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The Father's Pruning Shears

Pruning

by Dennis Pollock

Jesus’ promises to those who will abide in Him are thrilling to contemplate. He tells us that we will be exceedingly fruitful and that whatever we ask, we will receive. Anyone seeking a fruitful, fulfilling life, complete with lots of answered prayers will be drawn to that amazing fifteenth chapter in the gospel of John, where these promises are made. But embedded within His description of the blessings of abiding is another promise which is not so thrilling. In fact it can be downright scary if we take it seriously – and we should by all means take the words and promises of Jesus seriously!

Our Lord tells us that as we experience the abiding life and begin to bear fruit, we will also experience seasons where the Father cuts away portions of our lives, portions which we may well consider near and dear to us. Here is how Jesus puts it:

“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.” (John 15:2)

It is the second part of that statement that Christians may find a little troublesome: “Every branch that bears fruit the Father will prune in order that it may bear still more fruit.” If you love Jesus, follow Him, and are determined to be one of His abiders, you are guaranteed seasons of pruning in your life. And even without knowing much about pruning, most of us instinctively realize that it will not be a particularly pleasant experience. It involves cutting, and if grapevines could speak, they would tell you that cutting involves pain!

Pruning and Grapevines

Jesus lived in an agricultural society, and the growing of grapes was common in his day. Not everybody grew grapes, but nearly everybody knew the process. And like grapevine tenders today, they understood that grapevines can never be allowed to grow as large as their natural inclination. In order for the grapevines to produce the most and the best fruit, they must be pruned – severely cut back every year.

To get a better understanding of the pruning process, let us consider a few quotes by modern grapevine growing experts:

  1. J. King writes: “Don't be afraid to cut. When you finish (pruning), about 90% of last year's growth will be cut.”
  2. Carl Jacobsen writes: “If you fail to prune your grapevines they will go completely berserk.  It doesn’t take long for a vine to reach 30 or more feet and vines can be quite unproductive at that size.  Pruning encourages new wood to grow and the grapevine fruits only on new wood.”
  3. Lon Rombough declares:  “In many ways pruning is, in essence, the art of grape growing.”


Here is something in which all grapevine growers are in complete agreement. If you want the most and the best fruit you can possibly get from your grapevines, you must prune, and it must be more than some light, token cutting off of a few branches. By the time you finish pruning those grapevines properly, they will look nearly bald, and will be just a shadow of their former selves. But in the end, you will do the vines and yourself a tremendous favor, and in their season they will produce a bountiful harvest.

Jesus uses this concept of pruning to illustrate that there will assuredly be times of “cutting back” in the lives of all who follow Him. We must not be astonished when this happens, nor complain too loudly. It is part of the process the Father uses in our lives to bring about maximum fruitfulness. And it is a universal process. Jesus does not say some who bear fruit will be pruned; He says, “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes.” Start bearing fruit as you walk with Jesus, and you can expect that at some point the Father’s pruning shears will come out and be used on you!

Basic Concepts of Pruning

There are several basic fundamentals of pruning we must keep in mind. First, pruning is done for a purpose. God is not a masochist. He does not enjoy causing pain or taking away from us things that give us pleasure. He takes no delight in stripping away activities, relationships, status, or possessions just to see how we will react. He loves us deeply, and is concerned about making us all we can be in Jesus Christ. And when we pray, “Lord, use me,” He takes us very seriously. His pruning times are an answer to that prayer.

Second, the Father’s pruning is very precise. It would be folly for a grapevine tender to rush through his vineyard, whacking off branches randomly, supposing that any form of cutting is as good as any other. When it is the Father’s intention to bring reduction to His children in any form, He will do it tenderly, carefully, and precisely. Old rotten “wood” will be removed, and healthy, productive, branches will be left alone.

Third, the plant will experience trauma. Although pruning is actually very good for the health of the grapevine, initially it will experience trauma at being cut, and will need time to heal and then regrow branches. Likewise, the children of God will find the Father’s pruning a bit traumatic at times, and may even need a season of healing before the new growth can start. But never fear, the Father knows what He is doing, and in the end you will be stronger, healthier, and more fruitful than ever before.

Fourth, the immediate results are unimpressive. Those who know little of the importance of pruning are likely not only to be unimpressed, but downright scornful of what has happened in their lives. To the untrained eye, the divine Pruner is nothing more than a butcher. He has lopped off branch after branch until our lives look small, naked, and bald. We long for the “good old days” when our branches extended in every direction and our leaves were abundant. Former relationships that gave us such pleasure are now gone, our financial state is on life support, and blessings we used to take for granted are nowhere to be found. We are just a stump of our former selves, and we wonder why God could be so cruel. We forget that “every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Finally, time proves the wisdom of pruning. At the Father’s initial pruning the verdict is not in, the story is not fully told. Wait a while. Give God time to do all He desires to do in your life. See the direction of those new branches that begin to grow and the marvelous fruit that appears on them. What seemed to you a tragedy, a cruel and painful joke made on you by your Creator turns out to be a huge favor. The new branches will always be better, stronger, more beautiful, and more fruitful than those old branches could ever be. God is not your enemy; He is your friend. And His pruning shears are also your friend. They are your Creator’s surgical tool used to remove cancers, lop off excess activities, remove useless waste, and make your life a thing of beauty that will make even the angels marvel.

Biblical Examples of Pruning

JacobThe patriarch Jacob is a great Biblical example of a man severely pruned by God. Jacob grew up in a wealthy and very comfortable home. His mother loved him and spoiled him. As he grew older he developed a side of him that wasn’t pretty. Jacob became deceitful and tricky, and found ways to get what he wanted, regardless of how it hurt others. He tricked his brother Esau of both his birthright privileges and the patriarchal blessing that should have been his as the eldest son. Finally Esau was so furious with his sneaky little brother he was ready to kill him. His mother told Jacob to get out of town – immediately. She told him he could “stay a few days” with his uncle and then return. Little did Jacob or his mother realize that those few days would amount to twenty years.

When Jacob left he carried nothing but a staff in his hand. The rich kid was now poor and had nothing but his wits and the providence of God to protect him. Jacob may not have thought of it in these terms, but he had been severely pruned. The Father’s pruning shears whacked and snipped all around him until he was barely more than a stump. When he reached his uncle he was able to land a job, but he found his uncle far more adept and professional at deceit than he ever was. Jacob was deceived and tricked again and again, and forced to work longer and harder than he had ever worked in his life. No more quietly hanging around the tents having his momma make his favorite meals! Life was tough, and not especially pleasant for the boy who had grown up to be such a sneak.

But as he spent time with his uncle a strange thing happened. His branches began to grow. He married the great love of his life (although he got her sister thrown in without ever asking for her or wanting her). God blessed the work of his hands, and no matter how much his father-in-law tried to trick him or change his wages, he still prospered. After twenty years with his uncle Laban, Jacob was a wealthy man. He had a wife (and a spare), many children, numerous servants, and an enormous amount of livestock. New, strong branches had grown, and they bore abundant fruit. God told him to return to the land of his youth. He who had left with only his staff now returned as one of the wealthiest men in the region. But more importantly, Jacob had been cured of his deceitful ways. Years of working for his uncle had burned out his youthful foolishness, and he returned home wealthy in character, which in God’s estimation, is infinitely more important than wealth of possessions.

Moses, likewise, experienced the Father’s pruning hand. From being one of the most powerful men in Egypt, he, too, was stripped of nearly everything, and had to flee to another land. He would spend the next forty years living a quiet life until the Father was able to build in him the character required to lead God’s people out of bondage, to be an instrument of God’s miraculous hand again and again, and still remain the meekest man on the earth. Had Moses told people his story about being a prince in Egypt while he was out in the wilderness watching sheep, they might well have said to themselves, “What a loser! This man used to be powerful and wealthy beyond any of us and he totally threw it away. Now he watches sheep for a living! How pathetic!”

But Moses was not a loser. His life was not the least bit pathetic. He was in fact a chosen instrument of Almighty God, and his life was totally on schedule. All those who bear fruit will be pruned, that they may bear still more fruit. It is the way of the kingdom. It is the way of the Father.

Birth of a Ministry

In my life I have had definite pruning times, but none so severe and so thorough as in that season when I founded Spirit of Grace Ministries. Strangely, it was at the time of the ministry’s birth that my wife of thirty years became involved with another man, resulting in our divorce. As I left a larger ministry to found Spirit of Grace ministries, I took a pay cut resulting in me making about a third of what I had made before. I moved from a beautiful four bedroom two-story house sitting on an acre of land to a small apartment. In almost every way, my life seemed to be decreasing and diminishing. The new ministry had only a handful of supporters and it seemed almost unimaginable that we could stay afloat. It felt like I had been caught up in a whirlwind with no idea of where I would eventually land. I could only hold on tight and hope for the best.

But He who had been so diligent to prune proved equally diligent to sustain and produce new branches and new growth. Doors opened for me, large checks came into the ministry from unexpected sources, and it became evident that I had not been forsaken. In time I met my wife, Benedicta. She proved not only to be a very sweet lady, but an awesome minister of the gospel. Many lives have been touched, and I think it is fair to say that had she not become a part of my life and ministry, great numbers of souls that have turned to Christ would still be in their sins. I began to see fruit in a much larger measure than ever before. In one year of my current ministry, I see far more spiritual fruit and witness more people receiving Jesus Christ than I had seen in the nearly twelve years of my previous ministry. In view of all this, how could I dare complain about the pruning work of my Heavenly Father?

Stripped Clean

The ultimate demonstration of this principle is seen in the life of our Lord Jesus. His pruning was not for His own sake or His own needs, but rather so that the Father could reposition Him and exalt Him to reach the entire world. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was Israel’s greatest celebrity, and was followed and applauded by all but the jealous religious leaders.

Then came the Father’s shears. Popular support waned. Jesus was arrested, and nailed to a cross to die. The disciples scattered. It would appear that in some sense even God turned His back on Jesus, from Jesus’ sad cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He died on that cross alone and naked, stripped of every possession.

But where the Father prunes, He also brings about glorious new growth, life, and fruit. Three days later Jesus Christ, the Son of God was raised from the dead. In forty days the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, and in a single day the church gained three thousand new members. Jesus is the ultimate fruitful vine and He has been producing fruit even to this day. He had predicted it would be this way, declaring, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

If you are in the midst of a season of pruning, have no fear. The Master Gardener knows what He is doing. Your end will be far more beautiful than your beginning!

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