God's Spiritual Pruning Process

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I agonized over pruning my trees because I thought it would harm them. Pruning, whether physical or spiritual, doesn't seem pleasant, but it really is necessary for health and growth.

Our backyard has two bowl willow trees. In the past 10 years, they have grown to about 25 feet tall and nearly 25 feet in diameter. We love their shade and the privacy they provide during the summer. In the fall, however, we noticed they needed some care. The branches were getting thick and rubbing against each other and there were quite a few dead limbs.

Now I am not a tree expert, and at the time I knew virtually nothing about trimming trees. So, I had an arborist come out to our home and inspect our trees. He told me that although our trees were basically healthy, they needed pruning.

Like the trees in my backyard, we sometimes need pruning in our spiritual life. Jesus Christ reminds us of this when He says, "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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John:15:1-2). Pruning involves cutting off superfluous branches. This is done to make the tree bear better fruit, grow higher or to give the tree a more handsome appearance.

All trees need attention and care if they are to flourish and beautify our yards. Before we prune, we need to have a mental picture of what we desire our tree to look like. According to the Better Homes & Gardens New Garden Book, "Grown under optimum conditions... a tree has a good chance to become the beauty you hope it will be."

In similar fashion, God knows the beauty that He hopes we can become when He says, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah:29:11). God envisions us becoming part of His family. When He prunes us, He has that vision in mind.

How to Prune

Before I pruned our trees, I had to learn how to prune so I wouldn't injure the trees. We can be very thankful that God "pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Psalm:103:13-14).

A very encouraging scripture from one of the newer translations available today called The Message, reads, "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it" (1 Corinthians:10:13). Pruning is a process through which God mercifully helps us.

When pruning a tree, it is important to use the right tool. Although chain saws work well for large branches, they are not appropriate for smaller branches that require a gentler touch. Hand pruners and small pruning saws work better for this. Also, tools need to be sharp to reduce the possible harm to the tree.

God's Word is the perfect tool for pruning us. God's Word is sharp so that it can remove the unwanted "branches" in our lives without harming us. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews:4:12). God's Word helps us to discern our intentions and thoughts.

God directs our pruning through the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit guides us "into all truth," helping us to study what we need (John:16:13). It also helps us to see what God is working out in our lives. The Holy Spirit encourages us and directs our minds.

Pruning must also be done at the proper time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service recommends pruning trees during the dormant season so that the wounds will close during the next growing season and minimize the transmission of disease. A tree pruned at the wrong time of year is more susceptible to a fatal disease.

God knows the perfect time to prune us. Read again the story of Esther. God is very much a part of our lives despite how separated we sometimes might feel. Mordecai's response to Esther in Esther:4:12-14 after learning of Haman's evil plot to exterminate the Jews shows God's providence. God placed Esther in the exact position necessary to be used by God for intervention. It is sometimes difficult to realize that God's timing is perfect, but God knows what we can become when properly pruned.

Why Prune?

Pruning improves tree health and strength. Pruning for health involves removing diseased or insect-infested wood. Typically it involves thinning the crown to increase airflow and reduce pest problems, and removing crossing or rubbing branches. Pruning encourages trees to develop a strong structure and reduces the likelihood of damage during severe weather. All of these actions encourage growth of the main trunk.

As we are pruned in our spiritual lives, we must "seek those things which are above" (Colossians:3:1). Paul instructs us, "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians:3:5). These attitudes and actions are things that "rub" against God's ways, much like the branches in trees.

Our pruning must be extensive for us to grow in God's character. Just a few verses down Paul says, "You yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (Colossians:3:8-10).

God's pruning process uses the circumstances in our lives to help us grow in His character and appearance. Even Jesus Christ was pruned. Hebrews:5:8-10 tells us, "He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." Vincent Word Studies says that "Jesus did not have to learn to obey... but he required the special discipline of a severe human experience as a training for his office as a high priest who could be touched with the feeling of human infirmities... The fundamental idea in verse nine perfected is the bringing of a person or thing to the goal fixed by God."

Don't Be Discouraged

Sometimes pruning does involve trials. We must remember Hebrews:12:5-6, which says, "Do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens."

The Adam Clarke Commentary says the following about these verses: "Here is the reason why we should neither neglect correction, nor faint under it: it is a proof of the fatherly love of God Almighty, and shows his most gracious designs towards us; from which we may be fully convinced that the affliction will prove the means of good to our souls, if we make a proper use of it."

The Barnes commentary on verse 10 follows with a similar thought: "This is the elevated object at which God aims by our trials. It is not that he delights to produce pain; not that he envies us and would rob us of our little comforts... it is, that he may make us more pure and holy, and thus promote our own best interest." Remember, God is pruning us to become like Him.

Producing Growth

Pruning is also done to improve appearance and produce growth. This involves enhancing the natural form and character of the tree by removing limbs that turn inward, cross or extend. It means removing anything that competes with the growth of the main trunk—water sprouts, root suckers and excess lateral branches. Thinning lateral shoots will let the remaining branches get better air circulation, water and sunlight.

Any Y-shape in the main trunk creates a weak zone with two competing branches. The lesson for us is to choose whom we will serve. As Christ says, "You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew:6:24).

We must remember that we are the work of God's hand and that we "are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Isaiah:64:8; Ephesians:2:19-22). As our inward man changes, our actions will also.

I agonized over pruning my trees because I thought it would harm them, but what I learned is that pruning actually improves health and strength. Our pruning may not be pleasant sometimes, but we can take comfort because God says, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians:4:17).

Before the priests could enter into the temple, symbolically coming before God, they had to be cleansed. God had the Israelites create the bronze laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar for this purpose (Exodus:30:17-21). We too must be cleansed to serve as priests before God (Exodus:29:1-4; Leviticus:8:1-6; Ephesians:5:25-27).

The word cleanse (Strong's number G2511, katharizo) that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians:7:1, when he says, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God," comes from the same root word that the word prunes (Strong's G2508, kathairo) in John:15:1-2 comes from. It means to purify.

Before we can serve God as kings and priests, we must be cleansed. It is through the pruning process that God develops His strength in us and molds us with His character and in His appearance so that we can serve Him for eternity. UN

Andy McClain attends the Indianapolis, Indiana, congregation.

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