Pruning is essential for the health, vitality, and productivity of most plants, and especially grape vines. It is striking this time of year to see the tended vines that have been carefully pruned in one vineyard as opposed to the vineyards that appear to be abandoned, growing without the essential pruning. We know which vineyard and vines will grow the desired fruit come next fall and which ones will not.
Jesus borrowed the metaphor of vineyard management and pruning to teach his disciples about the need for spiritual pruning if they were to produce the kind of fruit he hoped his followers would produce in their lives. Jesus recognized that left to their own devices, the self-centered ways and ego-protecting behaviors of his disciples would sabotage their best intentions to live and love, and rob of them of the promised joy evident in their Lord.
John 15:1-12 (MSG)
“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.
“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon.
This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.
We ended last week’s worship by singing the old hymn, “I Surrender All.” As I teased, I know that’s my desire, but not always my reality. To live deeply connected to God through Christ, in the same way as the branch of a vine, is not just an adjustment to the way I tend to function. It is a completely different way of living. It means my ego and tendencies literally need to be put to death—pruned—and thrown away to be burned. I wish that was a once-and-for-all event, but in fact my life needs daily pruning. Just this morning I sense I’m getting up on the proverbial “wrong side of the bed.” I didn’t sleep as well as I wanted and there are things on my calendar today I don’t want to do. So I have a choice. I can push my way through today, driven by self-will and a slightly ticked off attitude, or, I can breathe in the breath of God and breathe out my misguided willfulness. Some days that’s a subtle choice—no subtlety today.
This is when the spiritual habits that I’ve tried to nurture over the years will make a real difference, if I am willing to be willing to engage and not resist God’s Spirit. These habits have developed over the years as a result of pain—pain being the most persuasive teacher I know. Habits like…
- Starting every day with a meditation as a way to better align my thinking with God’s.
- Attending at least one AA group and the healing group every week.
- Gathering with other Christians for worship every week. (That was a great joy, finding several church services to attend during our week in Paris.)
- Checking-in with the key men in my life who are willing and able to speak “truth” into my life.
- Monitoring my tendency to “be right,” and remember I can be “right” or I can be happy—I can’t be both. (I’ll be back in a minute…there is an amends I need to make for “being right” the other night with dinner companions.)
I don’t want to waste a day irritable and cranky. I know from experience that if I don’t surrender I’m going to meet a lot of jerks today—and the common denominator is going to me—I’m the jerk. The “fruits of the Spirit” Paul identifies in Galatians 5:22-23 grow in our lives like fruit on a vine when we live God’s way. Clear and simple, but sometimes oh so hard.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.