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Like a Tree- Lesson 5: Pruning

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Centre for Ageing Better on

There are reasons why pruning is very beneficial to a tree’s health, fruitfulness, and
longevity. These reasons all have spiritual meaning for us as well. Let’s go through these considerations and make an application in our own lives.

But before we look at trees, let’s look at what Jesus says in John 15:1-8. Even though
Jesus is using vines in His teaching, the same principles apply:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that
beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it,
that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I
have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit
of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am
the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in
me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast
them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in
you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father
glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

I want to bring out the two main points in this teaching: 1. removal of branches from the vine happens for two distinct reasons, and 2. the ultimate goal is increased fruitfulness. Remember this as we move to examples of trees.

The first general principle in pruning a tree is to remove all the dead and dying wood
first. You may have heard the cliché about getting rid of the deadwood. Cliché or not, it is still valid. Spiritually, deadwood is the parts of us that are not productive and not contributing to our overall path of growth and health. Paul talks a lot about “putting off the old man.” One example is in Colossians 3:8-9, where it reads, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;”

Deadwood on a tree is pretty clear to see. It may keep its shine for a short time, but very shortly, its deadness is apparent to all who view it. Our job should be to recognize it for what it is and remove it ourselves. The term “put off” means to forcibly pull off and throw away from you. Removing the deadwood, like the other pruning principles we will discuss, is not a one-time event. Like most things in our Christian walk, they are perpetual.

We must continually mortify the deeds of our flesh, as Paul says in Romans 8:12-13: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” So to live, our flesh nature must die.

The second principle in pruning trees is the removing of branches that are crossing one another and rubbing. Spiritually, these crossing branches are conflicting ways of thinking in our lives. Jeremiah exhorts Israel in 1 Kings 18:21, “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”

Halt here has two meanings; to hesitate or to be lame. We see this in people who are said to speak out of both sides of their mouths. Their thoughts, and therefore their actions, are at odds with each other. This unsettledness in their thinking creates lameness and hinders moving forward on the right path. It keeps a person in a state of childishness. As Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:14-15, “That we henceforth be no
more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” In this pruning of the crossing or rubbing branches, only one branch needs to be removed. Save the branch that lines up with God’s word and get rid of the other one.

The third principle in the pruning of trees is the pruning off of parallel branches. If
branches are growing parallel and too close together from the tree’s trunk, the top branch will shade the branch right beneath it when it leaves out. This condition is critical to remove on fruit trees. As we discussed in Lesson 1, light is vital to the health of a tree. Although both branches may be equally healthy, one has to go for the fruitfulness of the other. Spiritually, I see this as overextending ourselves. We want to do the right things and do our best at them. But by taking on too much of a load, our productivity and quality of work suffer. So it comes down to excusing ourselves from some tasks to be our best at others. There is no shame here, just the reality of resource management.

The fourth and final principle in the pruning of trees is pruning for symmetry. Spiritually, this has to do with keeping a balance. We talked briefly about this in Lesson 2, referring to a proper balance between light and water, word and spirit. We will again use Proverbs 11:1, which says, “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.” The application I want to make here is a balance in our natural lives. Proper rest, nutrition, exercise, hygiene, and the like, show up on the outside of us. Symmetry, after all, has a lot to do with how something looks. We not only want to be fruitful trees but beautiful trees as well. Taking care of bodies is important to God. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are
not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

We have a loving Father as the husbandman of the estate. Suppose we allow Him to go about His business, as only He knows how, and cooperate with Him in His desire for much fruitfulness in our lives. In that case, we will fulfill His longing for us to be all He created us to be.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Pruning is necessary for the health of the tree and fruitfulness. The first reason to prune is to remove deadwood. Reflect on this and ask yourself, “Do I have areas in my life that are hard, dead, and non-productive that need to be removed? Write those dead branches down. Ask God to remove them. Know that He makes a clean, sterile cut that will bring healing to your life.
  2. Are there crossing branches in your life? Do you struggle with conflicts in your thinking that cause you to hesitate or stumble? What are these conflicts? Write them down and ask the Holy Spirit to give you clarity from His word.
  3. Are there parallel branches in your life? Are there too many good things that require your attention? Are you overextended? Ask God to show you which areas of involvement need to be cut from your schedule. Write them down. Take action to lighten your load.
  4. Is there symmetry in your life? Are you taking care of yourself physically? Read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and reflect on what Paul says. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where He wants you to make adjustments. Write these down and take action.

Published by doctorpaddy

An ordained minister, Christian communicator, and educator.

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