“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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:1-3).
A grapevine is pruned—literally hacked and sheared down to bare bones—because left unchecked, the branches will grow dozens of unnecessary branches and leaves that will compete with the grapes for time and energy. After a vine has been pruned, it’s ready to bear more fruit. Just like Jesus says.
First of all, I want to point out that a pruned vine looks awfully familiar.
Yes, the inescapable conclusion is that pruning is a living picture of what it means to carry our cross and lose our life to find it (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus was humbled unto death and life flowed from his sacrifice. We humble ourselves too, submitting to the Father’s pruning so that life can flow from our living sacrifice (Romans 12:1,2).
But what is this pruning? At first, it might seem like letting go of all the “things” and “activities” that take up our time and energy. We might read this and think, “Time to clean house.” It sounds logical, doesn’t it?
But I want you to notice two things.
First, who does the pruning? The vine? Does the vine prune itself? Do the branches prune themselves? No, the Father, the Gardener, does the pruning. So this is not a call to do an invasive life surgery on our own hearts. God initiates the pruning.
Second, notice what the pruning IS. Jesus says, “You are already clean (lit., pruned, same word) because of the word I have spoken to you.” The pruning is about God’s voice. It’s about his word, and letting it do it’s work. His word is truth. Truth is a way of describing what’s real, or reality itself. So the real pruning takes place in our hearts and minds, not our actions. Our actions will follow naturally when a transformation has taken place in our soul.
A little science would be helpful here. Our brains are made up of millions of neural pathways forged by our thinking and choosing. The pathways that get used more often are reinforced and get wider and more entrenched, which is why a habit is hard to break. But get this: The process of choosing new thinking pathways (new paradigms, breaking habits, making new ones)—are you ready for this—is called pruning.
Okay, back up.
Jesus says his word (his truth) prunes us so we can be more fruitful. Science reveals what’s happening under the hood, in our brains, as this pruning takes place. Jesus is developing new neural pathways and helping us shut old, unproductive ones off. He’s paving new ways of thinking, choosing, and acting. He knows that a revelation of truth can usher in a personal apocalypse and end the world as we know it.
And his target isn’t merely changing our behaviour. No, he’s going deeper, culling unproductive and harmful ways of thinking. Human beings are far more wasteful, counterproductive, and downright evil with our thoughts than we are with our actions. This is what Paul is talking about when he urges us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It’s why repentance is critical. It’s why faith really changes things. It’s why we’re told over and over again, “think on these things.”
It’s why I’ve written this post.
Now for the question, though: What is God trying to prune out of you? What attitude, what assumption, what thought habit, what tendency, what bias, what lie, what useless mental loop? Jesus, reveal your truth. Prune us.
We want to be more fruitful.