In recent weeks, I’ve encountered many within the body of Christ who are going through a process of pruning. I first noticed this occurring in my own life, as well as in the ministries I oversee. But I also began to hear from many others who were going through similar challenges, feeling that they were being “cut back.”
In John 15:1-2, Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 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."
According to this passage, pruning is not a punishment for bad branches. On the contrary, it is for those branches that are bearing fruit. Branches that are unfruitful are cut off altogether, while the care and attention of the Vinedresser is reserved for those branches that He sees are already fruitful.
If you are one of the many in the body of Christ who are going through a pruning process, take heart! The Father is tending to your branches in order to bring a greater harvest.
Pruning occurs for two purposes: to bring greater health to the plant and to prepare for greater multiplication. God will prune even the good things in our lives in order to get us ready for greater health and multiplication.
Are we spiritually in shape and prepared for what lies ahead of us? Jude, in the Bible, challenges us with this question due to the increase of and rise of 1) apostasy, 2) false teachers and 3) attacks on the name of the Lord. We live in such a day! The book of Jude calls these apostates “autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots” (v. 12). Judgment, not pruning, is reserved for those who lead many astray from the truth.
But to those who remain in the vine, verses 20-21 encourage us this way: "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
The idea of “building ourselves up” reminds me of my days in the fitness business. In these challenging days, we must be fit athletes who are growing in our faith, living a life of prayer and walking in love. Are you “fit” for the days ahead?
In Luke 9:57-62, we are told of Jesus’ encounter with some who wanted to be His disciples. Someone said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus responds with a challenge, then says to another, “Follow Me.” The response to Jesus is, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Another says, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” Many of us have said, “Lord, I will go wherever You go, do whatever You want me to do.” Yet when He speaks to our hearts, we find reasons to justify why we can’t do so right now.
What was the Lord’s response to the would-be followers? He replied, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).
As a young preacher, I used to think this verse was a condemnation of those who looked back from the work of the kingdom and that it meant they were not worthy to go forward with God. But as I learned more of the context of this passage, and in understanding more of God’s heart for us, I realized Jesus was saying this: Only those who are fully focused on the kingdom can truly be prepared, or fit, for the journey.
If I want to run a marathon but don’t spend time training for that marathon, then I am not physically fit or prepared to run the race. If I want to qualify for any athletic event, I must prepare physically and mentally if I expect to succeed.
For any accomplishment of worth, there is a period of preparation that one must go through. By preparing, training and focusing on the goal ahead, we can become fit and ready for victory. Likewise, we must be fully engaged—spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally—if we are to be in shape and fit for the spiritual battles ahead.
Rejecting God’s Truth
Much of what is happening in the church today reminds me of Israel, as described in Jeremiah 42-43. The nation was in distress, facing the judgment brought on by decades of rejecting God’s Word and His ways. The people came to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Pray for us. Seek the Lord on our behalf, and whatever He tells you we should do, we will do.” (See Jeremiah 42:2-6.)
The problem was, once Jeremiah returned to them with the word of the Lord and His instructions for how to obey, they called Jeremiah a liar, saying, “God has not sent you to say [these things] to us!” (Jer. 43:2).
How many of us are guilty of the same thing? We may have an encounter with the Lord and respond with an enthusiastic declaration of, “Wherever you want me to go, whatever you want me to do, Lord, I’ll do it!” But then when the Lord’s instructions do not align with our own wishes, we balk at His word and insist it must not be God.
This is the condition of many in our nation. They are seeking to water down or even outright change God’s truth. There is even an attempt to change God’s own definition of marriage. Anyone who opposes these attempts is accused of hatred and bigotry.
No, our motive is not hatred. It is love! We understand the death and destruction that are brought by a rejection of God’s truth. Our heart is to spare anyone from this fate.
Lovers of Truth, Doers of the Word
In these days of increasing apostasy and false teaching, those who love God’s truth will not be liked for speaking the truth. But this cannot stop us from the work of the kingdom we are called to—speaking His Word and sharing His love. We cannot be discouraged by what we see around us, retreating into our holy huddles and disengaging from a world that so desperately needs to see our light.
I understand the discouragement that tries to pull us down. Sometimes when I look at the conditions around us, I just can’t believe it. Things I would have never thought would be possible 20 years ago are now commonplace. This is true both within the church and in the culture around us. Seeing these things can discourage our hearts and make it difficult to keep moving forward.
But it is in these moments of challenge that our training and preparation come into play. Second Corinthians 2:14 says, "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses [dispenses or manifests] the fragrance of His knowledge in every place."
God will always lead His people into victory and triumph in Christ!
A true champion understands there will be moments where you feel you can’t go any further. But these are our breakthrough moments. These are the moments when our training and preparation pay off, the moments when, even though we feel we have nothing more to give, we are able to press through and keep moving ahead.
My name, Douglas, is supposed to mean “seeker of truth” or “seeker of light.” This was not always true in my life, but thanks be to God, who saved me and transformed me into a seeker of His truth. Now I want to love the truth even when it hurts and even when it is not popular. As we say in the fitness world, “No pain, no gain.” No matter what it takes, I want to be fit and ready for the kingdom.
Dispensing His Fragrance
Church, we must be fully prepared—mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We must be fully engaged, with our eyes fixed ahead and our hand to the plow, ready to work in the harvest fields. Let us put aside distractions. Let us put off discouragement. No more double-mindedness or doubting.
Second Corinthians 2:14 says He leads us to victory so we might be diffusers or dispensers of His fragrance. This reminds me of a time when Lisa and I were first married. I went into the bathroom in the middle of the night. I was startled in the dark by a sound I didn’t recognize. Pffffft! What was it?
At first it startled me, since as a bachelor for decades, I was not accustomed to the sound. It was an automatic air freshener dispensing its fragrance in the dark. Like many air fresheners, it had been put in a place where things often get stinky.
This is God’s intention for His people, that we would be air fresheners, dispensing His fragrance in a dark, stinky world. When we spend time with Him, we will carry His presence wherever we go. There should be something that looks and smells so different about us, that others can’t help but notice, even if they don’t understand what it is.
A Greater Harvest
If you have been going through times of challenge or pruning, be encouraged. Prepare yourself for the days ahead by abiding in Jesus, the Vine, and trust that God is getting you ready for greater multiplication and harvest. In the midst of challenges and tribulations, apostasy and false teachings, God is preparing you to bear fruit that remains.
God’s promises are true, and He is faithful to bring them to pass. Commit with me to be a people who pray: Prune me, Lord. Help me to be fit for Your kingdom. Help me to be fully prepared, fully engaged and fully focused so that I am ready for the great harvest that is coming—the greatest harvest we have ever known!
Doug Stringer is founder and president of Turning Point Ministries International, which birthed an international movement known as Somebody Cares. He is also a sought-after speaker at religious, political, educational and civic gatherings.