“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:1-2, 5
I’ve been thinking a lot about these verses lately. There are several reasons for this. I am preaching a sermon series on discipleship, and a disciple is called to bear fruit. I also have several people in my congregation and community dealing with various levels of loss, whether it is of loved ones, health, material goods or relationships, their pain is acute and real. But mostly I have been examining the fruit in my own life and wondering, “Could there be more?”
And that is a dangerous, exciting question to ask. Yes, there could be more, but it requires God pruning me, and that means I have to lose some things. Maybe even some “good” things.
We Misunderstand what Jesus Means by Pruning
Too often I have heard John 15 explained along the lines of, “When God prunes us He is removing the pretenders so His church can be more effective,” but that’s a gross understatement. Jesus uses two clauses about pruning in the passage, and it’s important to understand that He is saying two different things.
- Clause One: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away.” – This refers to the “pretenders.” Those who claim Christ but have no fruit of the Spirit evident, much less any fruit in the area of spiritual offspring and making disciples. But Jesus has more to say.
- Clause Two: “Every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” – This is where the most common disconnect happens. We think the pruning shears are meant for unfruitful branches, but no, they are meant for those of us actually bearing fruit, “so that we may bear more fruit.”
What the Vinedresser Cuts Away
If we are wanting to bear more fruit, what can we expect God to cut away from us? Let me warn you, it’s not just sinful areas in our life. It may be parts of life that we enjoy. Never forget, pruning involves cutting, and cutting hurts.
- The Unnecessary – We live in a world full of unnecessary and superfluous things. Things that are not necessarily bad, in fact, some of them may bring us some pleasure or enjoyment. But we don’t need them. The extra television set. The video game console. The heated leather seats. Are they nice? Yes. Is it wrong to have them? No. But when we start praying to God to increase our fruitfulness, expect Him to start cutting some of these things away. A life of fruitfulness is often a life of simplicity.
- The Unimportant – Distractions rule the day, and often we are distracted by the unimportant things. As we grow in our walk with God and the vinedresser starts to pare us down, all of the sudden some things don’t seem as important anymore. Politics. Sports. Entertainment. Hobbies. Things that we used to invest time, energy and emotion in, begin to fade in light of the fruitfulness God is bringing about in our life. Sure, we might still pay cursory attention to them, but our passions in these areas flicker and dim, and don’t be surprised if they blow out altogether.
- The Under-Productive – It’s not unusual for vinedressers to cut away smaller clusters of grapes in order for one large cluster to thrive. I know in my ministry there have often been times I have been pulled in many directions: youth ministry, graphic design, counseling, preaching, teaching, even some relationships that I try to develop. None of these are bad. In fact, some of them are quite good. All of these are areas I wanted to do well in, but the Gardener knows that if I am to be extremely fruitful in one area, He needs to cut away others. And this is hard for me, because I love to do some of these things. It may be true of you as well. You are praying for God to make you more fruitful, but you aren’t willing to let go of some of the areas He is trying to cut away. And when pruning calls for transitions in relationships it is especially difficult. “But I’m producing some fruit in these areas!” we protest. But is it as much fruit as we could produce when God whittles away that which is under-producing?
An Important Truth
All of our fruitfulness is based on our connection to the Vine. If we want to bear fruit we must draw closer to Jesus. So when the Gardener is trimming away the unnecessary, unimportant and under-productive areas of our life, and it hurts us because some of these things we found pleasure and fulfillment in, let us never forget that, in the words of Dann Spader, “We are never closer to the gardener than when He is pruning us.”