How Our Heavenly Father Prunes Us for Blooming
For me, Mother’s Day and gardening go hand in hand. When we first moved from down south to Ohio years ago, I was still learning to get accustomed to the weather. I was always tempted to “jump the gun” and plant beautiful flowers too early, at the first sight of warm weather. One of my neighbors was kind enough to warn me to always wait until Mother’s Day to plant if I wanted to avoid the dangers of a late frost. I don’t know if you have a green thumb or a black thumb, but we are going to learn about the best gardener ever…Our Heavenly Father!
In John 15, Jesus says the following:
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
4 Remain in me, and I will 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.
6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
So, in these verses, God our Father is the gardener. Jesus is the Vine. And we are the branches.If we don’t bear fruit, this says we will be cut off from the vine and burned. If we do bear fruit, we will be pruned so that we will be even more fruitful!
Now most of you know that trees need pruning in order to grow properly and bear fruit. Pruning involves cutting off the dead branches and cutting back the living branches, both to shape the tree or vine and to stimulate growth.
The truth of it is…most of us find ourselves in one of three places right now. Either we are:
1. being pruned
2. healing after being pruned, or
3. we are in full bloom. (But don’t get too excited if you are in full bloom, because you are about to be pruned again.)
If you are a Christian, you are going to be pruned. Count on it. None of us are immune to it. You may not be in the pruning process right now…you may be in full bloom, enjoying a relatively easy life. Praise God! Enjoy it! But don’t get too comfortable…the scissors are going to come your way again! Many of you are going through pruning right now.
In fact, Mr. Yeary (the owner of a local apple orchard) told me they prune their trees 6-7 months out of the year…that’s a long pruning season for a much shorter harvest season! And he said that the very day after the harvest is over, they begin pruning again. Wow! That's a lot of pruning! Humans are like apple trees. No matter how sweet and beautiful we become, we never get so "great" that God stops pruning us. There is always room to grow.
How does God prune us? He uses problems, pressures, and people. Oh, does he use people! Having 7 children (ages 11 and under) gives you plenty of opportunities for pruning! :-)
There are 3 types of suffering we experience:
1. Suffering because of our own sins.
2. Suffering because of other's sins.
3. Suffering, not because of sin, but because God loves us enough to train us and make us greater for Him.
For the purpose of this discussion, I am only going to be dealing with the kind of suffering that comes to those who are serving God and just need an occasional “kick in the pants.” You see, just because God needs to teach you something, doesn’t mean it’s because of sin you committed. He wants to strengthen your faith and insulate you from future failures. Sometimes, our faith is strengthened by no other means than by testing! A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted. Anyone can have faith when all is well, the true test of our faith comes when nothing is well.
Sometimes pruning can be confusing. We believe that we are being fruitful and are puzzled, even frustrated, by God’s pruning. We ask, “Why are you doing this, God? I have given my business to you, but it’s failing. I have committed my health to you, but I’m going into the hospital next week. I have been tithing faithfully, yet I’m going bankrupt. I have been a Christian wife, but my marriage is on the rocks. Don’t you love me?”
God just sees that we can bear more fruit…that we have more potential for greatness, so he wants to get our plans and ideas out of the way so He can bless us with His plan for our lives. Have you lost your job? God has a better plan for you. He sees what we do not see.
I will never forget the year that we were about to take a major reduction in income. We had our 4th child on the way, and we thought we were going to have to sell our house and significantly downsize. We fought the urge to fear and got on our knees and trusted God to meet our needs. Suddenly, out of the blue, my husband was approached by the hospital and asked to take over a very large successful practice. He had only 24 hours to decide! He would now be his own boss and have total freedom to minister as a Christian to his patients and staff in his medical practice. Not only was his salary not reduced, it was increased! We could have never seen this coming when we were preparing for downsizing, but God said, "See what I will do when you cast your care upon me?"
My 6 yr. Old nephew Pearson got diagnosed last year with a metastatic brain tumor. We were all so crushed. But I knew immediately that there was nothing to fear, because God was doing something far greater in my family through this than we could see with our eyes. You see, a little tumor the size of a few centimeters is nothing for God, is it? Could God heal Pearson right now if He wanted to? Of course, but the cancer is not the end…it’s only a means to the end of sanctifying my family, which is in a much better position of brokenness and humility now than before this happened. You might say, “How can you say with confidence that God is responsible for Pearson’s cancer? It could be Satan!”
Well, for a Christian, the only way Satan can touch us is if he first gets permission from God! (like in the case of Job) Now, I don’t know about you, but as long as I know that God gave permission for this trial to come into my life, I feel absolutely safe in His loving hands! I would rather be suffering in the hands of the Lord than comfortable and living a life of ease in the hands of Satan!
As Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:17: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” In other words, by tasting a little bit of hell now, our future heaven is becoming a lot more heavenly! And just a few minutes in heaven is going to make up for all the pain you had on earth!
Jesus promised us that in this world, we would have trouble! The trouble makes us draw closer to him. When things are going great, we get so self-sufficient and prideful sometimes. My days of closest communion with the Lord have been the days when I was suffering the most! Sometimes I almost long for those days again so that I can experience that close communion with the Lord when I was so broken and desperate for Him.
Psalm 34 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Do you see that? The Lord is close to the one who is being pruned. Why do we want to assume that He is far away when we are experiencing trouble? It’s just the opposite! Oh, that we would have eyes to see the bigger picture and believe He’s in the middle of it!
Now I realize that pruning is unpleasant. Have you ever looked at a pruned tree or a pruned plant? It’s kind of ugly, isn't it? When you’re going through pruning, you’re not saying, “Oh how wonderful, I look ugly now, but I will be more beautiful one day because of it.” No, we want to whine and throw pity parties and get mad at the gardener or question the gardener’s love for us. But these reactions will only stunt our growth. The quicker we can thank God for the pruning, the quicker the discomfort will fade. The quicker we learn the lesson God is trying to teach us, the quicker He can lay down His pruning shears!
In our house, we try to enforce a rule around our house that you don’t get what you whine for. So when one child is whining for a popsicle, we might say, Daniel, I wanted to give you that popsicle, but because you whined, now I can’t. You see, when we whine about the hard times we are facing, we force God into a position of having to withhold blessings from us which He wants to give us!
Heb. 12 says: “ My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, then you are illegitimate and not sons.”
Chastening and correction are proof that we have a loving father who wants the best for us. We actually have more to fear if we were not being chastened, for that would indicate that God did not care. Don’t despise chastening. It is so good for us! It is spiritual castor oil…it tastes bad going down, but it makes you stronger. If you’re not pruned, you’re not loved!
God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” You see, when we are weak, that is when God begins to show His power in us. Then Paul really slaps me in the face with this one! He goes on to say, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:8-10) He said he delights in insults and hardships! When was the last time you delighted in the insult your mother-in-law made to you? Or delighted in the co-worker who mocked your faith? We should delight in our troubles, because we know that being weak and desperate for God is the place where He really gets to show His power!
Where is God pruning you? Is it in your marriage? Is it in your relationships with your children or your co-workers? Is it in your finances, or lack thereof?
1 Cor. 10:13 promises us that God won’t give us more than we can bear. We can rest safely in knowing that He knows exactly how much to prune from us and will prune no more! Furthermore, God knows the perfect time to prune us!
I’ll never forget what a minister once told me during a very difficult time in my life. He said: “Wow, Elizabeth…God must be impressed with you to allow you to go through something this difficult at such a young age. I was 47 before God thought I could handle something that heavy. He must really have big plans for you!” This man’s words to me totally changed my perspective about what I was going through, and I hung on to those words throughout that trial.
You see…oftentimes God brings suffering into our lives to prepare us for something greater down the road! The Bible says that even Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered. And look at what Jesus had to go through before his ministry began…40 days of fasting in the desert with Satan himself harassing him to lose hope! The Bible says Jesus learned from this suffering. Now, if Jesus has some things to learn through suffering, then I certainly know I do!
Or what about Jonah? He got swallowed by a huge fish, swam around in the fishes body fluids for three days, got vomited out, and then had to take a very long journey to a very scary place to tell them all they were wicked and that God was going to destroy them in 40 days! You think you’re being pruned! Jonah would probably switch places with you any day! The whole city was spared God’s judgement because of Jonah’s miserable pruning.
And then what about Joseph? He got thrown into a pit by his own brothers who then sold him into slavery. While a slave, he gets falsely accused of adultery and put away in prison for a long time. When he is at his lowest and there is no hope in site, his ministry begins. Not only does he get to relieve the pharaoh of a huge burden that has been afflicting him, and not only does he save his family and his entire nation from starvation, but he also becomes 2nd in command of the whole country! He went from a jailed criminal to 2nd in command in almost an instant! Now, when he was rotting in prison with the mice and scorpions a year before, could Joseph have believed that his suffering was all for the purpose of preparing him for his new position of leadership as Pharoah's right-hand-man? Ha! It's almost laughable! No, he couldn’t see that! But if we can see God’s hand in the midst of our trials, we can weather the storm with much more strength!
One famous pastor’s wife who was diagnosed with breast cancer said, “Suffering permitted the trappings of normal life to be stripped away, exposing my faith to reality testing. It allowed me to discover the holes, inconsistencies, and weak spots in my relationship to God that I wasn’t aware of. Suddenly I was faced with this challenge: I claim to love and trust God, but do I really? I say that I believe he is a loving Father, but do I really believe it? How quickly do I turn on him? How fast do I jettison my beliefs when my life and my beliefs collide? How viciously do I accuse him when pain, sorrow, disappointment, betrayal, tragedy, or losses come my way? Will my faith survive the tests? Do I even have faith? The Bible says that troubles and trials put our faith on display so our true colors are seen. It doesn’t matter what we say we believe; a watching world evaluates whether or not our faith is real by our reactions to suffering.”
Suffering is God’s dumbbell! What do I mean by that? Well, how do you make your arms stronger? You lift weights. How do we grow spiritually? Through lifting the weights of suffering! We have to have an opportunity to grow…and let’s face it…you don’t grow as much spiritually when all is well. Anybody can serve God when times are easy, but can we when times are hard? Sometimes God needs to make sure we are not serving Him just for what we can get out of Him. He wants to make sure that we will stay the course when everything is going wrong.
That reminds me of a time when my 3 year old daughter Grace was eating breakfast with her daddy at the table. She was having plain ole’ cereal, and Daddy was eating a yummy piece of cake that I had cooked for dessert the night before. Eyeing his cake, Grace asked, “Daddy, are you having cake for breakfast?” Daddy said, “Yes.” Grace said, “Are you eating cake because you love Jesus?” Daddy said, “Yes, I love Jesus.” Grace said (hoping to get a piece of cake too), “I love Jesus too!” See, as a 3 yr. Old, Grace was saying she loved Jesus for what she could get out of it…hopefully a big fat piece of cake! God wants us to serve Him, not for what we can get out of Him, but just because He is worthy!
Years ago, God tested me like that to see what was really in my heart. When I became a Christian, God did not provide me with a set of literal dumbbells to strengthen my faith. And my life was relatively easy and uneventful for the first 25 years. But then God graciously allowed me to experience deep pain and suffering! It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Spiritually, I grew exponentially, it strengthened the relationships around me, and it equipped me to minister to others in ways I never could have before! It was hell on earth while I was going through it, but now, my life is so much sweeter as a result of His pruning.
Heb. 12 says, “Now, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
Chastening is intended to make us righteous. Since you gave your life to Jesus, are you sweeter? Are you bearing more fruit or less? Have you embraced the Lord's pruning work in your life or are you fighting it?
I want to close with a story about an Old Grape Branch.
Once upon a time, there was an Old Grape Branch. He had been growing in the vineyard for a very long time and his fruit was the biggest and sweetest fruit around! People came from far and wide to taste his fruit.
The Young Branch beside him looked up to him and said, “I want to be just like you when I grow up. What can I do to have fruit as big and sweet as yours?”
The Old Branch said, “Be willing.”
The Young Branch thought, “That’s strange…be willing?”
The next day, the gate opened, and the gardener walked in. The gardener bent down on one knee, reached into his back pocket, pulled out what looked like sharp scissors, and moved toward the Young Branch’s friend down the row.
The Young Branch watched as his little friend cried, “No, no, why are you doing this to me? Haven’t I been sweet? Please, don’t cut me!”
The Young Branch looked up at the Old Branch and asked, “What’s happening…why did the gardener do that? Is it because he didn’t like her?”
The Old Branch replied, “No! What you just saw proves that the gardener loves that little branch.”
The Little Branch replied, “Oh, is it because my friend did something wrong and the gardener is punishing her?”
The Old Branch answered, “No. Your friend is being pruned. Not because she was trying to do things wrong, but because she was trying to do things right. Not because her fruit was not sweet, but because the gardener wants it to be even sweeter.”
The Young Branch replied, “Well, you don’t have to worry about being pruned. You have the sweetest fruit in the garden!”
“Oh, I want to be pruned!” the Old Branch said.
“You what? It must hurt, and you’re going to look funny.”
The Old Branch chuckled and replied, “Yes, it is quite uncomfortable. But it is necessary. You see, my young friend, I have a fungus growing on my underside that no one can see. Pruning will keep me healthy. So when the gardener comes to prune me, I won’t pull my leaves back. I’ll lift myself high in the air to make His job easier. And always remember, the very fact that you’re being pruned means you will bloom again.”
Just then the gardener stopped by the Old Branch, and the Young Branch saw the old branch raise his leaves high up in the air. He heard a snip, and the Old Branch lay on the ground… all except for the nub. Then the gardener turned to the Young Branch. His little leaves were shaking, and tears rolled down his side, but with every ounce of strength, he raised his leaves high in the air, looked up into the gardener’s face and said, “Kind and gentle gardener, I’m willing.”