I was reading from Jesus’ final words to his disciples before he died: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2, NIV)
Two years ago, after reading that same verse, I wrote in the margin of my Daily Bible, “I lost the election; was that pruning so my life will be even more fruitful?”
Cyndi and I bought our first house
in 1980 while living in
OK, we weren’t really children; we
had jobs and degrees and bills and a baby, and one of us had a library card,
but it was so long ago it seems like a different life. We lived in a trailer
donated by Cyndi’s mom, in the Careyville Mobile Home Village, because there
were no apartments for rent. After only one winter with the west
I ignored the roses and let them live alone in peace during our first spring in the house, but the second spring I decided I could learn to become a master rose gardener. I got lots of advice on how to prune the branches for maximum rose production. I weeded the beds constantly and fed them and pampered them all spring and summer. I was out pruning those rose bushes at least two or three days a week and we had beautiful roses all season long. We had roses in our house and gave them to all our friends. That year we had a plethora of roses, way more roses than the previous spring when we left them to grow on their own.
I thought about my rose-farming experiment when I read this verse from John 15. The part about God pruning the fruit-bearing branches wasn’t what I expected. My first thought was that he would prune only the lazy unresponsive non-bearing branches.
As I’ve gotten older and found a better handle on my real strengths and talents, I’ve slowly eliminated from my life the activities and projects I don’t do well, focusing instead on my strengths. I have engaged in self-pruning to maximize my effectiveness and to live the life God has called me to live. I want to act out of the strength of my life and not be distracted by the things I don’t do well. Being able to make those choices is one advantage of getting older.
But if I’m reading John 15 correctly, it says that God will prune away even my strengths and talents, my fruit-bearing areas, my best branches, to make them even better. Is that what I want?
Does that mean God might take away the opportunities I’m good at? Does it mean he might limit my exposure or impact even when I’m doing what he told me to do? Will God take me out of roles and responsibilities where I excel? As in, city government?
Most of us aren’t the best judges of our own lives. We don’t recognize our own strengths and we underestimate the effect of our lives on people around us. Often, those same people can see our strength and significance better than we see them ourselves.
So if God prunes something out of our life that we thought was one of our best attributes, well, maybe it wasn’t our best after all. Just because we get a lot of praise and attention from something doesn’t mean it’s successful in God’s eyes. In fact, all of that may become a distraction from where God really wants us to be.
So Tuesday morning, after reading from John 15, I posted this on Twitter: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. Will he cut back something I’m good at, to improve?”
Because my Twitter account rolls over to Facebook, I got several responses to the post. Mark wrote: “Perhaps that’s what the city council thing was about? It made room for Running with God.” (Running with God is the title of my first book.)
I think Mark was right. In fact, the first time I noticed this particular verse was when I read it on November 16, 2007, only 10 days after losing a city-wide election. It was all still fresh on my mind when I made those notes in the margin of my Bible.
But now, two years later, at least for this particular example, the part of my life that God pruned away, the part I thought was so important to my identity and significance, well, after only a few months, a few weeks even, it was gone from my mind. I never missed it. Some day I may take another turn at government, but for now it has simply disappeared. It was so long ago it seems like a different life.
Pruning is always future-oriented; the loss happens now, but the gains come later. At the moment of pruning, there is no evidence of what is to come; we have no proof there will be something better. All we have is the faith that we will be more fruitful. If I believe John 15, which I do, then I must relax and trust God when a part of my life gets pruned away, and wait to see where the new and better fruit will come from next.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32