning of trees and bushes and how it compares to God's work of pruning in the lives of His people.
My first assignment was to consider what benefits pruning promotes in the growth of plants. I'm not a gardener at all, but I thought I knew the answer to this in general. I decided to look it up a little bit in the only gardening book I own: The Green Thumb Book of Fruit and Vegetable Gardening
, by George Abraham. In the section on fruit and nut trees, I found a lot of information. I jotted down just a few notes.
Here's the one concerning the pruning of grapes: “There is no one thing so completely disastrous to your efforts to grow grapes as vines that have not been regularly and properly pruned.”
Of apple trees, the book suggests: “A tree thick with branches won’t let sun in ... and it may have so much weak wood that it bears a large percentage of small apples.”
Concerning currants, the book notes that all canes should be removed at the age when they become “weak and not fruitful”.
Of hazelnut trees, it’s said they should be pruned to stimulate new growth. And walnut trees should be pruned to force growth in a particular direction.
So, benefits of pruning include letting in light and air, promoting greater growth or growth in a desirable direction, and increased capacity for quality fruit-bearing. And, lack of pruning can be disastrous! I also noticed that the various pruning techniques -- obviously best left to an expert -- vary with the type of tree or bush. Some must be pruned heavily, others lightly.
My next assignment was to consider what benefits pruning promotes when it comes to spiritual growth.
It seems to me that spiritual pruning has many of the same benefits as with plants. Letting in light, removing diseased areas, promoting growth, and increasing fruit-bearing and the capacity to produce higher-quality fruit.
Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."
These verses tell us very simply of God’s pruning and purging plan and of the reason for it. Believer’s Bible Commentary
explains, “The branch that bears fruit is the Christian who is growing more like the Lord Jesus. Even such vines need to be pruned or cleansed. Just as a real vine must be cleaned from insects, mildew, and fungus, so a Christian must be cleansed from worldly things that cling to him.”
Jesus went on to say, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. ... Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples."
(John 15:5, 8)
Ruth Paxson, in her classic book Life on the Highest Plane
, has a lot to say about fruit-bearing and pruning and purging. She points out especially verses 2 and 5 of John 15: “Surely there is progression in Christlikeness -- ‘not fruit’, ‘fruit’, ‘more fruit’, ‘much fruit’. Do these phrases not unveil before us the the possibilities and potentialities for Christlikeness open to every branch in the vine? Do they not also show us the positive progression ‘from glory to glory’ God expects to see in us? These expressions are descriptive. There is but one branch that fully satisfies the heart of the divine Husbandman.” That is seen in verse 8 -- that we bear much fruit.
Miss Paxson adds that God makes very clear the fruit which He expects to find on the branch -- the fruit of the Spirit. She notes, “The passion of the spiritual man is progress in things spiritual. He is not content with bearing ‘fruit’, no, not even with bearing ‘more fruit’; his heart is fixed upon the bearing of the ‘much fruit’ which alone glorifies the Father."
The classic devotional book Streams in the Desert
gives a picture of what an unpruned vineyard might look like and makes a challenging application:
“A child of God was dazed by the variety of afflictions which seemed to make her their target. Walking past a vineyard in the rich autumnal glow she noticed the untrimmed appearance and the luxuriant wealth of leaves on the vines, that the ground was given over to a tangle of weeds and grass, and that the whole place looked utterly uncared for; and as she pondered, the Heavenly Gardener whispered so precious a message that she would fain pass it on:“My dear child, are you wondering at the sequence of trials in your life? Behold that vineyard and learn of it. The gardener ceases to prune, to trim, to harrow, or to pluck the ripe fruit only when he expects nothing more from the vine during that season. It is left to itself, because the season of fruit is past and further effort for the present would yield no profit. Comparative uselessness is the condition of freedom from suffering. Do you then wish Me to cease pruning your life? Shall I leave you alone?’
And the comforted heart cried, ‘No!”
Are you living with difficulties today? Take heart! God has a purpose in it. It may just be that He is pruning your life in order to let in more light, remove diseased areas, promote spiritual growth, or increase your spiritual fruit-bearing. Hold steady as He wields the pruning knife, and look forward to the blessed result.