Do you feel like God has pulled the rug out from under you and you’ve landed flat on your back? Has the wind been knocked right out of you, and you wonder what God is doing or why He’s doing it?
If you are struggling to make sense of what God is doing in your life, I want to share with you a little phrase from the book of John that has become so precious to me over the last year. May God use it to increase your joy and faith in Him, as He has done for me.
Every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes…
In John 15, Jesus explains that He is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener. Until last year, however, I had never noticed this phrase in John 15:2: “…Every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Wait a minute. I know God prunes branches that do not bear fruit, but does He prune healthy, fruit-producing branches? Yes, God prunes healthy, fruit-producing branches, removing their abundance. As Elisabeth Elliot expounds upon this verse in her book, A Path through Suffering (which I HIGHLY recommend), “Perfectly good branches have to be lopped off in order for better branches to develop.”
But, God! I’ve prayed, this ministry, this relationship, these promising possibilities and dreams, they are important work! But, as Elisabeth Elliot reminds me, “Whose work was it? Was it not work given by God in the first place, then given back to Him day by day?”
Our Heavenly Father lovingly wields the knife. His glory and our good are at stake, and so His sharp blade comes again and again to the woody stem of the branch, cutting away good, fruit-producing shoots. Although pruning is a painful process, as branches who find their live in the Vine, we entrust our souls to the skillful Gardener who prunes His plant with tender affection.
…That it may bear more fruit.
“The rank growth has to go and then the sun reaches places it could not reach before” (Elliot).
If you’ve ever grown tomatoes, or mums, or any little plants, really, you know that by pruning them a bit you can maximize their yield. We remove the suckers (little side shoots) from the tomato plants, or deadhead the mums, or remove some of the little sprigs of new growth from a newly planted garden, because damaging the plant in this way, or removing some growth and causing stress and injury, will ultimately increase yield.
My dad has a small stand of grapes, and I asked him recently about how he prunes them. When I asked about his goal in pruning the branches, he said, “I’m shaping it to be the shape I want it to be. Otherwise it will spend all its energy growing vines — I don’t want it to grow more vines, I don’t want it to grow more leaves; I want it to grow more grapes.” He told me that grapes in the wild will prune themselves, unwieldy branches wrapping around other branches and killing them. But as the vinedresser, he said he wants to shape the vine into what he wants it to be.
Maybe you’re years upon years into the pruning process, and you wonder just how much injury the Gardener plans to bring upon his branch. When I asked my dad about how much of a plant he removes through pruning, his answer surprised me: “I prune at least half — oh shoot, more than that. I prune more like three-quarters of the growth, leaving twenty-five percent.” He said he might prune a three-foot-branch back to four inches. That feels like a lot of pruning when we are the branches, doesn’t it?
If you are in a season of pruning, remember that although the branch may bleed for a short season, God prunes us for our good that we may share in His holiness. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). In our trials, we consider Him, the One who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself. We remember that the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.
Pruning increases yield.
In God’s economy, our struggles and suffering are never wasted, nor are they ever outside of the hand of God. In the margin of my Bible beside John 15, I wrote, Pruning Increases Yield. I think about my little garden plants that ooze out through the wounds incurred by my pruning, and I am reminded that, although God’s pruning process cuts deep and is so painful, by yielding to the knife, the branch that abides in the Vine will produce more fruit than it ever could have produced before its pruning. If you are His child, God is pruning you so that you may bear more fruit, doing the necessary work to conform you more and more to the image of His Son. God’s pruning is purposeful.
Pruning also increases joy. Jesus said that He was speaking these words to the disciples in John 15 “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” When we abide in Him, yielding in obedience and faith to the sharp blade in His loving hand, knowing that our pruning process will increase our spiritual yield, He blesses us with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Abide in the Father’s love, fellow vines, and persevere. “Settle it, once for all — we can never lose what we have offered to Christ. We live and die in Him, and there is always the resurrection” (Elliot).
Amanda Criss is a wife, stay-at-home mom, and blogger at Bless Your Heart and Home. She writes to encourage the hearts of women through the good news of Jesus Christ. She and her husband, Jody, have two children and live in their home state of Mississippi