“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. John 15:1-2 (NIV)
My arms are covered with scratches because I spent much of the day yesterday pruning my rose bushes. As I cut, the thorns grabbed onto my skin and my clothes ripping a hole in my pants and wounding my body. I wore gloves but still have splinters in my hands that I must pick out or leave to work their way to the surface. Normally, I wait until December to do my pruning, but because of the neglect caused by concentrating on the barn building, there were many dead branches among my plants. There were also a lot of old blossoms and seedpods called rose hips that needed to be cut away. Rather than trim them, and then, come back and prune next month, I just did the whole job at once. Pruning is very important to the lifespan, health and production of a rose bush. If they are not kept cut back, they get tall and scraggly. The lower branches lose their leaves and as the stalks or canes get longer, they can droop and the bush can split. Only new growth produces flowers and if the bush is spending all its energy maintaining the old limbs, it is a waste. When I cut back, I am merciless. If it is an older bush, I know it can take more pruning that a tender new bush. A long time ago, I learned to trim the inside of the plant first, creating a vase shape. Then, I leave three or four strong canes which I cut to about two or three feet high. When I am done with them, they have few leaves left and look like sticks protruding from the ground. The younger bushes, I am gentler with, just trimming away dead branches and not taking too much off the top. If they are cut back too severely, they will go into shock and die. Right now, my rose bed looks awful, and mostly dead. There are no blossoms and few leaves. But, because of my pruning, the branches will begin to produce leaves down lower on the bush. In just a few weeks, they will be covered in new leaves and bushy again. And shortly after that, hopefully just in time for Christmas, the new flowers will appear. The same principles work in our lives as well. We get complacent, content to rest on the good we have done in the past. We may still have a few scraggly blossoms or seedpods to show for our work, but we take a vacation from spiritual efforts. Then, God comes along and thins out the dead wood and prunes us back until we begin to produce again. We can choose to accept His work in our life or fight it kicking and screaming. Don’t be like my rose bushes brittle, overgrown and useless. Let God, the Master Gardener, bring new life into your heart. Trust Him. In His mercy and love, He knows how much pruning is needed and best.