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.
Our growth and development is not left to chance, rather the Father carefully prunes away the impure, unproductive parts of our life.
Not long ago we took a tour of a vineyard in Stuttgart, and a gardener explained the pruning process. Precisely how it was done depends on the variety or type of grape. But in every vine two branches would be left in the early stages of the season, to see which one of them would be more fruitful, or in case one of them is attacked by insects or disease. After a few days into the season it is clear which of the branches is sturdier, stronger, healthier, and will bear more fruit, and, of course, it is more fruitful because it allows more of the sap of the vine to flow through its branch. The gardener cuts away the unproductive branch, and throughout the season continues to prune the productive branch.
Jesus, the Master Teacher, gave this parable that we might understand how God deals with us. He disciplines us according to who we are – just as a gardener knows the variety of grape, so God knows us intimately and knows just when to prune, and when to let grow. David cried out to God, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15), and in every circumstance in life – sorrow, joy, friendships, seasons of loneliness, celebrations, difficulties – God’s timing is seen. Paul wrote confidently, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). There is a filter that the Father uses to protect us, so that we will not be overwhelmed, but neither be under-challenged in life. He works both without through circumstances and within through His Spirit – “to will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Faith in God as our divine Gardener leads us toward confidence and away from panic. Our times are in His hands. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote of Psalm 31:
DAVID WAS SAD: his life was spent with grief, and his years with sighing. His sorrow had wasted his strength, and even his bones were consumed within him. Cruel enemies pursued him with malicious craft, even seeking his life. At such a time he used the best resource of grief; for he says in verse 14, “But I trusted in thee, O Lord.” He had no other refuge but that which he found in faith in the Lord his God. If enemies slandered him, he did not render railing for railing; if they devised to take away his life, he did not meet violence with violence; but he calmly trusted in the Lord. They ran hither and thither, using all kinds of nets and traps to make the man of God their victim; but he met all their inventions with the one simple defense of trust in God. Many are the fiery darts of the wicked one; but our shield is one. The shield of faith not only quenches fiery darts, but it breaks arrows of steel. Though the javelins of the foe were dipped in the venom of hell, yet our one shield of faith would hold us harmless, casting them off from us. Thus David had the grand resource of faith in the hour of danger. Note well that he uttered a glorious claim, the greatest claim that man has ever made: “I said, Thou art my God.” He that can say, “This kingdom is mine,” makes a royal claim; he that can say, “This mountain of silver is mine,” makes a wealthy claim; but he that can say to the Lord, “Thou art my God,” hath said more than all monarchs and millionaires can reach. If this God is your God by his gift of himself to you, what can you have more? If Jehovah has been made your own by an act of appropriating faith, what more can be conceived of? You have not the world, but you have the Maker of the world; and that is far more. There is no measuring the greatness of his treasure who hath God to be his all in all.
Andrew Murray wrote of John 15:2:
Christ is about to teach His disciples about their being branches. Before He ever uses the word, or speaks at all of abiding in Him or bearing fruit, He turns their eyes heavenward to the Father watching over them, and working all in them. At the very root of all Christian life lies the thought that God is to do all, that our work is to give and leave ourselves in His hands, in the confession of utter helplessness and dependence, in the assured confidence that He gives all we need. The great lack of the Christian life is that … we leave God out of the count … let us trust God, that everything we ought to be and have, as those who belong to the Vine, will be given us from above.
John the Baptist said, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven” (John 3:27). There is too much Christian energy wasted in the wrong pursuits – often even supposedly Christian pursuits. It was not given to John to be the Messiah, and rather than try and remain frustrated he gave himself fully to the purposes that God had for him to fulfill. To do otherwise will eventually put us at odds with God Himself, fighting against His purposes. We are called to accept in faith what God has plainly laid before us – our talents, our gifts, our challenges, our difficulties, our relationships, our opportunities – and to see Him developing us, pruning away the impure and unproductive parts of our lives and strengthening us in the ways He desires us to live and serve. God never holds responsible for the opportunities He has given to someone else. We are not accountable to live another person’s life, to carry their burdens or to develop and hone their talents.
Our great need is to see God in our lives and in our circumstances, and let Him shine in us and through us. He is our Gardener who gently and tenderly watches over us.
Lord, teach us where You are at work in our lives, and how we may follow and respond to You. Amen.