Gardening 102: Fresh and Green

… every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)

Nobody likes the idea of being cut off – at the pass, at the knees, or from someone’s list. If I were a branch and someone was approaching me with pruning shears in hand, I’d be trying hard to look inconspicuous, if not invisible. Pruning sounds painful.

When we were first landscaping our yard and I had zero experience with growing shrubs, the man at the nursery stressed that they needed to be pruned well back each spring. I think he saw me wince, because he looked me in the eye and said, “It may seem harsh, but DO it!”

Sure enough, when spring came, I couldn’t bring myself to cut back nearly as much of those nice branches with all those lovely buds as he had told me to. I was sure I’d be throwing away perfectly good lilacs if I did. It seemed like such a waste – like I’d be going backward instead of forward. So I just cut away the very ends and called it done (which is probably why my lilacs didn’t thrive and I ended up digging them out a few years later). Funny, though, a neighbor asked for them and they flourished in his yard. Go figure.

I can understand why God would prune someone who wasn’t producing any fruit. It’s harder to accept feeling cut off when I’m trying my best to be fruitful. It’s tough to realize that my bananas won’t be part of the apple pie God is making right now. Doesn’t he know what I went through to grow those things in this climate?

This verse in John explains that God cuts back branches that are already being fruitful. He doesn’t cut us back before we have already done some growing. But why do we have to be cut back at all? What does pruning accomplish?

Pruning keeps us from growing too fast to produce optimal fruit. Unpruned, we would become long branches with skimpy fruit. Our spiritual energy would be poured into our own growth as branches, and not into producing fruit for the kingdom. We could become proud of how fast we’re growing and ignore the lack of meaningful fruit. Branches that grow too fast are weaker and more vulnerable to being broken or damaged. An unpruned branch is out of balance with the rest of the tree.

A pruned branch is brought back closer to the trunk and root, the source of its strength. It concentrates its energy into fruit production – what it was created to do. It develops offshoots, filling out the tree. It’s strong enough to withstand the elements. It will still bear fruit when it is old.

God prunes us because He loves us. He knows exactly how much needs to be cut off so we can grow strong and healthy and produce what he created us for. It may seem harsh at the time, but it’s much less painful than what will happen if we go unpruned. Like my lilacs, we could even end up uprooted – and there may not be a knowledgeable neighbor to come to our rescue!

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,

they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;

planted in the house of the Lord,

they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still bear fruit in old age,

they will stay fresh and green…

So, when God trims, let’s see it as short-term pain for long-term gain. Stay fresh and green.