I had a medical check-up a few days ago. I have one every three months where we review how I am doing physically and chat with both a registered nurse and then my doctor about my life-style, exercise routine, eating habits, and if there are any issues that we, as a team, need to deal with. It is a thorough review of my physical health and my lifestyle. And, as I recently celebrated my 72nd birthday it is good to stay in touch with how I am doing, making adjustments as I age. It was interesting to note that over the past few years I have shrunk almost three inches in height.
The evening of the most most recent health review I was reading the Gospel according to John (my favourite) in a new version (The Passion Translation) and came across John the Baptist’s comment: “So it is necessary for Him to increase, and for me to be diminished.” (John 3:30). I took note of the verse in light of the fact that I had just come to realize that I was “diminishing” and was a few inches shorter than in my earlier days.
That led me to study the verse a little more during my time with Him that night. Of course, I recognized that my becoming slowly physically shorter was not what this verse was referring to. It was simply the way the Holy Spirit got my attention so I would look a little deeper into John the Baptist’s comment and its context.
The first thing I found was that a more literal translation of the verse would be: “He is destined to become greater, and I must be pruned.” This, of course, let me to look into the whole process of pruning… it has been years since I first studied it (40+ years to be honest).
When you prune a tree or a vine you are literally cutting off parts of the plant that are still bearing fruit. However, you cut them back so that the plant can produce more fruit of a higher quality. You obviously remove the dead branches on a regular basis so new shoots can come up in their place. But, pruning is looking at the overall plant, tree, or vine and removing some of the lesser producing branches so that the remaining branches can produce more and richer fruit.
John 15:2 “Every branch 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.”
The Passion Translation: “He (The Father) cares for the branches connected to me (Jesus) by lifting and propping up the fruitless branches and pruning every fruitful branch to yield a greater harvest.
From the Wiersbe Study Bible …Of itself, a branch is weak and useless. It is good for either bearing or burning, but not for building (see Ezekiel 15). The branch cannot produce its own life; it must draw that life from the vine. It is our communion with Christ through the Spirit that makes possible the bearing of the fruit. The sooner we as believers discover that we are but branches, the better we will relate to the Lord, for we will know our own weakness and confess our need for His strength.
Our heavenly Father is never nearer to us then when He is pruning us. Sometimes He cuts away the dead wood that might cause trouble, but often He cuts off the living tissue that is robbing us of spiritual vigour. Pruning does not simply mean spiritual surgery that removes what is bad. It can also mean cutting away the good and the better so that we might enjoy the best. Yes, pruning hurts, but it also helps. We may not enjoy it, but we need it. (Emphasis mine)
Of course we all agree that we must decrease so that He can increase. He is to receive all the praise, thanks, and glory for all that is accomplished in and through us because it is all about Him and not about us. But, we are a little less excited about the prospects of being pruned … shaped in such a way that we can bear more and better fruit for Him. The end result is great but the process of pruning can be painful, difficult, and even disturbing and unsettling at times.
In my life currently I am very aware that He is removing a number of activities, ways of doing things, things that I do and do well, and even some relationships … things and people that are robbing me of spiritual vigour. These are, as the study Bible notes state, not necessarily bad things. Often Jesus is removing good things and things that touch lives and benefit others. He does this so that we might be changed and thus “enjoy the best.” He prunes so that we can bear better fruit and more fruit. John 15 mentions this when it refers to “fruit,” “more fruit,” and “eternal fruit.”
So, like me, maybe you are undergoing some changes and feeling a little disoriented and even frustrated. Maybe you are experiencing a hunger for something new and different. It could be that you like what you are doing as you live for Him and can do it well but you are bored with it all. These are all good feelings as they are indicating a “grace shift” as God takes away things and ways that are not bearing as much fruit as before, and prunes so that you can bear new fruit, more fruit, eternal fruit.
So, welcome the season and embrace what the Holy Spirit is doing. It is resurrection life flowing through you – you are the branch and He is the vine – that bears the fruit. So, let Him remove and change things so that His life can flow more freely and bear more and better fruit in and through your life.