Ahh, Spring. That glorious time we till the ground and plant our gardens.
When we get back to the earth and connect again with our primordial selves. When we lay aside Facebook and Twitter and grab a spade and plunge it into the rich dark loam from which we sprung. Ahh, the joyous anticipation of a glorious harvest of peppers and tomatoes and acorn squash. The very thought of puttsing in the garden, pulling weeds beneath the clear blue sky, the sun warming your back and a gentle breeze caressing your brow fills you with wondrous joy.
Not. The thought fills me with anything but wondrous joy.
Years ago my next-door neighbor, Steve, had a wonderful garden. He loved spending time in his garden. He loved every aspect of it – from the planting to the weeding to the watering to the plucking. I think he just liked to get out there and gaze at it. And of course he always had a bountiful harvest – a regular cornucopia of delights.
As I observed Steve’s delight in his garden I often felt guilty. Maybe I should have a garden too, I thought. Get back to the earth. Experience the wind in my hair. Get some dirt under my fingernails. Sounded hippie-like and manly at the same time. It sounded natural. It just felt like that’s what I should do.
So I tilled the earth and planted rows of beans and peppers and tomatoes. I put down black plastic to keep the weeds out. And I even planted a pumpkin seed. What could be more satisfying than to have 20 or 30 pumpkins at the end of the summer to decorate my porch and dining room table? Country Living Magazine would probably want to do a photo shoot of my pumpkin decor.
Only problem was I never did anything after the initial planting, except an occasional watering. I didn’t do any weeding (somehow weeds found a way into my garden despite my black plastic). Neither did I do any pruning. I guess wise master gardeners break off the “suckers” or branches that don’t bear fruit. This concentrates all the energy of the plant into the fruit-bearing branches.
The result of my diligence was a pathetic harvest. Steve’s garden looked like a beautiful metropolis and my garden looked like a ghetto. Particularly interesting was my pumpkin. By September I had an approximately 200 foot vine that took up about half my backyard, at the end of which was a solitary softball-sized pumpkin. Not exactly the bulbous blue ribbon winner I’d imagined I would take to the county fair in a U-Haul.
What is the lesson you ask? If you want to finish the summer with more than a softball-sized pumpkin and a 200-foot vine, you need to prune your plants. But wait, there’s actually a spiritual truth here. In John 15:1-2, Jesus said,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
In other words, God prunes his children so they produce maximum fruit.
He cuts off the “suckers” – those things that drain away our spiritual life. Sometimes he prunes us through afflictions. Sickness may prevent us from getting involved with ungodly friends or activities that would harm our souls. He may limit our finances so we can’t have as much of the world as we like. He may humble us to prune the pride from our lives. When we feel stuck or can’t have something, God may be sparing us from temptation.
Pruning hurts. Pruning isn’t fun. I wouldn’t naturally choose for God to prune me. I don’t love being hemmed in, limited or afflicted. But it’s good that God prunes me. It’s evidence he has given me new life and loves me.
God isn’t like I was with my garden. He doesn’t plant the seed then forget about it. God is diligent like Steve was with his garden. Why is God so diligent to prune us? He wants us to bear much fruit. He doesn’t want us to end our lives with nothing but a softball-sized pumpkin.
So if you’re suffering, first know that the Lord is full of compassion and sympathy for you. But it may also be that in some way he is pruning you for your greater fruitfulness and a bountiful heavenly harvest.