Since leaving my primary vocation at the end of March, I’ve enjoyed spending a lot of time working in our garden this summer. Over that time, we added a lot of perennials, along with some evergreens and hostas. As I watered our plants and evergreens during a particularly hot and dry summer here in the Midwest, I pained over the few plants that did not survive.
My wife and I have just completed an eight-week discipleship class taught by a dear pastor friend. The class was titled “Abiding in Christ: For the Sake of Creation”. Among other aspects, the class included teaching on John 15 and two visits to a seminary professor’s wonderful 5-acre garden. We enjoyed the beauty of the gardens and had time to spend in solitude and prayer. As we were getting a tour of the gardens, Dr. VanGemeren told us that many of the trees and plants that he planted over the eleven years he has worked on the garden are no longer alive. Some healthy specimens he has had to remove because they were encroaching on other plants. In addition, there are times that he needs to prune a plant or tree for the sake of the garden.
Gardens are mentioned often in the Bible, beginning with the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). There are fruit and vegetable gardens, gardens used for celebrations, spiritual retreat and burial places. In fact, Mary, who was the first to Jesus’ tomb on the third day after his crucifixion, didn’t recognize the risen Jesus, instead believing him to be the gardener (John 20:25)
I recently had to prune one of my favorite plants, a Bird of Paradise plant that I’ve had a number of years. There were some stalks and leaves that looked poorly. In John 15, we read that Christ is the true vine and the Father is the vinedresser. We are told that believers are like branches who bear fruit but are pruned so that they may bear more fruit. What does it mean to be pruned as a believer?
In the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur writes regarding pruning, that God removes all things in the believer’s life that hinder fruit bearing, just as the gardener removes anything on the branches that keep them from bearing maximum fruit. In a sermon on this passage, R.C. Sproul states that pruning can be looked at as a cleansing, a chastening, suffering, or the process of being made pure at the hands of the refiner’s fire.
Jesus tells us to abide in him and He will abide in us. Abide means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus. (A good short book on this subject is “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence.)
We cannot bear fruit by ourselves, but only as we abide in Christ. For apart from Christ we can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Although the process of pruning sounds like it will be painful, it is something that as believers we need to experience so that we can be more fruitful. Have you ever thought of that?
As a diamond is cut and polished, it is transformed so that it brilliantly reflects light. We are pruned and polished to reflect Jesus’ light and beauty. A chunk of stone is chiseled by the Master to reveal the beautiful statue beneath. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “The balloon never rises until the cords are cut….The trials that come from God are sent to prove and strengthen our graces and immediately illustrate the power of divine grace, to test the genuineness of our virtues and to add to their energy. Our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love sets such a high value upon His people’s faith that He will not protect them from those trials by which faith is strengthened. You would never have possessed the precious faith that now supports you if the trial of your faith had not put you through the fire. You are a tree that never would have rooted as well if the wind had not rocked you to and fro and made you take a firm hold upon the precious truths of God’s gracious covenant. While the wheat sleeps comfortably in the husk, it is useless to us; it must be threshed out of its resting place before its value can be known. Thus it is good that the Lord tests the righteous, for it causes them to grow rich toward God.”
Perhaps you’ve already experienced some pruning in your life. Please share your stories with us.