My pastor always makes gardening analogies in his Sunday morning sermons. He's an avid gardener, so these analogies come so easily to him...sometimes I get them, other times I have to think pretty hard to see the point. Why do I bring this up? Yesterday, I spent some time in my garden early, before it got too hot out, pruning tomatoes. I never knew you had to prune tomato plants until last year when I had my first garden of my very own. My mom gardens, but when I was a kid, I wasn't really in to it. I just did what I had to do when she needed help, but didn't really try to learn or absorb any information as I went. How I wish I had soaked up all of her gardening wisdom back then! So last year, I had several tomato plants of all different varieties, and they grew beautifully, into these enormous, full, bushy plants and I was so excited; I thought they were doing wonderfully! Then my mom asked me one day, "You've been pruning your tomato plants, right honey?" I hadn't, but they looked great!! She then explained to me that if you don't cut off the branches that don't have flowers (i.e. the branches that are just leaves but won't make have any tomatoes), the plant has to split it's energy between growing big juicy tomatoes and growing big pretty leaves, and pretty leaves is not the end result you want out of a tomato plant! No, you want the fruit! So yesterday, I realized that my plants, beautiful as they were, were a bit out of control. I took the clippers and got rid of half of each plant, really thinning it out so that the plant could stop wasting precious energy on all those pretty green leaves that are nice to look at, but in the end, get thrown out after we pick the tomatoes.
Are you getting where I'm going with this?? Ok, I know it's not like a huge revelation or anything. In fact, Jesus uses this very analogy. I'd read it my whole life, but for some reason, actually being out in my garden with the clippers and getting rid of all the useless branches made Jesus' words come alive. We are called to bear good fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). John 15:1-2 says,
“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."
I don't know about you, but I so want to be fruitful. I don't want all the ick taking up precious space in my life, draining me of energy that could be used for loving people, for worshiping God, for serving the least of these. As I thought about what those energy stealers might look like in one's life, I thought about the opposite of the fruit we're called to bear. Instead of love, hate; Instead of joy, fear and discontent; Instead of peace, anxiety. Where patience should be growing in each believer, may lie impatience rooted in selfishness; Kindness and goodness should abound...but only when we feel like it, when it suits us. Rather than faithfulness is doubt and betrayal. A sharp tongue and harsh actions overshadows gentleness; And instead of self-control, is an attitude of 'I want to, so I will."
I know I struggle with some of these! I'll be totally honest and tell you which useless branches grow strong in my life, stealing so much mental, spiritual, and emotional energy from me...
Fear. Doubt. A sharp tongue. Selfishness that manifests itself in irritation toward others when things aren't going my way. Those are a few of biggies for me.
As I cut off branch after branch to make the tomato plants healthier, maybe it hurt (although I doubt the plant could feel it:)), and it took some time and effort, but each plant can bear bigger, better, more abundant fruit now.
So it is with our lives. We are made to bear much fruit. But it takes time and effort. I don't know about you, but I know I need to spend serious time in prayer about my energy zappers, those unfruitful, even diseased parts of my heart. Each day, I need to make a conscious effort to replace my fears with trust in the Lord so that my joy isn't snuffed out. Pray my doubts away. Tame my tongue!!! And keep an attitude of being a servant to all, setting aside my own agenda for others instead of being annoyed that plans aren't going the way I had hoped.
Every night I go to bed and as I look back on the day, I'm painfully aware of just how far I am from being like Jesus. Even if I let Him prune away, cutting and cutting all the unfruitful parts out of me, I will still be imperfect (which is another thing I struggle with...the need to be perfect!). But I am learning to rest in my imperfections, because with out them, the beauty of grace would be lost.