“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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…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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15: 1 – 2; 4 – 8).
I never used to be much of a gardener until we moved into the house we currently live in. The previous owners had created and lovingly maintained several beautiful gardens. They reminded me of English gardens, the kind you see on the cover of a novel – lots of colorful flowers, plenty of tall green grasses that turned golden in the late summer, and a white picket fence encircling it all. There is even a little stone walkway that curves between the two main sections of the garden.
The gardens are still here today, but we have changed them a bit, made them our own. We did this because we realized what a big job it is to care for and maintain a garden. So we took some plants out. We planted more perennials. And we continue to prune the gardens regularly.
Pruning is certainly one of the most time-consuming parts of gardening. (As is weeding…definitely weeding!) We do quite a bit of pruning throughout the year. Every few days during the growing season, I go outside and cut off any dead flowers from our plants. And, at the end of every autumn, my husband cuts back every plant until it stands just above the ground. This pruning – both mid-season and at the end of the season – allows the plant’s energy to be directed to feeding the good, healthy parts of the plant. Pruning also encourages the roots to grow deeper. The plant grows back full and strong the next spring.
John 15 opens with Jesus talking about how our lives as believers are to be entwined with his, and he uses a gardening image to help us to understand His words. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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” (John 15:1-2).
Did you catch that? God removes the dead stuff completely – He takes it away – and He prunes the still-alive parts! He prunes “every branch that does bear fruit”. That means that He may choose to prune good things, beautiful things – because He knows that pruning results in even better things. Sometimes those better things are new versions of pruned branches, and sometimes they look nothing like what was pruned.
Without pruning, a garden begins to look faded. Its colors soften and become muted. Pruning eliminates the non-productive and encourages the healthy. Pruning restores the vibrancy of the garden’s colors. This weekend in Central Illinois, the temperature hit 60 degrees, which is rare for late November. My husband took advantage of the day to cut down the rest of our garden. Today, as I write this looking out the front window, the plants looked short and bare, almost shocked. But I know that deep underground, within the roots, lies the promise of new growth, and if I am patient, I will see sprouts of green come springtime. May it be so with us, too. May we not resist His pruning, and may what God prunes grow back even stronger and healthier.