“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit,and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more… When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” John 15:1-2.8
As a young believer I quickly developed an insatiable love for the Word of God. It seemed as if I had a new ‘favorite’ book of the Bible every other week. It wasn’t long after being acquainted with Christ that I realized I didn’t have a ‘favorite’ book of the Bible, but that the Bible was my favorite book. Over the past 27 years different books of the Bible, or chapters, have ministered to me at different times, and in different situations. Some parts that ministered to me when I was twelve had a very different, but no less powerful, impact on me at 21, and then 31, and so on. Over the last several years John 15 has emerged as one of my favorite chapters in one of my favorite books. Being a visual learner, I quickly fell in love with the works of art painted for me by these words found in this chapter. I could just see God as the Gardener, with eternal overalls on and grungy shoes from walking in the garden to tend to those created in His image as he oversaw the relationship He initiated when we were created. I could see Jesus as the true grapevine, the One that all believers draw nourishment from as long as we stay connected, while seeing myself as one of the branches. I could envision the loving gardener gently taking care of the vine, and carefully removing all of those dead branches that had proved to be unfruitful, uncommitted, or just insincere, so that the branches that were fruitful could produce more. As I look back, how funny (I’m laughing to/at myself). This picture was being imagined by someone with no gardening experience whatsoever. Every plant I had owned either died, or was virtually independant and needed very little interaction from me. Prior to a couple of summers ago, I had never even attempted to grow anything from a seed, so the idea of tending a garden was, again, totally foreign to me. So I went on for some time loving John 15 without having an accurate understanding of what the true image looked like. How many of us would agree that life has a way of teaching us things that may have been difficult to fully appreciate had they remained just words on a page?
2006-2007 were difficult years. My family experienced a lot of loss, and what we viewed at the time as humiliation. Our home was foreclosed on, and one of our cars (the one I loved) was reposessed. This was all experienced while my husband was the senior pastor of an inner city church, and when portions of the Body of Christ believed that loss like this was a sign that you did not really belong to God , or that He had forsaken you. It was as if financial distress was contagious, and we watched the community that we had fellowshipped with for years become smaller and smaller. I found myself desperate to cross over into 2008 and I entered in thanking God for being the Gardener, and thanking Jesus for being the true vine, and thanking them both that I was a living branch, and not a dead one that would be cut off and thrown away like some others(if you caught a whiff of a prideful heart, you’ve got a great nose). In my pride-filled gratitude I had completely missed John 15:2 which says that “he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more”. Oh, I read it, countless times…but I missed it. I just knew that I was God’s girl, one of his true disciples (after all, wasn’t my life producing fruit?), and as such I had no expectation of the pruning shears of the Gardener ever coming my way. Now, those same shears were expected to prune those around me… you know what I mean; those other people. So in my mind, pruning meant cutting around me. But in what seemed like one quick snip of the shears…He cut me!… And I thought I was going to die!
Within a few short moments my whole world had shifted, and I hurt all of the time. I couldn’t believe it. I had been cut by God. With my genuine love, but limited experience-based understanding of John 15, my heart sank. If he cut me, it must mean I was already dead. Right? After all, He only cut off dead branches. When you are stuck in pride in any area, self-pity is only a couple of short steps away, and I had taken those steps quickly, after which I took a nose dive into self-pity’s first cousin and close friend…depression. Then I went to Jodie’s house. (I am definitely laughing out loud…this time at her!) You see, while going through one of the worst times in my life (I had gone from being ’His girl’ to a dead branch), some friends and I decided to plant a garden. Most of us really worked at our gardens. We watered them, and removed all things dead from around them. But Jodie didn’t do that. She watered hers (tomato plants) occasionally, but that’s all, and by the time I saw the garden it was completely overgrown and out of control. It was so overgrown that the plants were smothering themselves and making the possibility of sustained production unlikely. Live, healthy tomatoes had become tangled up and as a result, disconnected from the vine. The end result of being neglected by the gardener was the potential compromising of the entire crop. Healthy tomatoes were weakened. Young tomatoes never matured and quickly rotted, and from what had the potential of becoming a relatively large crop, more were lost than harvested. To attempt to save her crop of tomatoes (being the good friend that I was), I set out to detangle the mess of vine and secure them to her fence. As I worked tirelessly in the hot summer sun (her shame should return right about here when she reads this), I realized that in order to save any of it I would have to begin to cut away at some of it. This meant the cutting off (to divide from with a sharp edged instrument, in this case scissors) of all the dead tomatoes, and the cutting away (removal of living parts of a branch or branches to improve shape or growth) of some of the live ones. The dead ones fell away easily. All I really had to do with them was touch them. They only appeared connected, but in truth had ceased to draw life from the True Vine a long time ago. No harm. No foul. But the live ones were another story… Once I decided which branches needed to be cut back, not off, it seemed that the branches themselves began to fight against me. The live branches wanted to remain intact. When I touched them, they didn’t fall away. I gently pulled at them with no success. I realized that if I continued to try to break them off, I could possibly damage other areas. So finally, I had to ask for a pair of scissors from Jodie’s kitchen, and I began to cut them. And that’s when it hit me! I would have to cut living branches! Not because they were dead, but because they were alive! The dead ones were obviously dead. They had lost their color, and just hung there on the vine like well done spaghetti. But the living ones were still standing strong and tall, not aware that they had been impacted by the dead branches. Their entire branch wasn’t weakened, but some of the branches on the branch were beginning to turn brown. And if left connected the dead branch would negatively impact the living. The whole purpose of the vine was to produce fruit, and if cutting away at the live branches would enable more fruit to be produced, then cut away I would have to do.
As I worked on her overgrown, untended garden, my heart began to heal that day. God had so lovingly helped me to understand what was going on in my life. I was a branch, still connected to the vine, and he was the Gardener. And as the Gardener, He looked at my life and the fruit that was/was not being produced by it from a vantage point that I didn’t have. And knowing what’s best for me, and being able to see what things were beneficial and what things were not, He cut me. Not to kill me, or because he hated me, or because I had become some huge disappoint- ment, or because I had overwhelmingly failed him, but because He loves me, and my life is His to do whatever He sees fit to do in order to effectively use it to build His kingdom. So, from me, He cut away branches of pride, so that humility could flourish, and he cut away unforgiveness so that grace towards others could abound. He cut away my hard heart, so that I could feel everything, my pain as well as the pain of others. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, being cut by God hurts! REALLY bad! You see, it’s because we are alive when He does it, and we are so very aware of the sharpness of the blade used. It’s that double-edged sword (…you’re so funny…did you think God used hedge clippers or scissors?).
Our hearts desire is to please him, and He knows that, so we remain connected to the vine, cut back, but still connected. I may look a little bare at the moment, there may not be a lot of leaves to cover the branches, but just wait til’ this time next year! I’ll produce so much more fruit, because He cut me.
If you’ve ever been cut by God, you know the pain and the depression that we sometimes find ourselves battling. And if you know that, then you also know the heartache that comes with it. But if you ask him, ‘Why?’, do you, the branch, have any idea what He, the True Vine, will say? His answer; “When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” As branches connected to the True Vine, we are cut so that we can become true disciples. Isn’t that amazing?! Your heart has been pruned so that your life produces much fruit. When this happens, the prayer of your heart may start out with “Oh Lord, just let this be over.” But through the process, as you feel the hands of the Gardener remaking you in the image of His dear Son, the cry of your heart soon becomes, “Lord, if
this is what it takes for your fruit to be produced from my life, Cut Away, Lord! Cut Away!
Let’s go produce some fruit, and bring Him some great glory!
Joyfully Submitted to the pruning shears of The Gardner while remaining purposely connected to The Vine,