In John 15:1 Jesus says that God is the gardener and he prunes every branch that does not produce fruit. A person stuck in his or her ways of sin is like a prickly shrub growing a lot of branches with no fruit. These branches must be removed so good fruit can grow. In the same way as a bush is unable to prune itself, a person who is living in sin is unable to remove all the unfruitful branches in life. Paul described this condition in chapter seven of Romans when he called himself a wretched man and realized only Jesus can change him.
Jesus provides the essential elements for growth; he gives us his Word (the Bible) for fertilizer, other believers for sunshine, and the Holy Spirit for water. When our roots begin to receive this new water, sunshine, and fertilizer, new branches begin to grow. This time the branches are not prickly bushes, but beautiful new branches adorned with the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control,” (Galatians 5:22). Our old acquaintances will marvel at who we have become. When we allow God to be the gardener, he will shape us into his design.
In our old life there are branches of pride, anger, shame, and guilt. There is isolation, procrastination, and intoxication. These branches do not produce nice fruit. There is the memory of all the broken lies, and all the times we were sincere in promising to never sin again, only to sin again a few minutes later. We can never remove those hurtful branches with our own strength.
God has to get out his clippers and start chopping. As he sheds branch after prickly branch, there is great pain in our heart and mind. Our pain seems unbearable. We may feel that the pain is not worth the results. Our mind seems dull. Our heart hurts so badly we want to shout, or cry, but no words come and neither do the tears. We wonder when this will ever be over. It hurts so badly because we grew these branches for our entire lives. We let them grow, untrimmed, and ugly. We have branches of hatred, resentment, lost opportunities, broken relationships; branches mixing with branches mixing with branches into a jumbled mess of prickly, spiny, repulsive, bits of personality.
The emotional state of a sinner is ambivalence. On one hand our self-esteem is at its lowest while on the other hand our pride is at its highest. A part of us wants to change, but the sinful part of us wants more of the same. That is why we pass on so many opportunities to give our lives to Jesus. The only time we have fun is when our minds deceive us, yet we know deep in our souls that we are totally miserable. What a horrible way to feel. Can we break away from the thing that has a hold on us?
Despite all our thoughts, words, and behaviors that are displeasing to God, he loves us so much that he desires us to spend eternity with him. He gave us the only way to get to heaven: belief in Jesus. When we begin to think we are so bad there is no hope, we need to remember that God loves us. There is not a weed or branch that can escape the pruning shears of the master gardener.
God’s love offers more joy, more peace, more pleasure than can ever be obtained by any sinful gratification we can experience or imagine. When we let go and allow him to trim, to prune, plant, and perfect us, we grow to full maturity with much fruit.
“The Lord watches over all who love him” (Ps.145:20). This verse means he is not giving us a sideways glance. Nor is it a casual glance. It is a determined look. He has all his attention fixed on us. It means that he is aware of everything we do, everything we think, and everything we say. It means more even than he knit us together and formed us while we were still in our mother’s wombs. It means more than before we were born he knew us (Ps. 139). It means he loves everyone he has made. It means he is near to those who call on him. It means he fulfills the desires of those who fear him. It means he hears the desperate, pleading, cry of the sinner or lost and offers to save him or her.
God is awesome. He will give us wisdom when we do not know what to do. He will give us direction when we do not know where to go. He will give us hope when we are down and out. He will pick us up when we fall. He will forgive us when we sin. He has his eye on us. He knows our faults, our weaknesses, our triggers. He knows who we have been, who we are, and who we will be, and he loves us anyway. When he is finished with us, we bear large beautiful flowers that grow into juicy, delicious fruit.
Our reasonable response to God’s love is to let ourselves be set free by his pruning shears from those branches that bind and confine us. But in order to be set free we have be willing to be trimmed. Letting go can cause grief and pain as we get rid of all the ugly, unfruitful branches. We will have to give up some of our habits or things we once valued.
However, in all of this process, there is still great news. New branches will grow! Gardeners know that when growing beautiful flowers it becomes necessary to prune the bushes back, add water and fertilizer, and allow in sunlight. When the branch is pruned, the bush grows prolific petals next season.
How much do we have to give up? Everything. We need to allow God to prune back the old branches until there is nothing left but the root. We can’t cling to a single branch. As he chops off our guilt, our shame, our pride, and our old beliefs we can begin to change. He removes our desire for sin. He gives us a new reason to live. He gives us new life as he removes every branch that has kept us in bondage.
God removes our shame by making us face it. The same is true of the other branches. He removes the branches by making us face the things that are growing on them. We can’t trim the tree ourselves. Once we submit to him, he begins the process of change. That is why the hurt is so painful. We have to come face to face with who we are.
We have to learn to manage our anger, control our impulses, admit our feelings of guilt, and end our ceaseless obsessions and compulsions. We have to be careful to not be fooled by those who would say those things do not matter. They do. Praise God we can face Jesus in prayer, wash our pain in the love God speaks through the Bible, and be refreshed in worship, and God will remove those behaviors from us.
The process sometimes takes longer than we want and we may have to wait. But when we allow God into those areas, the result is worth the effort. In our age of instant gratification we sometimes want instant sanctification. But, it takes time for new branches to grow on a bush. Likewise, it takes time to remove our old branches. When we wait on the Lord, he will renew our strength. Instead of being cast out with the weeds; we will be harvested with the fruit.
Fruit-bearing Christians have gone through the metamorphic process of changing from sinners to Christians, who unfortunately continue to keep sinning, but do seek to change. They allow God to remove the ugly, prickly branches in hopes of growing good fruit producing branches.
How is your garden growing? Does it have thistles and weeds, or dandelion seeds? Do sand burrs and crab grass grow side by side? Do vines twist and snarl without any fruit? In other words, does sin control your life? If it is sin, call on the master gardener and allow him to begin trimming away the old growth, to make way for the new fruit.