I will never sketch a portrait or paint a landscape, but I get a glimpse into an artist’s world using a simple garden tool. Standing in the midst of the mulch with a pair of pruners in my hand, I can see the final shape of the thing, each branch that needs to be trimmed or eliminated. The art and the science of pruning makes sense to me the way oil paints and canvas make sense to others.
Pruning is my favorite gardening task because while the process can look and feel brutal, I know that it will only benefit the plant. And also, it helps me better understand God.
“…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.”
Why would Jesus refer to God’s work in our lives as pruning? It feels so harsh, this idea of cutting off limbs…
- Create a clear leader: Sometimes a tree will develop co-dominant leaders. This means that 2 branches are growing near the top of a tree that grow straight up and become equally dominant. Cutting off one allows the other branch to grow & become the dominant branch. This prevents the branches from splitting and tearing in heavy winds.
How often do we allow something or someone other than God to become a dominant leader in our lives?
- Encourage growth: Pruning can stimulate growth in sparse areas of the tree.
Have you ever encountered a tree that had a big hole in the side? God’s desire is for us to be a beautiful, complete version of who He created. But sometimes, we have blindspots – holes that we can’t see. God will gently prune us to help us develop in areas where we are sparse.
- Remove disease: Sometimes you prune to remove dead or decaying branches that can kill the tree.
When we have areas in our lives that are decayed, God desires to get rid of those things to keep us healthy. When we hold onto those diseased thoughts – unforgiveness, bitterness, a toxic idea about life – we risk having those things corrupt and kill everything else in our lives.
- Strengthen: We prune away suckers, water sprouts and sun seekers to eliminate weak wood and provide more food and water for the tree. These growths will never produce fruit and divert necessary water and nutrients from the healthy parts of the tree. Removing them allows the tree to direct all it’s energy to the healthy, fruit producing branches.
In our lives, sometimes we spend time and energy on activities and relationships that will never bear fruit. Time and emotional energy are limited resources. God’s desire is to remove those non-fruit bearing shoots so we can concentrate on the things that glorify Him and produce fruit.
For all it’s benefits, pruning can go horribly wrong.
Crepe myrtles are glorious trees that grow down south. They are drought tolerant and bloom in the hottest days of summer, but they require pruning. There are some who prune crepe myrtles in the most efficient (but not effective) way possible. True lovers of plants and master gardeners call it “crepe murder.” The trees tolerate it, but they aren’t as beautiful or as healthy.
For plants like lilacs and azaleas, when pruning is done at the wrong time, it can eliminate all of next year’s blooms.
Over-zealous pruning can shock a plant and cause it to die.
Healthy pruning takes time, thoughtfulness, and gentleness so that you don’t break or harm surrounding branches. It also takes a strength and love for the plant that isn’t about efficiency, but about nurturing. While pruning can look and feel extreme, we serve a God who will never commit “crepe murder.” He will never over-prune (even if you think that’s what He’s doing). He will always prune at the right time and in the right way.
You can trust Him. He is the Master Gardener.