Saturday I saw a man working to prune four crepe myrtles that I have been privileged to see grow and bloom for years now. I am not a gardener by any stretch, despite my many failed attempts, so I'd have never noticed their need for pruning. But I saw the result of his work on a couple of trees, before he'd reached the last. The difference was stark. The pruned trees looked stout and sturdy, with many strong branches ready to produce the leaves and flowers that will come when the weather turns. At their base were piles of small, scrawny branches. The remaining tree to be pruned looked unruly and wild. I could see how those wild and unruly twigs could eat up nutrients while not being prepared to grow produce as much as the stronger branches below. It was a passing glance at the work this man was doing, but it was certainly noticeable that he was serving a purpose in pruning back the waste.
Then on Sunday, in our study on the Gospel of John, this:
"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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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 15:1-8 (ESV)
We had an interesting discussion on the process of pruning and purification that we go through as we work to abide more in Jesus. It is never easy. It is often painful. Let's face it--we have used our nutrients-- be it time, energy, money--to grow those weak branches, and despite the lack of return, it is hard at the time to see them be lopped off. Even when we know logically that the fruit we will bear will be bigger, richer, and more pleasing to God, it can be hard to contemplate taking the knife to them.
I've had two different careers that I've had to prune out of my life in order to be more fruitful. As a Highly Ambitious Person, it was not the easiest thing to give them up. I really loved my work, in many ways. There are still times when I'd love to be in a newsroom covering something important or interesting, or when I see a wedding I'd have photographed differently. But then I look at Galatians 5. Working the long and often overnight hours of television robbed me of my patience and much of my self-control. It was hard to cultivate goodness when I was surrounded by images of destruction and sorrow. Constant, ongoing competition to book weddings was never a place of peace. Never. Both took precious time from what I could have been spending helping my marriage and working with my children--easily the most visual potential fruit I have been given stewardship of, not to mention the ability to study more or to help others.
Another example: This past weekend the Grammy's were on. I know this not because I watched them, but because my Twitter feed was blown up with commentary on them. Quite honestly, I had no desire to watch them as I didn't want to assault my eyeballs with...whatever they were going to dream up to assault my eyeballs with that I could not then un-see. But in fact, I couldn't watch them even if I'd wanted to because we no longer have cable. (Full disclosure: I think there is a way for us to tune in at least one or two local stations, but about the only time I do is for storm coverage.) Cable was a hard-ish thing to give up, as I feared what I would be missing out on both in entertainment and in the ability to take part in discussions on the entertainment. However, the benefits of this pruning have been many. We have more money in our monthly budget. When we do watch TV, we watch whatever is available on Netflix. That means no commercials, and you know what happens without the commercials? You don't want all the non-essential stuff that is advertised so well as must-haves! My husband and I really don't watch much of what's on Netflix at all, and since it's always available to be continued, we are free to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, and have quiet time to study, write notes, plan our budget, go for a run. All of which, I think it's safe to say, are far more able to produce love, joy, peace, patience, and the other fruits of the Spirit than oh, say, anything that comes on in prime time.
The pruning process can look different depending on the individual, of course. Those are just two examples of what I personally have been through in recent years as I've been pruned and made more ready, I pray, to bear fruit. I know there is more waste that needs to go. Other things that I and those I know have cut off in an effort to be more ready to serve: friendships, romantic relationships, job promotions, expensive houses, styles of dress, social media (and even the internet all together), team sports, cars, extracurriculars... I'm sure there are more but those are some examples.
I can tell you this: Every time I've gone through the process, what is left afterward has been so much better than what has been cut off. The way I spend my time now is so much better than how I spent it before. More faith in God, more knowledge of scripture, more time to devote to guiding my children's hearts--honestly, even more rest!-- trumps less money, far less status, and less to contribute to a conversation about what was on TV in spades.
I hope, that if you are in the process of being pruned that you will look forward with hope at the fruit you will bear instead of looking down at the fallen twigs with despair. It is for this that we were made--to bring Him glory. And He knows best how to bring it about.
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11