A few years ago, I had the joy of involving myself in farming somewhere in Gilgil. It was a rich experience, especially for a young man from the city–a story for another day. I enjoyed the journey (with some blisters here and there, of course) and learned a lot about what it means for us to be in God’s vineyard as trees of his planting. Something we used to do for some of the trees and plants was pruning; the results were worth the hassle.
What is Pruning?
Pruning is when you selectively remove branches from a tree. The goal is to remove unwanted components, improve the tree’s structure, and direct new, healthy growth. If trees could speak, one thing I am sure they would say about pruning is that it is not a fun exercise at all! Pulling, plucking, and snipping are painful things for any creature with feelings. Secondly, there is no day that the practice of pruning done for one tree meant pruning done for others. No. It was always personal and, at times, a lonely activity. It was tree after tree, just as it should be for us–saint after saint.
Our walk with Christ also has seasons of pruning. Often, these seasons are hard– though necessary for a joyful sanctification journey. We call it ‘discipline’ in more biblical terms. The book of Hebrews says that no discipline is pleasant at the time but painful (Hebrews 12:11). Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those trained by it. Jesus also alluded to it in John 15:2 by saying, “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.” So pruning for trees is what discipline is for believers. David Jeremiah puts it this way, “The vinedresser is never nearer the branches than when he is pruning them.”
Why is Spiritual Pruning Necessary?
For the trees, pruning helps improve health, growth, and beauty and enhances environmental safety (no trees falling on houses etc.). Likewise, when we go through the pruning or discipline done by the Spirit of God in our lives, we gain more than we lose. Like the oddly shaped tree with small shoots growing out of the base of the trunk or the one with dead branches here and there, we also need pruning. Our pruning, or chastising rather, is to address character deficiencies that God wants us to become aware of and idols of the heart, the root behind all sinful habits that we always need to repent of. In short, we cannot grow without being pruned by our vinedresser. But what are God’s purposes in pruning? Let us borrow from the above benefits and apply them to our lives.
For Spiritual Health
Our lives are not as perfect as we would want them to be. We have constant battles against sin (Romans 6:11), the world (Romans 12:2), and the devil (Ephesians 6:12). The health of any believer is dependent upon how much pruning they are going through at any given time. Paul uses the phrase ‘put off’ and ‘put on’ to describe this process (Ephesians 4:22-24). As mentioned earlier, a farmer improves the health of a tree by cutting off any branch that seems unproductive or diseased. So likewise, we ought to cut off things in our lives that are not working towards a healthy Christian life. It could be various sinful habits, some friends, some relationships or even world views. Whatever it is, we need to pursue spiritual health by snipping these things out of our lives as the Spirit pokes and convicts.
For Spiritual Growth
Secondly, trees are pruned to increase growth both in the production of fruit and stature as well. God works discipline in our lives so that we may experience growth (Hebrews 12:11) in our exhibition of God-exalting, Christ-honouring fruit (Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Peter 1:5-7). Believers who constantly respond to God’s heeding in their lives–regardless of how painful and uncomfortable–will reap worthwhile fruit, spurring their spiritual growth. Until we see God’s discipline (pruning) for what it is, our appreciation of our need for growth in the faith will be nil, and we’ll find ourselves stagnant (Hebrews 5:13-14). God will use different things in our lives to achieve this work. Some painful and some easier to deal with. Our response is what matters.
For Spiritual Beauty
Thirdly, we prune trees so that we can enhance their beauty. We all find beautiful things delightful–even nicely trimmed trees. God created us complete with physical and spiritual beauty (Genesis 1:26-27) until sin came into the picture (Genesis 3) and changed everything. We lost many things due to the fall, but thankfully, Christ died to gain them back (Romans 8:20-21). How, then, does God achieve this vital work in our earthly lives? By disciplining (pruning) every believer. The beauty of trusting in Christ, the joy of salvation, God’s peace, and the stability in our lives amidst the chaos of a broken world will be evident because of God’s pruning work. That is part of what Christ meant in Matthew 5:13-16 when he said, “Let your light shine that men may see and glorify your Father in heaven.” God will make his beauty evident in our lives through his discipline/pruning work for the glory of his name.
For Spiritual Safety
Finally, pruning is done to curb unwanted branch growth, which often becomes hazardous for those around. Trees, left to themselves, will creep onto roofs and destroy property. A prudent worker will notice such branches and immediately deal with them to protect others. God also disciplines us for the benefit of others. This is needful because we, believers, are members of one body (Romans 12:4-5). Peter elaborates this truth in 1 Peter 2:5, saying that we are building stones built up into a spiritual house. We are not detached from other saints; we are responsible for each other (Romans 14:13-23, 1 Corinthians 8:7-13). Imagine a family where siblings and parents are all-out against each other (and we have seen some like this). This will not be a place to enjoy the safety of a family. The Church is our family. We are united by the work of our Redeemer and knit closely together by the bond of the Spirit.
Harold B. Lee said, “In order for good to blossom, it must be cultivated and exercised by constant practice, and to be truly righteous, there is required a daily pruning of the evil growth of our characters by a daily repentance from sin.” God is working towards making us fruitful people in the household of faith. Let the Lord work in you as you trust in the dresser’s ability to use the pruning process for your good (Romans 8:28).
- https://counselingoneanother.com/2017/06/28/5-reasons-god-prunes-us/Paul Tautges
- David Jeremiah quotes: https://www.azquotes.com/quote/14902?ref=pruning
- Harold B. Lee (1973). “Youth & the church”