I’d suspected it was happening, but confirmation came – clearly and unambiguously – through the words of a trusted friend and prophet as she prayed for me:
“Cath, God has shown me a picture of a bunch of red grapes. In the picture the Lord is receiving them from you and telling you He is really pleased with all the fruit. He is reminding you of John 15 and the importance of abiding in Him so that you’ll bear even more fruit. He is telling you not to fear the pruning.”
Those words resonated profoundly in my spirit: I knew this was God speaking to me, speaking into the reality I was facing at that time where pruning was happening at nearly every level of my life: church, ministry, work, family. I was really thankful for the confirmation, but aware that I needed to know how to fully embrace this process and all that God intended to do through it.
What do we mean by pruning? How do we recognise it? Why does God do it?
As a keen gardener I don’t have any problem with the concept of pruning – I love winter-pruning my fruit bushes in anticipation of the fruit they will bear a few months later. A lack of pruning – or even a half-hearted attempt – will lead to unproductive plants that are not as fruitful as they could be and that ultimately become weak and unhealthy.
Jesus speaks a lot about fruitfulness in the gospels. He expects His followers to bear fruit (which of course is fundamentally about spiritual reproduction) but in John 15 He makes it clear that being pruned is an essential process, intrinsically linked to fruitfulness, and something not to be avoided:
“My Father is the gardener… every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” John 15:1-2
There are seasons in our lives when it’s all about the fruit, times when our focus needs to be on stepping out in faith and going and doing the works of the Kingdom. But there are also seasons when God calls us back to the foundations of our relationship with Him and does some deep work on our character; times when there might be fewer external signs of success.
To help us discern the season we are in it can be helpful to frame the question:
“Is God focussing on my ministry or my character?” Because there are times when God is focussed on what He is doing through us, and times when He is focussed on what he is doing in us. (Of course both are often going on at same time, but there will be a particular emphasis that we need to discern).
As I recognised what was going on for me, and sought to align myself with what God was doing in my life, a wise friend gave me two very helpful pieces of advice:
- Don’t fight pruning: embrace the season and submit to the process.
- Hang out with Jesus: do all you can to deepen your relationship with Him and get to know Him better.
So I first of all chose to be thankful for the pruning season, and looked for God’s grace in the midst of it. One of the hardest parts of this was the realisation that in a pruning season you can’t do vision and direction. When God is focussing on your character you can’t expect Him to be saying much about your future. I’m usually someone who loves dreaming with God and being led by a sense of vision. But for a season God was asking me walk without a future vision – with no sense of forward direction – only the command to take one step at a time. I needed to stop dreaming about the future. Instead I had to live in the present and concentrate on doing the small things well.
In responding to my friend’s second piece of advice about deepening my relationship with Jesus I found a great book to read: Brad Jersak’s ‘A More Christ-like God’. It was a joy to spend time simply contemplating the person of Jesus through this wonderful book. I also spent quite a lot
of time reading the gospels, particularly thinking about Jesus’ wilderness experience, and how He chose that intense period of retreat before beginning His ministry. And most significantly of all I started (nearly) every day by sitting down with Jesus and asking Him what was happening in the desert that day. The image of the desert became the metaphor for embracing the pruning process head on. Meeting Jesus in the desert each day and hearing Him speak to me in that place meant that God was able to do some really deep work in my heart. He dug out some ugly and ungodly attitudes and led me through some significant repentance. At times this was pretty painful and a battle to yield fully to this work of major heart surgery, but there is a peace that comes in the midst of the refining process.
This became my prayer:
Jesus, I meet you in the desert.
I come to you with empty hands and an open heart
I simply want to be with you with no agenda.
I render unto you what is yours.
I let go and lay down my dreams and visions
I surrender to your ways and your will
I ask the Father to prune me to His satisfaction
Throughout this process I did loads of journaling and found God was speaking to me through all sorts of ways: blogs that I read, conversations with friends, song lyrics, as well as some significant prophecies. I wrote it all down in my journal.
I also learnt the importance of accountability – having good friends around me who understood the importance of this season and sustained me through their prayers.
I think I’m probably coming to the end of the pruning season, but I’m very thankful for it. I’m most thankful for greater intimacy with Jesus: He’s so much better than we can think or imagine. I’m trusting Him for the future. And the good news is that God is committed to making us more like Jesus and sometimes this means that we need to retreat and simply abide in Him for a while. Using the metaphor of ‘pruning and fruitfulness’ is a good way to keep track of what God is doing in our lives.