When we lived in Africa my husband planted a grapevine at the edge of our patio. He hoped the vine would grow up to the roof poles where it would not only produce clusters of delicious grapes but also provide some much-needed shade. The vine did poorly, however; and no matter how carefully we cared for it, it remained more like a weed that never seemed to go anywhere.
At that same time, our dog had puppies which were very difficult to control. One day, one of them decided to take a bite out of the grapevine. I remember seeing him running about with the whole thing trailing from his mouth. All that remained of Colin’s carefully planted and lovingly tended effort was a tiny piece of the stem still poking up above the ground! I was sure that the vine would never recover, and yet that “pruning” was the very thing that caused the vine to flourish! Not only did it survive, it eventually reached the top of the patio and stretched gloriously from pole to pole. The very thing I had been so sure would kill it, actually helped it to grow! I learned a lot from that little grapevine.
And I am evidently in good company because Jesus used the example of a vine to teach us something very important. He tells us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We’ve all seen what happens when a branch loses its connection to the vine: it withers and becomes useless. Jesus is saying that the same is true for you and me spiritually. If we are to live and bear fruit we must remain connected to Jesus.
Jesus also tells us that God the Father is like the gardener who tends the vine. He removes the withered branches and from time to time He carefully prunes the living ones in order to make them even more fruitful. He reshapes them. He may even cut away seemingly good and necessary parts so that more light and nourishment from the vine can flow. None of that seems pleasant at the time. In fact, it can be rather painful, especially when the purposes aren’t clearly seen; We may even believe the hardship is likely to kill us! But if we are to grow and become all that the Lord wants us to be, we have to be willing to let Him do His work in us. Our loving Father knows exactly what is needed to fuel our growth and fruitfulness. And as we cling more closely to Jesus and His Word to get us through, the pruning actually does accomplish His purpose!
Jesus tells us later in that same chapter of John exactly what that purpose is. He says in verse 16,“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…” I love that verse. You know, I often felt very lonely and unwanted as a child. My siblings were all much older and were gone from home through most of my childhood. At school, I was almost always the last one picked when teams were chosen. I still remember how awful that felt! But this verse tells me that Jesus wants me. He has chosen me. He has invited me into friendship with Him. And He has plans for my life that include bearing lasting fruit for His Kingdom! In Him, I have gone from being excluded and unable to being included and enabled! And I want you to know that He has chosen you for all this also! He invites you into sharing His life and living in communion with Him. As we live in that relationship with Christ our Vine, we will be lovingly pruned from time to time by our Heavenly Father for His glory and our good. But as we open our hearts to the life-giving Holy Spirit who flows from Christ through us, we will bear fruit that could never be produced in our own strength. And it will be fruit that will last for all eternity.