Written by David Lenehan
When we first moved into our home here in Lynchburg, the bushes at the front of the house were a mess. They were overgrown, too tall, too wide and looked like they hadn’t been cared for in a long time. My first thought was to just chop them all down and start over, but that wasn’t very smart and would have been very expensive. Instead, over the past three years, I’ve gradually trimmed them, cut them back and broken off all of the dead branches that were tangled up in the middle of those bushes. Now, three years later, they are starting to look less like a forest and more like purposed landscaping.
When I first cut a couple of the bushes back, they looked a bit silly. The tops were more bare branches than green leaves. But, over time, they filled in again. Isn’t that the same with how God works in our lives? Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us. He doesn’t step in and say, “nope, nothing good here, cut it down.” He trims, cuts, clears out the dead wood in us and prunes us. Much of that is described by Jesus Himself in John 15.
“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[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:1-8, NIV).
Yes, God’s pruning is usually painful. It often involves us giving up something that we’ve held onto dearly for too long. What He trims out of us – bad habits, bad decisions, poor relationships – opens us up to then be more fruitful for Him. His pruning and trimming is for HIS glory, for HIS Kingdom’s benefit. Yes, it certainly benefits us in making us more faithful followers of Jesus and usually better people overall. But that pruning helps us grow to be better reflections of Jesus – to testify more clearly to who He is to those around us.
I love what Jesus says about us later in this passage, after the pruning has taken place.
“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” (John 15:14-16, NIV).
Did you catch the significance of what God’s pruning does? He declares us His friends. He chooses and appoints us to be His ambassadors to this world. Without that spiritual trimming and pruning, we probably wouldn’t be much use for the Kingdom. But when God puts his “gardening tools” to work on us, the outcome is incredible!
As we celebrate with our graduate Liberty University students this weekend, it’s my prayer that the work God has done in their lives during their time here has involved some incredible blessings, some eye-opening lessons and some much-needed pruning. I know God’s work in me is definitely not done and I pray that whatever gardening He needs to do in my life, it will help me become much more like Him and be a clearly example of what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
To our graduates: Enjoy this joyous time and CONGRATULATIONS!!