Feature

Pruning

Let God take what He desires

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For much of this year, I have been meditating on and studying the concept of pruning. The word picture developed from John 15 has been interesting. The master gardener prunes us. We know this occurs because the Word teaches it, but for me it is an existential reality, too. He is gentle and skilled in the pruning and loving as He does it. But that does not mean the clipping is without pain or discomfort. Losing a branch here and there hurts! Perhaps you are experiencing this, too. I began to wonder if this was what A. W. Tozer meant when he wrote: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”

But there is another phenomenon present during the pruning, one that is unhealthy to ignore. The enemy of our soul is observing the process, and I believe he finds it quite enjoyable; he laughs and ridicules and hurls insults that indicate only a loser would need pruning. This is, of course, a lie but one which we can believe on a bad day. Listening to the wrong voice can tempt us to believe pruning is punishment and comes from God’s displeasure. It can cause us to pull back from ministry engagement. It can lead to self-hatred.

But I am slowly becoming aware in my spirit that God can only use me—or best use me—through the partnership of His power and my weakness. My strengths battle for dominance with God. These are the areas where I can be tempted to act on my own. A misunderstanding of the Spirit-filled life causes us to think there are areas of strength where no filling is needed. To the extent this is true, my strengths become idols. A. B. Simpson reminded us that idols are anything getting in the way of our relationship with God.

Recently, I benefited as a friend culled his library in preparation for his first international assignment. He gave me Andrew Murray’s book The Vine. In it, I found an intriguing thought relating to the teaching of Jesus in John 15:2: “‘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.’”

God cuts away those branches that bear no fruit; I understand that part of the verse. The pearl of wisdom for me was Murray’s explanation of the second half of verse 2. We sometimes think of that statement as referring to sin and sinful behavior. We might read it this way: “He prunes away sinful behavior so we can bear more fruit.” That is an aspect of it, but Murray points out that the pruning process also includes behaviors that are not in themselves bad things. He reminds us that God strips away the things that have worked in the past so that we do not rely on them in the future. Pruning may involve the loss of good, fruit-bearing things.

Murray teaches that long branches that previously bore fruit may consume too much sap and rob new fruit of needed nutrition, which is why they are trimmed away. The goal is to have new fruit grow as close to the main vine as possible. According to Murray, God prunes away unnecessary things, allowing Him to fill only that which is needed to bear new fruit. Is God interested in filling branches that will bear no fruit? It seems He would not be concerned about this.

How can the Spirit fill us and lead us if we are still holding onto old branches and are depending on them for strength? How can He use us if we depend upon the idols of past success? How can He use us unless we are totally and completely dependent upon a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit?

Psalm 85 deals with restoration and revival. Verse 8 states, “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his saints—but let them not return to folly.” I wonder if one example of folly is our penchant for trying to use branches that have been cut away, as if they were still connected to the vine. Trying to use old things when God is trying to give us new things is foolishness!

I am thankful for the Spirit’s reminder that it is the power of God in me which will accomplish all that He longs to do through me. My prayer is that we will learn to trust the skillful, loving hands of God as He prunes us for His glory!

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