My grandpa was a master gardener. He didn’t have any formal training in horticulture, but out of years of experience and necessity for providing food for a large family, he knew how and when to plant vegetable seeds to produce bumper crops that would be canned and stored in the underground cellar, sometimes for years.
But what amazed me the most was when grandpa would prune his grape vines and fruit trees. As a little boy, I would stand in amazement and watch as he pruned the vines and trees to a point that I didn’t think they could possibly survive the brutal cutting that was taking place. But when spring arrived, the new growth that resulted from the pruning was amazing. It was the new growth that produced huge clusters of sweet grapes and bushels of apples.
Grandpa taught me that the process of pruning was necessary for producing fruit. By now, you probably know where I am going with this.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2 (NIV)
Several years ago, in the most difficult time I ever experienced in ministry, this truth became an anchor for my soul. I was lead pastor of a growing vibrant church when a group of people decided it was time for me to leave the church. They put together what I call a “hostile take-over attempt.” One of the leaders of this group was someone I considered to be a close friend and a highly respected church leader. When I think of this event, I can still taste the metallic taste of betrayal. I remember vividly asking God, “Why are these people doing this to me, all I have done is love them and serve them to the best of my broken ability.” Every time I asked God this question, I seemed to get the same answer, “They aren’t doing this to you. I am doing this FOR you.” For which I responded out of my pain, “God that’s the best answer you have?”
It was then I was directed to a childhood memory verse Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I came to understand that I don’t have to like or understand the situation, but when I chose to believe that God in His great creativity has a history of using all things for the good of those that love Him, my attitude changed. My circumstance didn’t change, but how I viewed the circumstance radically changed.
Looking through the lens of truth, I began to understand that what was happening in my life and the life of the church was God’s pruning taking place. It was ugly and painful for everyone involved. God’s pruning was removing dead and dying branches allowing for new growth, in my life and the life of the church. Sometimes in God’s pruning process there are individuals that we think the church can’t exist without their influence and financial resources, and God cuts them away which breaks our self-sufficiency and dependence on others and replaces it with a deepening God dependency.
It is the Master Gardener’s selective removal of branches that brings out the best fruit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
The sweet fruit of the Spirit is directly related to God’s pruning, both painful and ugly, but oh so good. God never makes pruning mistakes in our life or the life of the church. He loves us too much to neglect our pruning as painful as it may be.
When you can’t see His hand, trust His Heart!