I used to live with a vine right outside my front door. In the summer it produced shade from the sun and sweet juice, but in the winter it appeared fragile, cut back and almost lifeless. No leaves in sight. No sign of life to the uneducated eye. All because in autumn the shears came out and the pruning took place. Each year the vine went through a transformation; the grapes were harvested and the vine was pruned. Each year I wondered if we’d cut too much. Maybe this time, just maybe, we’d gone too far. But each summer the leaves grew and the grapes came back. The pruning was a necessary pain that produced good for the vine.
In John 14-17 Jesus gives his disciples his last sermon before the cross, often referred to as the farewell discourse. In John 15 Jesus uses a metaphor that has both challenged and encouraged me over the years. Jesus speaks about God being the vinedresser who cares for the vine. This requires care and attention to the branches that bear fruit.
The branches that bear fruit are pruned in order that they might bear more fruit (John 15:2). The process of pruning can be hard. It can be painful. Pruning can often feel like suffering, a suffering that cuts deep and yields no gain. Yet, pruning is always for the purpose of growth.
Shears in the hands of a good God reveal our misplaced confidence and idolatry. Pruning can identify the things that we cling to for hope. Pruning can reveal the idols that fill up our hearts and draw our attention away from the vinedresser.
When the shears are in the hands of a good God it is a beneficial and necessary pain that will pass as time goes by. Pruning isn’t always easy, some cuts go deeper than others, but each moment of pain is inflicted in order that we might cling to and abide in Christ. The pain of pruning may seem too much to bear, but the process is for God’s glory as we produce greater fruit for Him. Pruning is often a painful process because it exposes our sinfulness and requires us to trust the vinedresser and grow in holiness. Each cut is a call to greater holiness as we depend on the Lord by His Spirit to be at work in our lives.
Pruning is a painful process, but our focus should be on the vinedresser. In the hands of an enemy shears can be a tool for harm, unnecessary pain and affliction. But shears in the hands of a good God mean spiritual growth, Gospel advance and an opportunity to depend on God more than ever before. When we go through a period of painful pruning, we must remember that the shears are in the hands of a good God. A God who is trustworthy and faithful. A God who does not inflict pain on His people for no reason and a God who calls us to be pruned in order that we might grow in our understanding and likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.