Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Necessity of Pruning

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” John 15: 1-2

My wife and I used to live in a little house, in a city, with a little fenced-in yard in the back. When we moved in the bushes along the fence were neatly manicured and blossomed beautifully every year. But due to a lack of time on my part and a desire on my wife’s part for the bushes to look more natural (like out in the woods), we never pruned them. Eventually, while they looked more like wild bushes then landscaped bushes, they didn’t produce as many flowers.

I also remember growing up in northern Virginia and for many years my dad would plant a vegetable garden each summer. We would have tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, squash and a variety of other plants. And I can still recall that every year, as the first blossoms would appear on the tomato plants, my dad would go and pick them off so that the plant would have more time to grow and the vines would get stronger in order to produce bigger, juicier tomatoes. We had to wait longer for them, but in the end we got more fruit from the plant by doing it this way.

I think that we all need pruning in our spiritual lives as well. If we are trying to bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus, we need times when the “excess” can be cut from our lives and we are brought back to the basics of our faith so we can get back to work and bear even more fruit for the kingdom. I think we sometimes start out on a project, or a ministry, or even some direction for our own spiritual growth, and we are being led by the Spirit, and then at some point, we take over and either get off track or over-committed or inflated with pride. And over time we can slowly push out the Holy Spirit until what He led us to begin, becomes ours. And at that point we need pruning or else we will become too entangled or over-extended for our own good.

While some people view pruning as God being mean, it is actually a sign of His mercy for us. Nationally-known youth speaker and author, Mark Hart, gives an example of this in his T3 Teen Bible Study when he talks about the Israelites having to wander for 40 years in the desert and some people thinking God was mean to punish them. But as Mark points out that while the Israelites were taken out of Egypt, they still needed Egypt taken out of them. They had to wander in the desert for 40 years so that God could prune their love of false gods and their pride out of them. And God does the same for us, especially during Advent and Lent; when the Church reminds us of our need to get back to the basics of our faith: repentance, prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, trusting in God more, having eternal vision and perspective in life, etc. 

How does God prune us? I think He sometimes allows us to wander in our own deserts of fear or confusion, in order to draw us back to Him. I think He sometimes allows us to fall flat on our faces in our pride so that we can become more humble. I think He will sometimes allow us to fail at things we are trying to do so that we come to a deeper understanding of His Providence for us. It’s not that God is causing bad things to happen to us, because God is good. But in these instances, God will allow these bad things to happen in order to bring about a greater good in us. Let us thank Him for His mercy today and accept His pruning so that we can bear more fruit for Him.

Dear Jesus, I know that I am in need of pruning today, because I sometimes try to do things on my own apart from You. Please give me the grace of Your mercy and bring me more into communion with You so that I can bear even more fruit for Your Kingdom. Amen.

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