Published February 28, 2017

Paul's Epistle
"God's Pruning"

Do you ever feel "pruned?"

If I were a fruit tree, I'm not sure I would be very excited about having somebody come along each spring with a pruning hook and chop off large parts of my anatomy. But I might learn, if I were an intelligent fruit tree and paid attention over the years, that such pruning actually helped me produce more fruit.

The U. S. Forest Service says, "pruning can be used to stimulate fruit production and increase the value of timber."

That's why Jesus, who called Himself the "true vine" and Christians the "branches," said, "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:2.)

What is this "pruning" that He's talking about?

God prunes us through the problems that inevitably show up in our lives: sickness, family woes, death of a loved one, financial ills, etc. God works in the lives of believers by turning suffering of various types into an agent for spiritual growth.

God allows such problems for several reasons: to get our attention, to help us grow spiritually and to remind us to lean on Him. James Packer, in his book, "Your Father Loves You," gave this example: "When we walk along a clear road feeling fine and someone takes our arm to help us, likely we would impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm brewing and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we would thankfully lean on him."

Weightlifters say the more they exercise, the more pain they endure, the stronger their muscles become. That physical law has a spiritual parallel: the more our faith is exercised by the burdens and challenges that come into our lives, the stronger our faith becomes. If the weightlifter didn't accept such burdens he wouldn't get stronger. If the Christian doesn't learn from difficulties, his faith won't get stronger. "No pain, no gain."

Someone once said, "God brings men into deep waters not to drown them but to cleanse them." Someone else said, "To realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the storm."

God did this to the nation of Israel: "Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10.) Job, who certainly had more than his share of affliction, said, "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty." (Job 5:17.) In Proverbs (3:11-12) we are reminded, "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest his correction; For whom the Lord loves he corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights."

Even the Apostle Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" that caused him considerable anguish, enough to pray repeatedly that it be taken away. But what did the Lord say? "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9.) And that was enough for Paul.

So what should our reaction be when difficulties ("prunings") come along? James reminds us, "Consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1:2-3, NIV.) Only God can take bad things and use them for our good. And He delights in doing just that.

Remember, too, the promise of Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Why? The next verse tells us: " be conformed to the image of [God's] Son." God wants us to be more like Jesus! God's "pruning" is intended for our ultimate good.

Here's the "gospel of pruning" according to the U. S. Forest Service: "Pruning can best be used to encourage trees to develop a strong structure and reduce the likelihood of damage during severe weather."

Here's the "gospel of pruning" according to the Bible: God uses "pruning" in our lives to develop a strong structure of faith and reliance on Him and to reduce the likelihood of damage to our spiritual lives during the severe storms of life.

Feeling "pruned?" Consider yourself blessed. God considers you worthy enough to be prepared to produce more fruit.

- Paul

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