Thought for the Month (October 2014)

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2 NIV).

Having spent the last couple of years growing a vine in our garden has taught me much about the meaning of Jesus's words. Necessity demands a vine is pruned regularly during the spring and summer months for the vine spends much of its resources growing new shoots at a rapid rate and this draws nutrients and goodness from the plant which ought to be going to the fruit. Pruning therefore keeps the goodness of the plant focused on the fruit. Furthermore, un-pruned vines not only become untidy plants: they also hinder the growth of other plants and other vines near them in the garden or vine grove. So keeping them pruned is essential for both fruit and character.

Jesus reminds us that in a similar way God prunes us, both as individuals and as churches, removing all the ineffective and damaging branches which hinder the fruit of the Holy Spirit from being produced in our lives.

Here there is a call to abide in Him. When things don't go our way we get angry and frustrated, and stamp our feet and throw our tantrums, and say well I am not playing any more but this not God's way. He is patient with us. He doesn't force us to join Him nor does He condemn us when we fail; rather He prunes us.

In other words He cuts at the things that are causing us to stumble, whether it be an issue with someone, a particular sin in our lives, or something we are clinging to which needs to go. However, God does not prune us with a pair of pruning snips or shears, or even a hacksaw or an axe. He uses His Word.

"Indeed, the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

Only as we submit to God's Word can we be pruned by God and live in Jesus Christ for it is the Scriptures themselves, who reveal Jesus to us, and teach us His ways. Only as we read and study the Scriptures are our heart reactions to others or particular sins or things we ought to let go of brought to light by the Holy Spirit.

So if you don't read and study His Word and spend time in prayer, how can you claim to know Him? For this is where our nourishment as Christians is truly found and this is what abiding or remaining in him means. Jesus goes on to say in John 15:5-6, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." Too often unwholesome growth comes from being unwilling to submit ourselves to God's Word. Now the purpose of pruning isn't to kill us but to get rid of the rubbish in order to produce better fruit in our lives.

As Galatians 5:22-23 demonstrates "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

How's your vine looking? I know every time I think God has dealt with one branch in my heart another grows up and any gardener will tell you this is natural. The issue isn't that the wrong branches grow, the issue is whether we allow God to prune us or not.

In world which cries out for its own way and to do its own thing. God calls His people to be pruned. Unlike the vine in my garden that has no choice as to whether it is pruned or not, we do. We are given the freedom to respond to God's grace and to allow Him to prune us or not.

The question is: Are you letting God prune you?

Happy growing!

Rev. Andy Coyne (Interim Moderator, Tunbridge Wells Group of United Reformed Churches)

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