I just have to give credit where credit’s due! Tim Keller’s sermon, The Vinedresser on John 15:1-2  is one that many have heard me quote. Keller’s sermon addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his “pruning” of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us— the branches— looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ the true vine, drawing love and life from him, or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit that gives testimony that we are vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life?

Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus (the one speaking in John 15), says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, prunes fruitful, abiding branches! To punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less!

Pain: When Loss Equals Gain

Keller says that the Father never cuts/prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.”[1] Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches that are next to us, and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences that are leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus through bearing more fruit as his life surges unhindered through us.

It is often the good things that distract us from what is best, wouldn’t you agree? A relationship, job, ministry opportunity, bank account, house, and so much more can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. Ever so subtly our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling and before we know it, we are attempting to abide (or draw life from, find our meaning in) that gift. Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove it for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Ephesians 1:22-23). When his purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father.

No Random Strokes

When I had cancer surgery, I trusted the surgeon to cut me with precision and to remove only the tissue that was diseased. Praise God that the surgery was successful and while my scar reminds me of the pain I endured, I am healthy and cancer free.

Sisters, our Father is precise, purposeful and effective in the surgery he does in our lives. There are no random, haphazard, out-of-his-control acts of pruning. Are you experiencing the Master Gardener’s pruning in:

  • Your dreams about the kind of life you envisioned for yourself?
  • A relationship? Perhaps your relational terrain has been plowed and bulldozed, leaving a landscape that not only is unfamiliar but seems lonely and barren.
  • Ministry or job circumstances that seemed to be going so great, suddenly folded or collapsed?
  • Finances, health, family…these important aspects of life aren’t flourishing anymore but floundering, perhaps failing.

“When You Feel the Steel, Cling to the Vine”[2]

Jesus was cut, wounded, and put to death so that our experiences of pruning are temporary. Our Savior, slain and pierced on the cross for our sins, died and conquered death so that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He alone is our source of life, comfort, and hope. When you feel the pruning of the Father, look away from your painful losses and fix your eyes upon Jesus. Grieve, cry, and pour out your heart to God with raw honesty, yet in your grief be careful to not push God away. He never allows changes or initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good, for growth in our lives and glory to his name.

When you feel the steel, cling to the Vine, sister. Jesus is with you in the changed landscape of your life and he has not left you! “He wounds in order to heal, that he might make us alive. He casts down, when he designs to raise us up. He brings death upon our feelings, wishes and prospects when he is about to give us the desires of our hearts.”[3]

Lord God, I pray for anyone who reads this and is in the pain and loss of your pruning work. You are compassionate and mindful that we are but dust, Father, and that we are weak and in pain. Please pour comfort over any hurting heart and stir up faith to see you and cling to you alone. Amen.

[1] Keller. (https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/the-vinedresser-5769/)

[2] Keller. (https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/the-vinedresser-5769/)

[3] John Newton. Source unknown.

About the Author:

Ellen Dykas

Ellen received her MA in Biblical Studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1999 and serves as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality. Ellen loves ministry to women and is most passionate about mentoring, teaching God’s Word and spiritually nurturing others to walk deeply with Jesus. New Life Presbyterian in Dresher, PA, is her home church.