As a young boy growing up on a small farm south of New Holland, I fondly remember, two rather large grapevines which graced our property. The one vine was trellised on a large fourteen-foot square overhead arbor, strategically placed between the summer kitchen and the outhouse. Over summer, its leaves provided a beautiful canopy of shade to walk under where fresh vegetables were often placed out of the sun. The vine branches, which filled the arbor canopy produced green grapes.
The other vine grew on a trellis located next to the walk which snaked some thirty feet from our back door to the large circle driveway. This vine was supported by large vertical posts and horizontal rails, providing the vine a climbing trellis. This vine produced purple grapes.
As a boy, it was this trellis which I frequented often when grapes were in season. Between it’s convenient reach and perfect height, to “grab and go” required little effort for this young lad to indulge in the sweet purple grapes throughout the last days of summer.
Grandma lived in the “dawdy house” located on the west end of our farmhouse while my family lived on the east end. For my first sixteen years, I knew no different than Grandma always being present with us.
Grandma was an outstanding gardener. She loved plants of all kinds. I can still see her in her Old-Order Mennonite garb, working in the garden and flower beds. She would meticulously care for the plants which brought her so much joy.
A large sugar maple tree graced the edge of our driveway between the barn and a flat roofed chicken house. This maple tree hosted summer reunions and visits when grandma’s seven children and my many cousins came to our home. The chicken house no longer housed chickens. One end was home to dad’s Springer Spaniel hunting dog, Sparky. The other end was home to hundreds of bobwhite quail being raised and reintroduced as a game bird in our area. Grandma’s flower beds and plants dotted the many outbuildings. I know this well because I needed to trim (by hand of course) and carefully mow around the many flower beds and plants which Grandma created and tended.
Every year, usually very early spring as I recall, Grandma, mom and dad would prune the grape arbor and trellis. I of course, was involuntarily assigned to help clean up the vines and branches which were pruned. These discarded vines and branches were carried to the field which quickly created a burn pile.
Without fail, as Grandma and my parents pruned and cut the branches, I was certain there would be no grapes this year. It appeared as if there was little left on the vine except a few ugly bare vines and select branches. It seemed to me that anything potentially fruitful and productive met its demise as grandma’s pruning shears did its job. I carried armfuls of severed remains, tossing to the burn pile the pruned branches. With each armful, any hopes and images of standing barefoot and eating handfuls of lush purple grapes later that summer were discarded in the burn pile with the branches.
To my surprise, as spring came into bloom, new growth slowly began to appear on the vines. Grandma did know what she was doing after all!
In the weeks that followed, I would eyeball the new growth and the small tiny buds which promised clusters of a forthcoming harvest. The hope of a barefoot boy stuffing his face with purple grapes no longer remained discarded with the decaying branches on the burn pile.
Late summer, there I was—standing barefoot with purple hands and a purple mouth testifying that, yes indeed, a fruitful harvest had arrived!
For the grapevine, I am sure pruning is not much fun. Yet, as Scripture says clearly, it is through the necessary and grace-filled pruning which enables the branches to be even more fruitful.
One only needs to look at a wild grapevine growing in the woods. A wild vine becomes a burden to the trees and any canopy within its grasp, ultimately choking and consuming its host. This untended vine produces zero fruit and its wood is good for absolutely nothing.
The vine Jesus speaks of is quite different. Both the vine and branches are cared for and loved by the gardener. As the branches remain attached to the vine, they are also carefully pruned and produce much fruit—to the joy of the gardener.
Throughout my life, there have been needful moments when God pruned deeply into my life. Some of these prunings were deeply personal or experienced through significant loss. One difficult pruning was when the church called me from bi-vocational ministry into full-time ministry. While I truly sensed the call into full-time ministry, this required me to leave a job I loved, a role I was good at, and an environment which I found incredibly rewarding. I was in my prime and the marketplace was most secure and full of promise.
I remember well standing at the crossroads of decision—am I willing to fully surrender myself to the Lord? To lean forward required me to place much trust in the Gardener.
As I surrendered, I found myself being pruned hard. A pile of branches which included my security, my identity, and much opportunity (at least as I understood it), was severed from the vine and now lay at my feet…awaiting the burn pile.
Pruning hurts—but in many ways I could have never imagined, I became more fruitful.
Just like Grandma with a pruning shears, God knows what He is doing when pruning those He loves and cares for, so that we can be more fruitful—for Him.
Pruning can hurt, but it is a necessary hurt and a good hurt—because our Father is the Gardener—we can trust Him.
“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. (The words of Jesus) John 15:1-2 NIV.