We don’t need Angie’s List to verify the expertise of our pruner. We need only look to the record of the life of Christ and the living annals of his work among His people. Yet, when we look upon the work of the pruning knife in the lives of our dear ones or feel its sharp incisions in our own lives, we tend to find ourselves questioning.
Does He know what He is doing? What are His intentions? Did He not know that was already a struggling sapling? Did He not see how fruitful that bough was before He lopped it off?
Our Sight of Pruning
On a road trip this past Summer, our family drove through the Edna Valley, a tiny Central Coastal version of the more famous Napa Valley. Some of the vineyards were lush. flourishing, and easy-on-eyes. Others looked like they had been abandoned, as they only had stumpy stalks to offer passersby. Upon a closer look, however, one could see that the wines were receiving proper irrigation and were carefully tied and trimmed.
A thoroughly pruned vine, from our sight, appears haphazardly harmed, if not dead. No grapes hang heavy on its tendrils. No green shoots promise a healthy harvest.
So, too, do the lives of people in the midst of the pruning process appear. They look lifeless and limp, stubby and stripped. It is as if each disappointed prospect, each announcement of hard news is another stroke to an already languishing plant.
His Sight of Pruning
Sinclair Ferguson, in his book Maturity: Growing up and Going On in the Christian Life, has been incredibly helpful in my understanding of the Divine pruning process. He writes the following:
“The skillful vinedresser distinguishes between adequate pruning and over-severity. A vine severely pruned will produce leaf-bearing shoots which invariably become fruitless stems. Pruning is a skill. If the vinedresser cuts too far from the bud, the stub will die and harbor disease. But if he cuts too close to it, the bud itself may be damaged. The skillful vinedresser cuts close, but not too close, to the bud-and produces strong, fruitful, lasting growth.”
Our God is the heavenly husbandman. He is an expert pruner (John 15). After all, He created both the concepts of xylem and phloem and the more complex inner-workings of each and every human soul (Genesis 1 and Psalm 139).
“God knows what he is doing in every situation of our lives, not least in our darker moments. Pain, times of disappointment, or sorrow, all serve as his pruning knife. His providences seem to cut deeply; but his purpose is to enable us to grow strong enough to bear new fruit. He prunes with perfect skill. We are tested, but not beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).”
When the vineyards around you or within you seem to be lifeless stubs and feel severely pruned, it is helpful to look at some of the previously pruned fields now fruiting at the hands of the same Pruner. And really, we need only look to one field, the life of Christ.
The Pruned One
Century upon century before Christ came to earth, the prophet Isaiah, filled with the Spirit, poetically predicted His coming.
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground (Isaiah 53:2).
The picture here would have been clear to the Jewish people. What once had been a healthy vibrant nation at its height under the rule of King David had become a stump. Through stubborn sinfulness and resulting exile, God’s people no longer looked like a tree of promise. Rather, they seemed a forgotten, nearly rotten stump. Into this context, Isaiah promised that a new shoot would grow, breaking tenderly through the remains with new hope and new promises for God’s people.
Certainly, when Christ came to the earth and began his dynamic earthly ministry which was paired with powerful signs and wonders, God’s people began to wonder if He might be the promised shoot, the green one come to fill God’s people and place with new vitality.
However, at the height of his ministry, just as the tree seemed poised for power and promise, he willingly let himself be mangled by men. The tender shoot was on the tree of punishment, yielding himself to the Pruner’s knife.
And all seemed lost. Until the Resurrection where the pruned Person of Christ showed the first fruits of the coming harvest.
The Heavenly Pruner had known what He was doing all along. Out of death would come new life.
Our proof of the expertise of our Pruner lies in the life of Christ and its continued work in the world. As such, we may rest secure that, in time, the pruned parts of our lives will bear lasting fruit. What now appears to be a dead stump will bloom like the Cherry Trees in D.C in the Spring.
Until that day, let us rest in the expert hands of the Pruner.