Why God's Work Hurts Sometimes2
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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.
This week we're picking up our "on the way with Jesus" theme. We'll be looking at one of Jesus's most important homilies in helping us understand how we might move from life with Jesus in theory to life on the way with Jesus in real time.
To start with, Jesus tells us why God's work in us will hurt from time to time.
God cuts off every branch in Jesus that bears no fruit. Fruitless branches suck up energy from the vine. Every good gardener in Jesus's day would keep an eye on fruitless branches and would eventually trim them off to facilitate the growth of the healthy parts of the plant.
Meanwhile, those other branches that bear fruit God prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Again, every good gardener in Jesus's time would watch to make sure that fruitful branches didn't get too leafy. If the branch is putting all the energy into more and more leaves, it leaves less energy for real fruit. Fruit trees need to be pruned so they don't over-produce leaves leading them to under-producing fruit.
All of this, of course, is a metaphor for how God the Good Father/Gardner works with us in Christ.
If there are things in that are a part of our lives that aren't bearing healthy spiritual fruit, God will go to work to prune that from us. It's painful, it's never fun, but it's necessary.
And if there's an area where we are bearing good fruit, every so often God the good Father will prune that back to make us more focused and more fruitful.
Either way, there is going to be pain involved in following God. We shouldn't be surprised at this. In all of our lives there's stuff that's not quite right, activity that gets in the way of real life-giving fruitfulness, and sin--more sin than any of us would care to admit, more sin than any of us are ever going to be fully aware of. All of this, God is an expert at identifying and disposing of.
Not all pain finds its origin in God, of course. We live in a fallen and broken world. People sin against one another all the time in all sorts of ways. We sin against ourselves and inflict unnecessary pain into our own lives. All of this God can redeem but it is not God-sourced pain.
There is, however, God-sourced pain—it is a part of the process of making us fully human again, without any ounce of sin left to leech life out of us. This process is a gift to us if we will receive it as such. The goal is not pain but fruitfulness, joy, beauty, strength, courage, holiness, faith, hope, and love.
When have you experienced God’s pruning and trimming? What was the result of that experience? Have you ever resisted God’s pruning and trimming? What happens when we do that? Is there a place where God would have you to surrender to his good gardening work in your heart today?