The cold grasp of Winter was losing its grip and being overpowered by the warm embrace of Spring.
My yard was transforming from brown to green and the eerie stillness morphing into buzzing insects and the smell of freshly-cut grass. Evenings spent near the fireplace were giving way to sunny outings in the garden planting veggies and pulling weeds.
Spring gardens require many tasks to thrive, one of which is pruning. I recently took a pair of scissors and went through the row of onions cutting the newly developed seed pods on the top of the plants. Then, I went to each tomato plant and cut off side shoots and "suckers."
If I don't prune these unnecessary growths, they will take nutrients and energy that would otherwise go to developing bigger fruit and healthier plants. While cutting off parts of the plant may look like I'm destroying it, I'm actually improving its health and ability to thrive because I know precisely what needs to be cut.
Sometimes we feel like life is “cutting” us unnecessarily; like the pain we experience is arbitrary. But behind those cuts, there’s a Master Gardener who knows exactly what he’s doing.
THE MASTER GARDENER
Jesus teaches in John 15, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. 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."
For reasons I cannot comprehend, the Lord has a plan for my life to bring glory to his name. He takes a wretched sinner like me, gives me a new heart, and then begins the life-long process of sanctification. He intends to use all his children to carry out the works he has prepared for us to do, for we are his workmanship (Eph. 2:10).
To be fruitful branches, we must abide in the Vine for sustenance, as Jesus teaches in John 15:4: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." Those who abide in him bear much fruit (v. 5).
SIDE SHOOTS AND SUCKERS
However, like the side shoots and suckers that show up on my tomato plants, sin and unnecessary weight (Heb. 12:1) threatens to distract and keep us from abiding in Christ.
Satan is often at work to tempt us and throw us off-course, and all too often our gullible and sinful hearts are obliging. Once God-centered desires become me-centered. Actions done for the good of others slowly morph into opportunities for personal gain.
Slowly but surely, these extra growths begin to thrive and jeopardize the possibility of healthy fruit. Recognizing this danger, the Master Gardener gets his shears and begins to cut away.
WHEN THE LORD SETS HIS SHEARS
The pages of Scripture illustrate the Lord's pruning in the lives of his children:
Abraham's faith was pruned through years of waiting for the promise.
Although he thought he hid his sin well, David learned the joy that comes through confession and repentance when the Lord brought his sin to light.
Through loss and hardship, Naomi saw firsthand the provision of the Lord that turned her bitterness into worship.
Peter learned the unconditional love of the Master through his denial and restoration.
The Lord kept Paul humble and dependent by giving him a thorn in the flesh and denying Paul’s requests to remove it.
During Jesus's earthly ministry, he didn't avoid potentially awkward conversations but rather spoke directly to the person's sin struggle with truth and grace. He knew exactly what needed to be pruned and masterfully made his cuts.
Reading about such pruning in others in encouraging, but it's not so enjoyable when the Master Gardener sets his shears to my heart. Pruning hurts, and I'd much rather avoid it. I see the Lord pruning through the everyday challenges, and I feel the shears pressing in when the demands of life seem too much to bear. But it might be that these cuts are leading me to Christ.
When bank accounts are red, relationships feel like war, and expectations are tossed like paper plates after dinner, it may very well be the Lord snipping away. He's cutting out my impatience by putting me in situations I can't control. He's chipping away at my anger through children who don't always obey. Difficult people in my life are perhaps the very shears God is using to prune the unloving growths in my heart.
WHEN THE LORD KEEPS CLIPPING
Knowing that the Lord is using such difficulties to prune me provides long-term hope, but it sure is painful in the moment. There are times the Lord keeps clipping and I’m not sure how much more I can bear. I don't always see the beauty in the midst of it because being pruned often feels like you're under attack.
But I know an experienced gardener doesn't prune the plant to hurt it, but to help it flourish. Because I desire more tomatoes and larger onions, I make the necessary cuts now. Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) are brought about by the needed cuts of our Master Gardener.
He's given us the Word to show us who he is and how he's at work in this world. He gives us the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and lead us to holiness. He gives us the church to teach us and to lovingly confront the sin that we are blinded to. He put us in situations where we cannot rely on our own strength or wisdom, but solely on his. He's provided all we need for life and godliness.
At times, we can see the Lord at work and, even through the pain, understand the cuts he's making in our life. Other times, the Lord's pruning is beyond our understanding and mysterious to us.
THE PROOF IS IN THE PRUNING
Whether we understand or not, our call is to trust. We are not always aware of the unfruitful areas of our heart, but the Lord who knows the very hairs on our head also knows exactly where the pruning is needed. So he keeps cutting.
The beauty of it is that if the Lord continues to prune, then he hasn’t given up on us. How do we know? Well, the proof is in the pruning. Dead or fruitless plants are pulled up and thrown in the compost pile, not pruned. Each cut, though it hurts, is a reminder of the Lord's gracious work in our lives and the truth that he will continue the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).
God is still working in his children to bear fruit for his glory; His cuts are not flippant and unnecessary, but precise and needed. The Master Gardener knows exactly what he is doing.