“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 when I realized that I didn’t have a ‘favorite’ book of the Bible, but that the Bible was my favorite book. Over the past 24 years different books 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 my favorite book. Being a creative thinker (some would say dreamer) I quickly fell in love with the imagery that the word pictures stirred in my mind’s eye. I could just see God as the Gardener, Jesus as the true grapevine, and myself as one of the branches fiercely feasting on the life-giving water of the Word! 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, like me, 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 self-sustaining. And prior to the summer of 2008, I had never even attempted to grow anything from a seed. So as you can see, the idea of tending a garden was, again, totally foreign to me. Even so, I went on for some time loving John 15 without having an accurate understanding of what the true image looked like. But 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?
2007 was a difficult year, and I entered 2008 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 (if you caught a whiff pride, you’ve got a great nose). In my pride-filled gratitude I had completely missed the jewel John 15:2 that was hiding in plain sight; “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. But in what seemed like one quick snip of the shears…He cut me! And I thought I was going to die! And then, He cut me again…and again…and again! Within a few short moments (days and weeks actually), my whole world had imploded and exploded all at once, and my dreams and my plans were barely visible amongst the rubble all around me. 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. He only cut off dead branches…right? When you are stuck in pride in any area, self-pity is only a couple of steps away, and I had taken those steps quickly, and then 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), 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 compromising of the entire crop. Healthy tomatoes were weakened. Young tomatoes never matured and 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 (I’m such a good friend), 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 were fighting 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 live 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 dead weight…easy. But the living ones were still standing 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. 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 which things were not, He cut me. Not to kill me, or because he hated me, or because I had become some huge disappointment……or because I had failed him. But because He loves me, and my life is His to do whatever He sees fit to do in order to effectively build His kingdom. So, from me He cut away branches of pride, so that humility can flourish, and he cuts away unforgiveness so that grace towards others could abound….He cut away dead, non-life producing relationships that I had duct taped and super glued in place for years so that my life had room and would appreciate their presence when they arrived…He cut away my hard heart, so that I could feel everything, my pain as well as the pain of others… and it hurts…really bad, because we are alive when He does it…and we are so very aware of the sharpness of the blade used…it’s the Word of God that prunes…that double-edged sword (…you’re so funny…did you think God has scissors:)… Our hearts desire is to please him, and He knows that, so we remain connected to the vine, cut back, but still connected. We may look a little bare at the moment…there may not be a lot of leaves to cover the branch, but just wait til’ this time next year…….I’ll produce more fruit, you’ll produce more fruit, because He cuts us.
If you’ve ever been cut by God, you know the pain, the depression, and 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!
Yearning to produce more fruit, and to walk humbly with our God,
This was originally written by Selena M. White in 2008 as a weekly newsletter and is being shared as a blog post in 2012.