I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~John 15:5
Have you ever felt worthless in God’s kingdom? You look at your body of work and all you see are errors, mistakes, sins and defeat? You cannot get a handle on your tongue; you are not patient with your family; every time you turn around you are faced with another way you have sinned against another or God.
We have a child who right now is in a crisis of faith. They are in a season of pruning, but they believe they are in a season of failure. They look at the way their sin seems to explode all over the place, and they want to hide it, stuff it back in, cover it up with niceties or retreat. Poke them a little bit about one of these errors, and they may explode in anger. There is apathy, a mask they wear to act as if they don’t care how many areas are in shambles. And when you tread just a little through these first layers of defense, there is profound discouragement and fear. The aching knowledge of their inability to “do it” and concern over being perfect, checking the boxes they have laid out for themselves, creates a huge emotional chasm. And only Jesus Christ Himself with all His grace, His mercy, and His love can fill it. The Gospel must become a lifeline, not just for salvation but for daily, minute to minute life.
Salvation for this child is not in question. They are completely secure in knowing Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sins, and they would absolutely tell you how vital He is in their life. But just like a Galatian from years ago, they have decided that their walk everyday is theirs to do, to somehow muster up the right combination of fruits either to prove to God how much they love Him or to add to their salvation. The wrecking of their carefully ordered life exposes the limits they have placed on God’s great grace, as if it is merely that little bit more we need to get over the hurdle when added to all the good acts we do.
Many times I too have walked in these ruts of the faith, tripping as I focus not on Him but on what I carry, making sure I don’t drop anything, or dirty these clothes I have placed over my clothes of righteousness. And when I see my life wrecked, I wonder how He could love me. But just like this child, it is an opportunity to once again see the depths of His love for me, the grace that gushes like a tidal wave, and to tightly hold to the One who is at work, refining and changing me more and more into His image.
Pruning is an important part of the walk of faith. Jesus draws the parallel boldly in John 15 – He sets up very clearly that He is the Vine, his Father is the Vinedresser, and we are branches. A vinedresser has one goal with his plants – to maximize the fruit as he shapes its growth. In pruning vines, the goal is to maximize the amount of one year old growth or wood because only in 1 year old branches is fruit made. Older wood produces only leaves and shoots. A vine dense with older wood has little fruiting wood and poor air circulation which leads to fungus and disease. So every year 70-90% of growth needs to be removed in the winter. Also the vinedresser wants to shape the vine’s growth on a structure conducive to the harvesting of the fruit.
God actively prunes the believer, slicing through lies, cleaning off dead or nonproductive areas, shaping our hearts and minds. He uses hardship, suffering, crises of faith, but through all of these events, he uses His living and active Word. Hebrews 4:12 says that his Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can trust that God desires us to be completely dependent on Him, not just for salvation, but for everyday walking with Him. He prunes us back, tightly leaving us right up against Jesus the vine, in the position of abiding, clinging to the source of life. And it is the position that is most desirable because in the pruning I learn anew that I don’t have to perform or carry the right things to Him. His love flows through me, His truths become my own, His ways of righteousness grow in me creating fruit for His kingdom and His glory. So my child, welcome the pruning for this is where your intimacy with Jesus will grow, and be glad He cuts away your self sustenance. Let the truth of His love and grace flow through you, filling you with peace as you rest in Him.