I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branching in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you.
I will never forget the day as a young intern in my first pastoral job when I witnessed a young couple in my church receive the news that their young 2 year old son had died due to complications from a surgery to heal a delicate vein condition. Words cannot describe the anguish that filled the hospital room. But what was even more indescribable was how this couple, after a season of grief and mourning, was able to rise from the ashes of death and declare that despite all of the misery they had experienced, all the loss they had endured, they knew that God was good and that He had a purpose in all this, a plan to make known His love to the world through their story. What is the connection between pain and joy? Is it even possible to experience true happiness during and after a time of great trial or tribulation?
In His final hours with His disciples in the book of John, Jesus gives a simple metaphor. Jesus says that He is the vine. We are the branches. Now, I am no master of vineyard science, but, I recently discovered that a grape vine has branches growing out from the vine (surprise, surprise). These branches are what bud, flower, and eventually produce the grapes that a vinedresser needs in order to sell or use to produce wine. After the harvest season in late summer and early fall (for the Northern Hemisphere), the vinedresser goes through the vineyard and prunes the branches. This pruning process cuts back the length of the branch as well as cuts away other branches that have grown off of that branch. Why do this? Why not let those branches stay and produce more grapes? Unfortunately, that’s not how vines work. If you let branches grow and grow, you may produce more grapes, but those grapes will not be enjoyable at all, and eventually the vineyard would destroy itself. The only branches and the only vineyards that produce good fruit are those that have pruned branches connected directly to the vine. Hence the call to abide directly in the vine!
Pruning hurts. Pruning cuts off things in our life. Pruning is suffering. And pruning takes many forms, not just tragic loss. The root of this verb “prune” in John 15:2 means “to clean” which is the word John uses in 15:3 to describe the reason we are branches attached to the vine at all: because Jesus has already cleansed us. But this cleansing has an ongoing pruning process to it. The end goal of pruning and suffering, although it is painful, is our joy. The joy of God doing His work to make us more and more conformed to Christ. Tim Keller in his book about suffering says, “Jesus Christ suffered, not so that we would never suffer but so that when we suffer we would be like Him.”1 Every snip of the pruner’s sheers is deliberate, lovingly executed for this purpose: so we may be more like Christ and bear more fruit.
When Jesus told His disciples about the vine and the branches, He said His purpose in telling them all this was so that His joy would be in them, and that their joy would be full! Suffering and joy go hand in hand. Pruning, cutting back, and bearing fruit go together. Pain and hope are ingredients in the recipe of discipleship. Just ask any seasoned Christian how God has used pain and suffering to draw them nearer to Him. How is God pruning you in this season of your life? How might He turn this season of suffering and pruning into a joyous season of bearing fruit through the pain? The end goal is worth it: to be more like Christ and to come alongside others who are suffering! This is life in the “already but not yet kingdom” of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Keller, Tim. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Dutton Publishing Group. 181.