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Painful Pruning

Galatians 5:22,23a “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”

The nine attributes listed in Galatians 5:22-23 are a line-up of qualities to be displayed by the Christ-follower. I desire to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled, but am not always executing the delivery. As a Christian of 50+ years, I have pursued the desirable characteristics, but where do they come from? Galatians 5:22 says that all nine characteristics will flower out from being connected to the Spirit. A believer can live in either the “flesh” (old self, sinful nature) or in the “spirit” (new self, Christ-like nature).

The less we spend time in God’s word and presence, the less we are going to evidence connection to Him. Contrarily, the more we spend time in His Word and His presence, the more we will show evidence of true connection to Him. When I say “spend time” I’m referring to an intimate dwelling in His presence, not a “religious” ‘check the boxes’ sort of experience. Staying connected to Jesus is how we live in the Spirit. If some part of our life is not productive for God’s kingdom it might be cut away from us.

Jesus’s words in John 15:1-8 capture how fruitfulness develops: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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…Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Pruning requires knowledge of the subject to be pruned. If you are going to prune a grapevine there is a science that guides the gardener in optimizing the fruit-bearing plant, such as how mature it is, where to prune it for optimal future fruiting, and what tool to use to prune it properly. Seeing its potential, the gardener values the plant being pruned, and uses knowledge of it to cut away what is unnecessary or hindering the plant from reaching its full potential. The pruning phase seems counterproductive because it removes growth and productivity. Some pruning can look downright ugly, and if plants had feelings, they might feel ashamed or depressed by what had been done to them.

I have gone in and pruned some bushes in my yard without any real knowledge of the subject and just hoped it turned out ok. God, in His wisdom and knowledge about me and my spiritual maturity, knows exactly what tool to use, and when and where to make the cuts so that I grow, preventing out-of-season dormancy or low fruit production.

I remember a time in my life when I was fired from a job. It was swift and sudden. It hurt. I felt like I had not been given a chance to explain my side of the story. For a few days I just felt embarrassed and down. I was pruned hard. Once some of the pain had subsided, I began to look at the situation from what I could learn from it. I saw where I had not treated a customer with kindness and justified it because she had not treated me right first. I had been proud and defensive because of how she started out with anger and accusation toward me. I learned a valuable lesson about customer service that I could take with me moving forward into future employment.

From there God moved me into a job in food service, which was humbling because I had a master’s degree that I thought I should be using. I was in that job for a month, gaining valuable cooking knowledge that I did not have prior to that, exercising my flabby customer service muscle each day, and then God moved me into my dream job. I was ready to thrive. The pruning phase provided me with some lessons life hadn’t taught me yet about being a good employee, and had grown me in humility, along with the ability to show kindness in the face of unkindness, preparing me for service.

Last year also proved to be a pruning year for me in many respects. Did I like it? NOPE. Did I need it? Well, I guess I did. God has pruned me in different ways, creating new areas of fruitful production. How my Gardener chooses to shape me into a useful, productive person is up to Him. I just have to cling to the Vine.

If it had been up to me, He would have left me as I was and not pruned me at all. I’m just now beginning to see where the new growth is replacing old growth. Hopefully it is going to flower into new ways for me to love, to express joy, to experience peace, to practice patience, to extend kindness, to do good, to live out faithfulness, to be gentle, and to exercise self-control. My desire is to stay so connected to the Vine that I make great headway in this area and allow God to generate much fruit within.

So, my fellow Christian, if you feel like the pruning shears are cutting into you also, know that the process is not meant to harm you, but is for your ultimate spiritual good. God sees potential in you and wants to give you the opportunity to learn about His character, to grow in faith, and to flourish for His kingdom purposes. Stay tightly connected to the Vine, letting Him be your nourishment and source. A new shoot will start to bud, and growth will take off in a new direction, allowing you to bear much fruit to bless others and to glorify God, demonstrating that you are His disciple.

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