A while ago, not for the first time, I went through an experience of pruning: Of God removing from my life something I love, something I’m good at, something that I was (and am) unwilling to let go of. Familiar story?
I can deal with God cutting away parts of my life that aren’t fruitful! But here Jesus talks about pruning the healthy branches of a vine, cutting back branches that are bearing fruit. And that’s much harder to get my head around…
I’ve been involved one way or another with church youthwork for about twenty years, and I love it. So it was very hard when a few months ago God asked me to lay it down. I’m ashamed to say that he had to tell me a lot of times and in several different ways. And I wrestled with it, I was angry with Him about it, but eventually I got the message, waved the white flag and stepped down.
And it really, really hurt… (still does a bit)
In the middle of that time I painted a picture. I’ve never grown grapes, but I have grown and pruned roses, so I painted a rose bush… and a gardener. The message God spoke to me through it really helped, and if a pruning-time comes, I hope it will help you too.
You prune rosebushes back for two reasons: so that they will grow into a more balanced shape, not becoming lopsided or straggly; and so that they will bear even more flowers. So pruning, though it seems harsh, actually makes the rose bush much more beautiful.
After I’d finished the painting I noticed two things:
The first was that the branch is not being pruned away because it is not being useful or beautiful or because it is ‘bad’ at the job it was supposed to be doing. It is not diseased, or flowerless… but its time has come. When God takes you out of a ministry or situation, it is not necessarily an indication of His judgement on the job you were doing. God often calls us to stop doing things that we are good at!
The second was that the healed wound from a past pruning is clearly visible. And so is all of the growth and beauty that came about because of that cut. It stands as a testimony that pruning has brought fruitfulness in my life and is promise of more roses yet to come.
God sometimes takes away or asks us to give up things which we are good at and which we love. And it’s not always clear why! It may be that he needs to make space in your life in order to do something else. Perhaps He wants you to stop putting energy into supporting an old branch and pour that energy into growing a new one. Or it may be just that He wants you to do something where you’ll need to lean on Him more.
What is certain is that to be pruned is part of ‘normal’ Christian life. For me the challenge is to surrender to it quickly rather than sink huge reserves of effort into resisting it; to accept it as part of the ongoing careful work of my Father.
Looking back now, six months on, I can see the fruit of having allowed God to make some space in my life for other things. If I’m honest I can also see how it would have been so much less painful for me if I had listened and responded the first time I heard God speak on the matter!
So now I’m asking God what else in my life has to go. If He needs to make more space or wants me to be more focussed, I want to volunteer to make the cut! Will you join me? He might ask you to give something up… He might not. Either way, surrender to the gardener is the road to more growth, more blessing and more fruitfulness. I recommend it.