I have this word “pruning” buzzing around in my head. My husband and I watched LOKI’s first season this summer and while I really don’t want to give anything away, I will share one aspect of the show. The theme of being “pruned” by a military task force meant that those who disrupted the space-time continuum would be touched with a baton-looking device and immediately dissipate. “Pruning” meant cutting off what led to disorder and preserving what led to order.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe borrowed this term from an age-old agricultural term pruning for tending crops. We “prune” or trim a tree by cutting away what is dead or overgrown. We have evidence from the Bible that ancient civilizations used pruning; as early as Moses’ days, God gave the Israelites instructions on how they should cultivate their crops in the Promised Land: “…six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather its crop…” (Leviticus 25:3). This technique has stood the test of time and I can personally see the benefit of pruning as my family tends our little flower garden. We cut off the dead leaves and the withering flowers to allow for more nutrients to flow to the new growth. I’m amazed that even if we cut certain plants down to little nubs, they will return even fuller and more beautiful in just a short amount of time.
The Bible is full of agricultural references, since Israel was an agrarian society. And Jesus used many gardening metaphors in his parables to open the eyes of those who believed. He used the specific term of pruning in John 15: 1-8 :
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.
Scripture promises that as a believer, I am the branch abiding in the Lord and cannot do anything to lose my salvation, just as I did nothing to earn it. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I am also assured that I will have areas that will be pruned because they are detrimental to my soul and need to be cut off in order to cause more growth. God, the vinedresser, will carefully remove idols to rid me of the blight of sin before it can take over.
I like how John MacArthur honestly addresses pruning in his sermon on John 15 “I Am the True Vine“. He said, “The Father comes along in our lives with a knife. It’s painful. And He cuts. He cuts sin. He cuts useless, wasteful behavior, pre-occupation with things that don’t matter. How does He do that? He might do that through sickness, might do it through hardship…” and he went on to give many more examples of how trials come into our lives to prepare us for the cutting.
As I look back on my life so far, I can see clear evidence of “pruning” seasons and I discovered a pattern. If there was something that I found my purpose in, at some time or another it was suddenly and painfully taken away from me to humble me and it forced me turn to the Lord instead. Maybe others can relate to my main three examples.
- When I put my hope in achievement, God used chronic pain to bring me to a full stop on all of my self-glorifying pursuits.
- When I put my purpose in my ability to sing, He took my voice away by allowing vocal nodules to build on my vocal cords.
- When I put all of my identity into my boyfriend, God ripped that relationship away from my clutching fingers.
I made those things my idols and God cared too much for me to allow me to put any more energy into that which stunted my growth. Now, I can see God’s wisdom and sovereignty in His plan for stripping away my past self-reliance and I thank Him for His care. But I am having such a hard time trusting Him and thanking Him for my current process. I just don’t like it. I’ve asked Him in my prayers “can’t I fast-forward and be on the other side of this valley? Can’t I go straight to when I have 20/20 hindsight like I have for my previous pruning seasons?”
If it were up to me, I’d stay in this place of wallowing in self-pity. But God isn’t allowing me to do that either! He is convicting me by His Word just as Jesus said that the Word would cleanse His disciples (John 15:3). The trials are not what will be removed, it is my sin that will be cut off.
It is the Word that prunes the Christian. It is the truth that purges him,- the Scripture, made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit, which effectually cleanses the Christian.C.H. Spurgeon. “A Sharp Knife for the Vine Branches.” Vol 13:1867.
The Lord has placed other believers in my life to point me to truth when I don’t want to pursue it on my own. My husband, my pastor, my friends, and church members have all reached out in various ways to speak Biblical truth to me and I’ve had several attitude adjustments. They have reminded me that pruning will lead to future growth and it is evidence that I’m connected to the “true vine.” It is proof that I am indeed a Christian and will never lose my relationship with Jesus Christ. And this precious promise should be the beacon of hope for me to focus on and be encouraged by. To continue the flower garden metaphor, I should be more like my plants. They are not phased by the pruning, but they do all that they can to reach their petals and leaves towards the sun, graciously accepting the cutting off of superfluous distractions that don’t matter.
May we do all that we can to turn our faces to the Son and thank Him for what He’s done for us. We are no longer branches that will be cast into the fire and meant for destruction. We are branches connected to the True Vine that will hold onto us forever, cultivate us for optimal growth, and produce an abundance of peaceful, righteous fruit.