This time last year I was blessed to be given the opportunity to attend a children’s ministry conference in Chicago. I registered months in advance and was so excited to participate. Little did I know that by the time the conference rolled around, I was going to be in the middle of really difficult pregnancy and a difficult time in my life. It came time to leave and instead of praying for the things that God would reveal to me that weekend, I was worried about making it through the flight without being sick and sitting through conference sessions. Thankfully the conference was being held close to where my mom lives and who doesn’t want to spend some extra time with their mom when they are sick? So off I went to the conference and I was so glad that I did. Aside from all of the children’s ministry information I gained, the conference had a huge focus on self-care and renewal. I had no idea that is what I needed, or maybe I did but, I was too tired to do anything about it. However, it was exactly what I needed. The conference theme for the weekend was Abide which I have heard defined as: maintaining your intentional, life giving connection with Jesus. All weekend we explored John 15.
John 15:5 “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
I knew then the reason I was at the conference. Jesus needed me to renew my commitment to connection and take time to abide in Him. Jesus tells us that when we do this we will bear much fruit and don’t we all long for that? I know I do. We never feel more helpless or ineffective than when we aren’t attached to the vine. So I spent my weekend making an effort to attach myself to Jesus realizing that without Him, without being firmly attached to the vine, I was nothing. I spent time examining the fruit in my life both personally and professionally. It’s been a full year and I often revisit these thoughts and I find them incredibly relevant to Custer Road today.
During one of the conference sessions, presented by Christine Yount Jones of Group Children’s Ministry, we focused on the different phases of growing fruit because, we all know that a tree doesn’t magically grow fruit overnight. We love to focus on the happy season of beautiful fruit but, we often overlook the process that comes before. The soil has to be prepared and the conditions just right. The process is long and hard and often times far from beautiful but, it’s essential. You can’t bear fruit without it.
The part of the process that I found most intriguing was the pruning. Pruning a vine helps to increase the quantity and size of the fruit. It aids in makes the remaining fruit sweeter and helps decrease the potential for disease. If you were to ask a gardener, they would tell you that when you prune a vine you are essentially just injuring it. Pruning is painful and pruning wounds but, pruning triggers growth. This painful process signals to the hundreds of latent buds buried deep within the vine to grow. They’re just waiting for a reason to come out. The reason they finally grow? The wound. Out of brokenness and pain comes beauty and growth. Although it seems harsh, the process is intimate. It can’t be done from a distance. Pruning requires the vinedresser to draw close, to hold the branches in his hands, and to examine it carefully. It’s intentional and purposeful. When we abide in Jesus and allow the ineffective or diseased parts of our lives to be pruned away, the fruit we bear will be the result of the intimacy of our relationship with Him.
The Initial pruning of a harvest can take away 90% of the last year’s growth. The process requires an incredible amount of trust in the capable and purpose driven hands of our vinedresser. We get so emotionally tied to the way things were. We reflect on the beautiful fruit that once grew out of familiar and time tested processes. Why should we prune? Our branches are looking pretty good and there is fruit growing. This is true but, it’s important to remember that the vinedresser doesn’t only prune away the bad parts. It’s also necessary to prune away some seemingly good things as well. We may have a vine full of good things that are choking out the sunlight from the fruit trying to grow behind them. It is only when those things are carefully removed that the fruit behind it even has an opportunity to thrive. We thought the fruit was good but, what is left behind has the potential to be bigger, sweeter, and healthier.
Even healthy growth must be cut if it’s not going in the planned direction. Sometimes it is necessary to prune away the good things that aren’t mapping back to our vision or our purpose in order to focus ourselves in the direction that our all-knowing vinedresser desires us to go. Much loved programs, places, ways of doing things are hard to leave behind, but their absence makes the way for God led new growth.
As our church is on the cusp of preparing to bear new fruit, I pray that all of us will intentionally abide in Jesus. Connect ourselves to each other and to Him, and attach ourselves firmly to the one true vine, as we make way for new fruit, new growth, and the moving of the Holy Spirit in the direction that He will lead us.
Master Gardener. We thank you for the ways that you carefully and intentionally tend to our lives. Help us to identify the areas that need to be pruned so that we can give more freely of our time, our gifts, and our talents. Guide us to hold on loosely to the things of this world as we learn that everything we have belongs to you and that without you everything else is meaningless. May our lives bear bountiful fruit that point the world to you and enrich our church, community, and world with your love. Amen.
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