Monday, May 16

Holiness and Horticulture

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. --John 15:2

I know it isn't always good practice to consider a verse out of its proper context, but sometimes in order to make a Biblical truth "stick" I need to think about it a way that makes sense to me on a personal level. This verse from the gospel of John, is just such an example.

In its proper context, this verse is Jesus' description about how God deals with Christians and unbelievers. We (people) are the branches, and the fruit we bear is evidence that we are tapped into the true Vine, which is Christ. Failure to bear fruit, failure to live in a manner that is consistent with the teachings of Christ, is just cause for God to cut us off. Branches that do bear fruit also feel the sharpness of a blade, but in their case, they are only pruned. Pruning is a way to get rid of the old growth so that new, bigger and brighter fruit can grow unobstructed.

Since I'm not a horticulturist, I have some difficulty relating to the idea of pruning. I understand it of course, and it makes sense, but this illustration doesn't fully sink in until I put my own spin on things. Here's how I have recently been able to think about the importance of pruning and what God has taught me about it.

Throughout my life I've had a series of sinus infections that don't go away easily and create problems on top of problems. With each subsequent infection, I had a harder time breathing through my nose. This began to affect how I felt on a daily basis. Eventually, it got to be so messed up in my sinuses that even when I felt "good" I still didn't feel "well". One of my doctors decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to surgically scrape out all the accumulated scar tissue that was left behind by the infections. I had the surgery last week, and it went well. Because I've had the procedure before, I knew that any part of it that was painful was definitely worth it in the long run if it meant that I could breath more easily and not have to worry about getting sick so often.

How does this relate to Jesus' description of the branches? Think about the difference that Jesus points out between those who are cut off and those that are merely pruned. I've heard some people get upset at the idea that God cuts people off. Those who are to be completely cut off are those who have not been made alive in Christ. They have already chosen that they do not wish to be in eternity with Christ. It would be similar to if I had just died and a doctor came by and looked in my nose and said "well, she's already dead, no sense bothering with those sinuses now." That doctor would be wasting his time to keep checking on my sinuses to see if they've cleared up. The same is true for God when it comes to those branches that do not bear fruit. He will not waste time with someone who cannot possibly bear fruit because they are dead. He cuts them off.

On the flipside of that situation is what happens when we are pruned. Those of us who have life in Christ and still have the potential to carry on in that life, are given an opportunity to live even more fully. When my nose was stuffy before the surgery, I was still breathing and still alive, although I wasn't breathing as well as my body was designed to. The doctors recognized this and "pruned" me, freeing up some much needed space to breathe normally again.

The thing about pruning that no one like to admit, is that it hurts. A sharp blade aimed at a sensitive area can't not hurt. Personally, I don't think there is any part of us that is more vulnerable and sensitive than our spirit. When things happen that touch our lives in such a way that our spirit is also touched in a painful way, we naturally want to recoil. I think this is why so many people, myself included, lash out at God in times of hurt or pain. Some Christians ask "why" when certain things happen. In many cases, the answer is that God is doing a little gardening. He's not just edging your heart either, He's doing some pruning so that in due season, an already fruitful branch can bear more fruit.

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