(The beginning portion of this is restated from earlier posts to remind the context. If you have been keeping up with this series, feel free to skip down to the bold-typed principle #2 for the latest content.)
At my home, I have a small vineyard that was planted by the previous owner. He was an Executive Chef and a skilled wine maker. The vineyard is only about 25′ x 45′. It’s a stepped, square layout, however, so it has 5 rows of vines. The yield from a full crop in this configuration can yield several gallons of wine and dozens of bushels of edible grapes in a single season.
I have yet to enjoy a full harvest yet, however.
We moved here 2 years ago, after a harvest had just taken place. The ensuing winter was particularly harsh and it looked as though several of the vines were frozen. Because of this, the next year, I wanted to allow the vineyard to produce on it’s own without pruning, so I could learn what I had and what the extent of the damage from the cold winter had been. I was correct that the roots of the entire middle row had been killed. But-to our delight- we still had a bountiful harvest! It produced at least 4 or 5 bushels of grapes.
This past winter, I made sure to rake in and mulch some leaves on the vine roots to protect them before the freezes came. I also read and studied how to prune the vines properly and set about the task when the vines were most dormant. Due to the length of the vines, this was labor intensive- but I found it simple as I got the hang of it.
This spring, the vines fruited beyond belief! It had to be twice what had come up last year! I was so excited that I began to promise wine and jam to all of our neighbors. I began to figure out how to budget for what we might need to purchase in order to handle all of the crop for our own, private little ‘Food and Wine’ festival we would enjoy this fall…
…but my great harvest did not come. Almost all of the grapes withered and died.
You see- last summer (a year ago)- we had a very wet season. I didn’t water at all and the harvest still came and it was good. But this year, we had a very dry summer. And after the spring rains stopped (even though they were abundant), I didn’t know I needed to keep watering the vines. I went about trying to save my harvest once I saw the shriveling and here is what I observed:
– Once a grape or cluster of grapes begins to wither, there is no amount of watering that can bring them back. They will shrivel into dust as the vine has already cut them off.
– However, if even one grape in the cluster remains healthy- if you water it, it will mature and be able to be harvested.
So, my daily chore this summer was trying to decide where to water and where not to do so. I had to figure out what section of what vine still needed irrigating based primarily on the amount of healthy fruit it was producing. This was arduous and took time and study of the little vineyard. Some large sections of the vine only had one remaining grape with a potential of harvest. Do I still water it?
In another section- one of the vines that was damaged by the first winter but not killed began to, surprisingly, grow prolifically! I watered this vine daily even though it bore no fruit this year because I know the future is bright for it’s eventual yield. I’m particularly excited about this one- because it’s different from the other vines and I look forward to the new variety this will bring to the vineyard.
So- this year’s harvest is a bit disappointing. However, I am immensely encouraged that having now been taught to protect my roots, prune my vines vigorously but properly, and water my vines the moment I see the spring rains have stopped, I know that I know that I know…next year’s harvest is going to be the greatest this little house has ever seen and all of our friends and neighbors will be blessed.
From all of this experience, God has taught me much, and I have compiled them into 6 principles. I will share them one at a time over the next several posts:
- You can get a harvest without pruning, but if you want the greatest harvest God can give you- you have to prune.
“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
You need to counter intuitively shift your paradigm from the perception that pruning is an arduous penalty and recognize it for what God intended it- as a reward. The only things that need pruning are those things that have grown and born fruit. You haven’t been chopped down and you never will be so long as you commit yourself to ongoing growth.
If I do not prune the vineyard at my house, then 2 things will happen:
– Some of the vines will spring off of the fence structure and support and stretch gloriously straight to the sky. It looks beautiful- and then the fruit comes. As the fruit comes in, the vine is weighed down to the ground and looks like a droopy, sad, trapped canopy. The very thing it is living for is actually dragging it to the ground! Are there things you have committed yourself to doing that gave you joy at one time and now are simply dragging you down? Do you find yourself more disappointed with your accomplishments than elated? If so, you’ve probably abandoned His support and began moving in your own power somewhere along the way. I encourage you to ask God how to prune your life back to His love and encouragement. You’re simply not going to make it relying on your own gifting and skill. It’ll leave you empty and despairing no matter how great everyone keeps telling you that you are. You might need to revisit a relationship or a spiritual discipline that helped reveal direction in the past and then make the margin in your life to access it as often as you can.
– The other thing that happens when you don’t prune a vine is it gets all tangled up in knots and begins to choke out its own life. Some of us might be clear and balanced in who we are and how to serve God based on our identity and gifts, but we are too cluttered up with extraneous things that get in the way of our ability to accomplish these goals. On the one hand, these things can be bad habits, painful, memories, or sin. Other things can be tasks- even good works- but they are too unrelated to your “roots” to bring the kid of fulfillment God desires for you to experience.
In the case of the bad habits and painful memories/ sinfulness, they should likely be pretty obvious. Now that you know what you need to accomplish- you have to take it extremely seriously and face it with humble courage. After all, God told you to do this! He revealed this to you. Therefore, even if you are uncomfortable with counseling or healing ministries- in order to bear the fruit that you now know God has called of you, you have to be willing to be “pruned” of these things. Whether the change you need to make here is spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical- it may be painful but you can be encouraged that it does not last forever and the reward will be easily felt once it is done.
In the case of activities you are doing that rob you of the time you need to do what you now know God wants from you- you might need to be willing to disappoint some people. This can be difficult, but you’ll likely be surprised how many things you thought depended on you that really don’t. Any time I have moved on from things under God’s leading (sometimes with trepidation) people stepped right in to what I was doing. Sometimes, I think they were glad I was finally gone! When we don’t do this, we might even be inadvertently preventing someone else from doing what God asked of them by not leaving it for them to do.- If that’s the case- watch out! The gardener is coming and He will get this part of you out of the way one way or another. It’s always easier to ask the gardener to prune you as you go than wait too long so the gardener has to whack you down in a hurry before you choke out the calling on the lives of other people. Remember- your commission is always about others and, ultimately, the others that will come after your mission so that it might grow and continue beyond the confines of your life.
Finally- the biggest obstacle to pruning is short-sightedness. Pruning can be hard and painful, and it’s easy to quit and settle for routine. Furthermore, sometimes we’re pruned from that which we were convinced was related to our roots, and it leaves us questioning almost everything. This is where faith comes in. Sometimes- it’s necessary to leave something even when you aren’t sure what comes next. You need to trust what God said to you and know that new and more vigorous growth is coming. –Be careful not to misjudge a simple pruning as an uprooting.- If you know your roots- you can apply them to whatever new direction God has assigned you- this pruning is meant for a reason. It may not be harvest time yet, but the harvest you’re going to experience as a result of this surprise is going to be the best you have yet experienced.
Rejoice, if you’re being pruned you’re half-way through the winter! Spring is nearly here and the journey will continue…