Pruning: An Essay

I start this essay off by telling you I’m no harlot. While it’s true I haven’t attended church in a year, there’s good, Christian reasons for that. I hope some of those reasons will come alive for you in this essay.

               I have spent most of my almost 40 years of life in church, however. One night, after looking for new church to attend, I began to bear fruit. What kind of fruit did I bear? I began pruning the Church. As night fell and I laid down ready for sleep, something came over me. It was God. I was being pruned by God! He was doing this so I may bear more fruit.

               This essay, I believe, is a portion of that fruit.

               But what am I even talking about? Why do I speak in riddles about pruning and fruit? It comes, of course, from the Bible. In John 15: 1-11, we see Jesus telling his disciples about bearing fruit:

“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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

               The last time I heard this passage read in church, it was a sermon about suffering. In that sermon, in a rather contorted way, the pastor said God makes us suffer so we will grow and bear fruit.

               Since that time, I have read further such interpretations.

               Contrary to those views, I take this as a very loving speech made by Jesus. It is also instructive in that it specifically tells us how to grow in Christ and seek a better union with God. Let us, then, examine this passage and meditate upon it.

               It’s not at all clear that a plant suffers when it is pruned. It’s almost specifically made to be pruned. That’s how it’ll bear more fruit! Fruit, of course, is necessary for propagation and, thus, even more fruit!

               When ancient peoples learned about pruning, they discovered how to produce more food for themselves and others. This was an innovative concept that brought about many things, including, according to my World History textbooks, the ability to settle in one place and not scavenge for food.

Why would a plant be made in such a way that, if one prunes it, it will produce more fruit? I cannot say I know the answer to that. But, for us, in this analogy, we are to be pruned so that we may mature, grow and produce our own fruits.

Jesus doesn’t say a thing about suffering in this passage. Instead, he explains how, when we are a part of Him, this is how we will come to bear fruit.

   Since a plant probably doesn’t suffer when it is pruned and Jesus says nothing about suffering in this passage, we can assume that the passage isn’t about suffering. It’s simply outlining how we can grow in Christ.

This is important.

Many people wish to know how to grow in Christ.

Every one of us has the capacity.

There’s probably more than what I will tell you in this essay about growing in Christ. But having been pruned by God, I’ll share with you the way it came for me so you may be able to use that knowledge for yourself.

2.

It started with me looking for a church to attend. I had been to churches before and wanted something new. Something different.

This wasn’t just a personal taste. I wanted, specifically, a church leader who will let their ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and their ‘no’ be ‘no’ (Matthew 5:37). This meant, of course, I was aiming for a direct line to God in my church leadership because this simple verse tells us that anything beyond letting one’s ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and their ‘no’ be ‘no’ comes from the evil one.

In all of this, I was pushing away evil.

With Matthew 5:37 in my mind, I prayed as I looked for churches online. I came to want a mature leadership in my church.

I told a friend of mine that I was seeking a new church and they said, “Go a few times and see if they remember you.”

I wasn’t looking for that in a church, though. Sure, it’s nice to be welcomed and remembered, but I really wanted something deeper. I wanted a church leader who would instruct me so I may grow in Christ.

As I grabbed ahold of Matthew 5:37 in my heart, the extraneous things started to fall away.

Most churches engage in sales and marketing tactics to grow their congregation.

I wasn’t looking for that.

I was looking for a church with many mature and sincerely-seeking members.

Sales and marketing tactics include: offering an insincere welcome, trying to remember your face and name, delivering cheesy sermons, among other things.

Clutching Matthew 5:37 in my heart, those things fell away. What was left was the heart of a church where members are free to grow and mature in Christ.

Later that night, I laid down to go to sleep. The Holy Spirit came over me. It was the most comforting and loving experience I ever had. I laid there in pure love and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up feeling wobbly. Not wobbly in my body. Wobbly in my soul.

I had been pruned! Pruned by God!

As I adjusted myself, I felt good because God thought I was bearing fruit and wanted me to bear more.

The experience after being pruned is like walking for the first time. None of us probably remember taking our first steps, but there’s a new freedom of movement that happens. A new dignity and power. At first, we wobble around, holding onto the couch and side tables for support. Then, off we go, taking our first wobbly step.

That’s how I felt after being pruned by God.

But why would God prune me? What kind of fruit was I bearing that He wanted more?

I was, it seems, pruning the Church!

When we clip away the extraneous, unnecessary things—the things that take away from the True Vine—we are pruning. I just so happened to be pruning the church as I sought one to attend. By keeping Matthew 5:37 in my heart, I was snipping away at anything from the evil one.

The evil one, it is typically said, is Satan. In my pruning, I was clipping away anything from Satan and leaving the rest—the True Vine—to bear fruit.

This is the kind of thing God wants! He wants us to be vinedressers like He is!

Note that when God pruned me—and when I pruned the Church—this wasn’t punishment or suffering. I wanted a mature church with no hint of the evil one because not only did I want to grow in Christ, I wanted to commune with other mature believers.

God’s pruning was done in love. Sure, I felt wobbly in my soul. But I knew I would adjust. And the feeling that I had pleased God through some actions was incredible.

God prunes where there is fruit growing. We each can take the first steps to produce fruit by keeping scripture sincerely in our hearts, praying, and looking to become more mature in Christ and seeking to be with fellow mature believers.

Note that I held firmly to the scripture when I was pruning. I wasn’t being critical for the sake of being critical. I also wasn’t stepping outside the Church in order to offer complaints. Rather, from within the truth of the Bible, I found myself clipping away at unnecessary things found in church.

If you wish to prune anything, you must do this very thing. Keep God’s goodness in your heart. Hold it steadfast. Everything extraneous will appear to you and the True Vine will be revealed.

This act is much different from criticizing for the sake of mere criticism.

A lot of people criticize the Church, but they do not hold the scripture in their hearts while doing it. In fact, they may not even care about the utter destruction of the Church at all.

But when you are pruning, you are seeking to propagate more of the good. The entire purpose is to bear more fruit. Pruning a plant is different from manicuring a plant or simply whopping it down. Pruning focuses on the fruit bearing portions and seeks to reproduce them so there will be more fruit.

 I wasn’t punishing the Church at all. On the very contrary, I was looking for a church home where I may truly grow in Christ. In doing that, I was looking for the real goods—the goods that are of God and not of Satan.

3.

Pruning is an act of love. There is, in fact, a long tradition of sincere and mature believers who pruned the Church. One such person is Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, a philosopher during the Danish Golden Age, took Christiandom to task on many things. And he did this as a Christian. His entire project, we may say, was the renew Christian faith within Christiandom. Kierkegaard wrote an enormous amount—and even offered contrasting interpretations of scripture than what was so often told in church. He developed entirely new concepts and is considered the Father of Existentialism.

Kierkegaard was a pruner.

In this way, we may join the collection of pruners within Christianity to bear God’s good fruit in the world.

When you go about pruning—whether it’s a person or a body such as the Church—you will not be relying merely on your own understanding. In Proverbs 3: 5-6, we learn the following:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

  In pruning, you will not be leaning on your own understanding. Instead, you will take a bit of the true word of God in your heart. This will make your aim straight. You will come about whatever needs pruning, and as you hold the scripture in your heart, the extraneous branches will appear to you.   

               The entire act of pruning is done in the spirit of the Lord. It’s not about your comfort. Some branches may appear to you that have been a source of comfort for a long time. Remember, though, that Satan can disguise Himself as comforting. In fact, seeking sheer comforts of the world may, in fact, be the very thing the evil one wants.

               This does not mean that God wants us uncomfortable! Instead, He wants a mature walk with us. That is, in fact, what this entire essay is about. You must trust that you will grow and God will carry you to a level where you are not particularly suffering. But growing may make you wobbly—just as I was when I was pruned.

               In my own pruning, I found that feel-good messages told in church have stunted believers, including myself. When God was pruning me, He was preparing me for a better walk with Him; a mature walk.

4.

I have taken spiritual inventories in the past. Let me simply tell you, the results haven’t been good to my ears. Two of my spiritual gifts are prophecy and evangelism. I did not want to hear this! It was never my place, to my mind, to offer and interpret the Word. Yet, here I am. That is exactly what I am doing!

               God’s purpose in our lives is often a mystery until we take the first step God guides us with. If you go about pruning, God may lead you to places you never thought you would be.

               I have written things before, but I never thought I would be a Christian writer. I most certainly never thought I would be instructing people as to how to mature in Christ.

               If you take a spiritual gifts inventory, be sincere in your answers. You may not like the results. But it’s best to know your true spiritual gifts—for God will use them!

               If you think that the number of days you spent in church or the number of years you’ve been a Christian count toward maturity, think again. This very essay is about how to grow in Christ and it has nothing to do with time in church. In fact, if you have spent years in a church that needs pruning, you may in fact be stunted in your growth, as I was.

               There is no limit to how much you can grow in Christ. Every day is a challenge. I have found that going with the spiritual flow rather than the flow of the world gets one to a better understanding and a closer relationship with God.

               In the end, maturing in God is about seeking the Lord, first, and performing Godly actions, second. The more bold you become in your Godly actions, like pruning, the more mature you will become in Christ.

5.

A word about suffering.

Since the passage about the True Vine is often taken to be about suffering, let us discuss suffering in the world.

Christians, for a very long time, have been perplexed and have offered various understandings of the problem of suffering.

I have a philosophy background. In philosophy, this problem is typically known as the Problem of Evil. In short, the question is: Why, if God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good, does He allow evil and suffering in the world? Clearly, He knows about it. Also, He’s against it and could do something about it.

The Problem of Evil is often taken to be an argument against the existence of God.

Let me offer a different interpretation of the problem.

If you are a Christian, you must believe in evil. Specifically, you believe in Satan. Satan, according to Christians, is the source of evil.

God could be an authoritarian and come in to rid the world of all suffering and evil. But that would leave us stunted in our growth.

Instead, I offer this: Why, if there is evil and suffering in the world, do we allow it?

According to most Christian traditions, we have free will. So, we can do something about evil. Also according to most Christian traditions, we are born with the ability to be virtuous and good. And, clearly, because many people discuss evil things in the world, we know about many of them.

Why don’t we stop them?

Keeping your eye on God and holding steadfast to scripture when you are pruning is, in fact, a way of ridding the world of evil and unveiling the goodness of God. It also encourages your own personal growth and maturity. God wants mature believers. Believers who act and do things. God wants believers who bear fruit.

I hope this short essay has aided in the instruction of maturity so you may grow in Christ. Remember, this is a two-way street. We have to do our part. When we do, we will be blessed with a deeper relationship with the Creator.

In the end, that’s what this is all supposed to be about.

[This essay was initially published on Amazon for .99 cents and can still be found as such here.]