We have several apple trees on our property that bear a few good apples annually. However, these so-called dwarf trees have grown to 25 feet in height making the apples out of reach. Many branches don’t bear fruit at all causing me to learn more about pruning. A friend at church with a large orchard suggested pruning severely in the winter down to reachable height. I pruned a couple to about 8 feet hoping this spring would bring blossoms. Jesus talked about this in John15 saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5).
Fruit bearing is a major subject in the New Testament. Jesus said that it is important to be pruned as a Christian to bear more fruit. In other words we all receive pruning, which hurts. This is the purifying or sanctifying process of growing in Christ. It is in discipleship and even trials and suffering that we learn how to flourish and bear more fruit. We do this by abiding, dwelling or living in the Vine or God. This means staying attached for nourishment. God’s Word, the Bible is our sustenance. We don’t live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from God. As Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” He is our life-giving source. Apart from Him, we can do or are nothing. That is pretty severe and even shocking for many people. Notice in the above photo taken by my cousin, landscape photographer Douglas F. Frank, that there are two trees. One is full and flourishing, the other seems to be struggling with only one branch green. It is a metaphor for life in the Vine.
My undergraduate college years at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania required religion classes, as it is a land grant college. My first course was a survey class presenting every religion and non-religion. I recall several fraternity brothers finding Eastern religions of some interest to pursue as a result. Frankly, I was a bit confused by it all, as there was no direction or core teaching for the class. The Bible was not taught as inerrant or the Word of God. Later on in my life as a Christian, I could look back at the teaching that brought doubt to me and many others like James 1:5-8 saying, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” This teaching comes right after James talks of trials coming to mature and complete us, bringing perseverance.
Trials and temptations can be difficult and often God brings or allows them as part of our sanctification or pruning process. It is the way of the cross for all Christians. There is no escaping it, unless you don’t want to grow or want more trouble in your fruitless life. Jesus takes this process very seriously teaching the disciples that, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19). In other words, fruit-bearing is what we are here for. We are here on earth to serve God and others with the gifts He has given us. Everyone has different gifts to be used to build up the body of Christ, the church.
I finally came to faith in a blizzard during perhaps the lowest part of my adult life. After imploding during my leadership of a hospital through financial troubles, I too got into trouble, even though I was successfully bringing achievement of the goals in the hospital turnaround. God clearly confronted me in a radio sermon as I drove home late at night in a blizzard along Lake Superior. On my knees in several feet of snow in the headlights, I received Jesus as my Savior and Lord beginning my pruning or purification through Christ.
In a Christian counselors office soon after my conversion, God spoke to me audibly my instructions for following Him saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21b). This voice directly from God was clearly telling me the way to go. Later when asked to lead a large men’s Bible study, I was challenged to consider a career change into full-time ministry. This led me to seminary where my hospital career would move from the “front office to bedside,” as I pursued the chaplaincy. God had used hardship to bring me to His desired plan and calling in my life. Some 17 years ago I began my healthcare chaplain work that has taken me to hospice, mental health and acute care hospitals. Now it is not finance but souls and spirits I am addressing.
Change has brought clarity, but challenge as well. God has been pruning me of bad habits and branches like alcohol use and fear of people to be able to better counsel patients and their families through difficult transitions and crises. He has continued to lead me to find peace in His presence through trial and pruning. This is the way of His love.