While lacking experience, I find it enjoyable and relaxing to tend, water, and trim small trees, hoping they will one day provide shade and fruit. I have often thought about how pruning and caring for plants relates to our Christian lives.
In John 15:1-8, Jesus refers to Himself as the true vine, to His Father as the vinedresser, and to His disciples as the branches. The Father prunes the branches so that they may bear more fruit.
What is pruning? The word "prune" refers to the cutting off or removing that which is unwanted with the aim of attaining greater productivity. The original Greek word "to prune" also means "to clean." Good pruning is not a haphazard lopping off of branches and shoots, but a careful and studied system of removing bad or unproductive growth so that the plant will produce the right amount of fruit.
Shoots from one-year-old canes produce the most fruit. Vinedressers prune away old wood, keep canes that will bear fruit, and give place for fruit-bearing canes to sprout the following year. Pruning usually takes place in the winter while the plants are dormant, and is an ongoing process for the producing life of the plant or branch.
What does this have to do with our Christian life and service? Jesus says, "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [the Father] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may be even more fruitful" (v. 2).
Notice that branches not bearing fruit are cut off completely. The fruit-bearing branches are the ones that are pruned. While pruning is uncomfortable, it is encouraging because it indicates that we are bearing fruit! Moreover, it is with the purpose that we "be even more fruitful."
How does God prune us? Vs. 3 presents one aspect of pruning: "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you." Remember that "to prune" here also means "to clean." God’s Word has a cleansing effect on our lives as it exposes and changes our hearts, motives and actions. Abiding in Jesus (v. 4) and in His Word ensures constant growth and pruning.
Sometimes God removes hindrances or distractions from our lives. These things may be tools that we use to bear fruit for the Kingdom. Yet God removes them so that we rely more on Him and bear more fruit. Pruning is not necessarily punishment, though it may be at times. It is our loving Heavenly Father working to make us more fruitful.
The results are glorious. The purpose of bearing much fruit is to glorify God. Jesus says, "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit…" (vs. 8).
If you are going through a difficult time of pruning, be encouraged. Know that God has not abandoned you and a season of more fruit is coming.
If you are bearing fruit, be encouraged as well, knowing that continued pruning is coming. Both are part of God’s plan for His children and for His greater glory. Let us embrace pruning, knowing that if we abide in Jesus, we will bear fruit, be pruned, and bear more fruit for the Father’s glory.
All Scripture quoted from the ESV Bible.
The most generous vine, if not pruned, runs out into many superfluous stems and grows at last weak and fruitless: so doth the best man if he be not cut short in his desires, and pruned with afflictions.