My father-in-law is a viticulturist.
In other words, he grows grapes. The vineyard he planted is among fertile fields in northern California, surrounded by miles of thriving nut orchards. My husband and I love to visit, taking time to quiet our hearts and nourish our souls in the scenic farmland. Sometimes, while walking through the property we’ll jokingly caution, “Don’t drop a bean, or a beanstalk will sprout and climb to the clouds!”
When we return home, we find the opposite extreme. We consider our Colorado property a small slice of paradise, but compared to the lush greenery of our ‘California home’ our residence resembles more of a desert. Ours was among the first divided parcels and new home construction in a once-rural area more than 50 years ago. I reason that a farmer sold the least fertile ground first. That’s where we live.
Here at home, it’s difficult to even grow a lawn. The ground is burdened with pockets of impermeable clay. Weeds find a way to flourish, but little else does. After at least four attempts, we found a location in our back yard where an apple tree could take root, but please know I write this with cautious optimism. Often when we think a tree is established, its roots strike the underground clay and it soon becomes firewood.
WISDOM FROM THE VINEYARD
Before the vineyard became part of our life, I believed I would live among barren ground forever. I had little hope our home could be nestled within vibrant lawns, healthy trees, and bright foliage. Now, I have renewed optimism that our property will someday become lovely and green. Not lush like California, but well groomed and abundant in its own right. And so, I study and try to learn as much as I can from my in-laws. My mother-in-law sends me seeds harvested from her own gardens. Some years when I plant them, they surprise me with stems and leaves and flowers. Other years, late freezes stunt the seedlings, or pesky weeds choke them out.
My father-in-law helps me in my efforts to cultivate our land by freely sharing the wisdom and knowledge he’s acquired as he’s learned the craft of vine dressing. He’s taught me about careful cultivating, nourishing the vines, and most importantly, meticulous pruning. In the past, I imagined pruning to entail violently hacking away at foliage. I pictured the use of a machete or scythe, or immense pruning shears requiring a stout man to operate. Pruning, in my mind’s eye, was a fast, furious process that left a carnage of leaves and branches in its wake.
This, however, is not an accurate depiction of pruning. The type of ruthless shearing I imagined is actually what the Bible more tenderly calls ‘removing.’ John 15:2 says, “Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes” (HCSB). Lexical aids show that the Greek word, ‘airo’ denotes taking away and destroying. The process involves branches that aren’t producing. They’ve lost their nourishing connection to the vine so they’re gathered and burned.
On the other hand, the Greek word translated as ‘prune’ in John 15:2 means to make clean, or cleanse. It’s fastidious work, performed not with hacking tools, but with a small instrument that’s comfortably gripped within the palm and fingers of the vinedresser.
In the vineyard, I witnessed the finely-tuned process of pruning. The aim is not merely to remove what’s dead, but to enhance what is already fruitful and help it bear more fruit. It’s a painstaking practice of caring for the vine to allow full nourishment to flow into the branches. A vinedresser must walk among the vines often, watching, studying, and gaining an intimate knowledge so that he may prune only what needs to be cleansed. If performed in haste or at the wrong time, the process can damage an entire vine.
Observing my father-in-law helps me more easily relate to the words of Jesus and His illustration in John 15. Certain terms echo in my mind as I consider this beautiful passage of Scripture. Words like abiding, remaining, staying, or even waiting. The passage invokes images of careful cultivation, producing vibrantly colored fruit, and yielding abundant harvest. That’s precisely what I see in the vineyard.
Jesus explains the symbolism in John 15:5, saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Our lives resemble a vineyard that is lovingly tended by the Vinedresser, our Heavenly Father. His external care through the process of pruning ensures our internal wholeness, allowing the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to flow into and through us. When the Vinedresser manages the shape and structure of our branches, He provides for our well-being and receives the glory for bringing it all about.
ENGAGING WITH THE PRUNING PROCESS
As God’s children, we are created as far more than passive branches. The Word of God instructs us to act—to intentionally do as we’re commanded—and the Lord promises fruitfulness when we do so. No matter how far we move into a meaningful connection with Christ, it’s something we must continue pursuing with intentional action.
Consider the Lord’s instruction in Joshua 1:7-8 and the exhortation to do all He commanded: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Verse 8 sheds light on the active role we play in our own fruitfulness, saying “then you will make your way prosperous.” It stands to reason, then, that we can take active involvement in our own pruning. It’s the Lord alone who completes the work, but we are given the opportunity to partner with Him. Through close connection with our Savior, when we engage with the pruning process, we’re held safely under the watchful eye of the Vinedresser.
As I think about cooperating with the pruning work, I loosely compare it to a dietary cleanse—a process that helps us rid our bodies of the toxins we’re exposed to everyday. We encounter harmful substances in the air we breathe, in our diet, and even in our drinking water. God provides ways to clean our bodies of toxins throughout our respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. We can eat certain foods that help to optimize our systems and cleanse our bodies from toxic build-up.
Every day, we also face harmful contaminants that impact our spirit. For instance, we’re bombarded with images, words, and music that promote impure and unholy thoughts. We face temptation that can lead to sin. We’re surrounded by more than enough and a persuasion to over indulge. We encounter situations that spur fear and anger. And we face a very real enemy of our souls who pesters us day and night with accusations and deceit. With thousands of years of experience, the enemy has become proficient at swaying our thoughts in ways that are contrary to God’s truth. But we must remember that he is a liar.
Just as God provides ways to protect our physical body, He likewise provides ways to protect our mind and spirit. The Word of God is our source of perfect, absolute truth. Prayer and meditation help us stay connected to the Lord and continue to build our relationship with Him. Worship sets our hearts on our Savior to consider His acts of faithful love. And of course, there’s pruning. As we seek to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, the process of pruning (cleansing) rids us of spiritual toxins to help us produce more healthy fruit.
Just the thought of pruning can make us squirm. No one likes the idea of clipping away anything to which we’re personally attached. However, I’m learning to identify diseased or dying shoots as soon as possible after they sprout. Surrendering to the Lord’s pruning immediately, while the shoots remain small, brings far less pain and discomfort. As the shoots mature, trimming them away can cause massive discomfort and trauma. But clipping unruly branches before they become established allows faster, easier recovery from the excision.
DISCOVERING NEW SHOOTS
The trick becomes identifying that which requires pruning. Small shoots are not always easy to see. Poor habits have crept into my life so gradually I never saw them coming. When I believe a lie, I obviously don’t recognize I’m being deceived. Fear has blinded me from truth, causing me to lose sight of the power of the God I serve. Therefore, discovering new, unwanted shoots can be a challenge. Since I don’t know what I don’t know, it’s crucial to seek the Lord and His guidance.
Proverbs 20:27 says, “The Lord’s lamp sheds light on a person’s life, searching the innermost parts” (HCSB). To effectively identify problem areas, self-examine, and prune away my own diseased branches, I must seek Him. To do that, I simply ask the Lord in prayer.
His divine guidance helps me identify problem areas and gives the strength and discernment to expose them to pruning. The ultimate result is a closer, abiding connection with God, and the ability to receive all He has for me—all the love, care, nourishment, and power that flows through Him as the Vine.
During times of quiet reflection when I connect with God and seek to perceive the weightiness of His glory (usually after a period of heartfelt worship), I have a series of reflective questions I commonly ask Him.
Will you show me sin in my life, hidden or otherwise, that I need to confess and repent?
What lies am I believing about myself, my situation, other people, or You?
What truth do I most need to embrace today?
Who do I need to forgive? Will you help me, Lord?
These simple yet profoundly introspective questions have helped me lean into God’s pruning rather than shy away from it. I’m continually amazed by the answers the Holy Spirit brings by way of one or two words that come to mind—perceptions, memories, or even images. Each answer, if truly from Him, will fall in line with Scripture and resonate in my spirit as truth. As I respond with repentance and obedience, I feel the Lord’s cleansing touch. I find that I then remain fruitful, even in difficult situations.
When fear arises, discerning the lies I’m believing about my situation helps me to embrace the truth of God and fight my fear with faith.
When anger takes hold, the Lord reminds me of my habit of assuming I know more than I do about the situation. His truth helps me walk in freedom and forgiveness.
When temptation strikes, He often shows me a void I am trying to fill with something other than Him. He helps me find His wholeness instead of relying on the source of temptation to satisfy.
When I face disappointment, the Lord helps me identify idols and release those to Him. Then I can embrace the abundant blessings He has for me, even when I might have wished for something different.
I repeatedly turn to the Lord with my simple questions, asking for guidance and seeking His perspective. He helps me see things from His point of view—through the lens of His power—and reveals a far bigger picture than what I see with my own eyes. Suddenly it seems easier to replace the lies in my mind with the truth of His Word.
SAVORING HIS NOURISHMENT
A well-pruned branch is equipped to abide in—or receive nourishment from—the vine and bear marvelous, juicy fruit. Jesus showed us this in John 15. As Christ-followers, we cannot live fruitful lives without a close, constant connection to Jesus, who is our Vine. Abiding in the Vine involves receiving all that the Lord has for us. It allows Him access to every aspect of our lives so that nothing is off-limits to His loving care and correction. We learn to fully trust in Him and embrace His goodness and provision. By abiding, we remain in close fellowship with Jesus and allow His power to flow in and through us. We savor Him, resting in His abundant joy.
As daughters of the King, may we closely connect and abide with Christ and willingly submit ourselves to the process of pruning. We don’t want the dead, diseased, and unruly branches in our lives to deter us from receiving all He has for us. As the nourishment of the Vine flows through us, we will bear the precious fruit of His Holy Spirit, bringing love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness and gentleness, and even self-control into our families, our workplaces, our churches, and our lost and broken world.
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