I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.

John 15:1-5

This summer is the first time that we’ve attempted a garden. So far we’ve eaten plenty of lettuce and radishes, some beans and peas, and a few (somewhat sad) beets. I’m really hoping that our tomatoes grow and ripen well. I have daydreams of homemade salsa!

I don’t know much about gardening, but when I was watering our tomato plants today, a couple of them were clearly limpish. After talking to my wife (who knows a lot more about these things), I pruned these tomato plants by removing branches that will not bear fruit (that is, those that have no flowers and will, therefore, grow no tomatoes). This will allow the branches that have flowers, and in a number of cases actual tomatoes starting to grow, to receive more of the nutrients in the soil and the water. Hopefully, this will ensure that our tomatoes are more likely to flourish.

While it wasn’t about tomato plants, Jesus uses a gardening metaphor in John 15. He calls himself the vine and his followers the branches. In gardening, branches receive their life from the vine. Likewise, when we abide in the presence of Jesus, we receive spiritual life. We can grow. We can flourish. And we can bear fruit–whether we’re talking about the fruit of Christian character (the fruit of the Spirit) or the fruit of ministry and service.

We cannot grow and flourish and live effective Christian lives apart from the presence and work of Jesus in our lives. Unless we’re pursuing intimacy with Jesus, we will be spiritually lifeless. Jesus says it plainly: you can do nothing without me.

The verse that came to my mind today while I was tending our tomato plants was this one: Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. This is what God the Father is up to when it comes to his people. Put simply, since God seeks to bear rich spiritual fruit in us, he also wants to rid us of whatever might prevent us from bearing such fruit.

I suppose this can be anything from sinful habits to preoccupations that distract us from God’s will for our lives. It may include things in me or in my life that I do not wish to be rid of. Allowing God to prune these things in me might in fact be painful or uncomfortable. Moreover, God may allow suffering and hardship into our lives in order to prune us of whatever keeps fruit from growing.

Hebrews 12:7 and 11 says this: Endure suffering as discipline . . . No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Can’t you see how discipline is a means of pruning, one that results in spiritual fruit?

Pruning our tomato plants meant getting rid of some of the branches. It meant removal. But only to give the tomatoes a better opportunity to grow and ripen. Letting those lifeless branches remain on the tomato plant would actually have kept life from happening to its fullest.

Painful though pruning might be, abiding in Jesus, remaining in him, is what enables us to undergo this necessary process. It’s as he pours his life into us through the Holy Spirit that we become more willing to submit to our heavenly Father’s discipline.

So then the obvious question is this: Where might God be seeking to prune you? What does he need to remove from your life so that you can grow rich, spiritual fruit? And, most importantly, are you abiding in Jesus in such a way that your life is bearing fruit and that you are able to rejoice in the process of pruning, knowing what the result will be?

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