Shortly after a tree service had severely pruned a large tree in our yard, leaving it looking like a giant multi-tined fork reaching straight for the sky, our daughter came to visit and was devastated.
“Why did you destroy that beautiful tree?” she asked, looking like a child who’d just lost her teddy bear. She was quite young when we planted the tree – a mere twig. They had matured together; it was her friend.
Attempting to explain, I said, “It had become too tall, was misshapen and large limbs often dropped during strong winds and thunderstorms. We felt it was time to either remove it altogether or prune it and hope for a healthier tree next season. Trusting the advice of the tree man, we decided to prune. It would be worth tolerating its rather odd-looking shape for the rest of this season, we thought, knowing the end result would be a safer, better looking tree next spring.”
Trying to convince my daughter that pruning was good for the tree was futile.
“It makes no sense,” she said, “to make something that is already beautiful, ugly on purpose so it will be beautiful again later.”
To help her understand, I searched the internet and we took a crash course on the benefits of pruning trees and shrubs. Here are some things we learned:
“Pruning should be a regular part of all tree and shrub maintenance programs. Proper pruning involves the selective removal of plant parts, which reshapes the tree, allowing sunlight to get to all fruit-bearing branches. The size and quality of the fruit will be increased and new fruit is more likely to develop. Over time, the tree becomes stronger, more attractive and is no longer a danger to property as it may have been before.”
After our little session, my daughter felt better and vowed she’d be watching the tree to see if it actually became more attractive and healthier as a result of pruning.
It would’ve been impossible to guide her through this learning process about pruning without remembering John 15:1, in which Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the true vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes.”
In his book, “Secrets of the Vine,” Bruce Wilkinson explains, “Our Father, the Vinedresser is guided by the same principles as the expert pruner. To make room for the kind of abundance He created us for, He must first cut away parts of our lives that drain precious time and energy from what’s truly important. God asks you to let go of things that keep you from His kingdom purposes and your ultimate good. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit. Every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2) If your life consistently bears no fruit, God will intervene to discipline you.”
He may urge you to give up possessions you’d rather keep. There must be a real giving up of self. Just as we sometimes have to dispose of things that are hard to part with when we reorganize a closet, we may also have to let go of bad habits, unseemly thoughts and possibly, even some of the people with whom we associate.
Equally as important as being disciplined and pruned is what Jesus says in Verse 5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.”
Abide means to remain, to stay closely connected. When we spend time with our Lord, we are strengthened and refreshed to do His work. Abiding helps us to sense God’s leading; we learn to recognize the still small voice inside.
Jesus continues: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; then gathered and thrown into the fire and burned.”
Jesus’ point: If you’re not abiding, you wither and die and become of no spiritual value. But if you draw close to Him and remain there, nothing can keep you from attaining the most abundant life possible.
Wilkinson warns that the enemy will point to the pain of discipline, the losses that came with pruning, and the frustration and effort associated with abiding and he’ll try to convince you that God’s plan for you is a prescription for misery. But remember Jesus’ promise to His disciples that night in the vineyard: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
That promise is a reality on which you can build a life.