Ever since my wife and I moved into our current home I have had an ongoing battle with the shrubbery. There are times when, honestly, I don’t know who is winning the battle – the vegetation or me; but it has taught me a great deal about my soul and the necessity of regular care from the Divine Gardener each day.
The laborious task of keeping up with my property has become a living parable of the character of sin my life. I confess there was a time when I was more satisfied with the condition of my garden than the condition of my soul. I am grateful to the Lord for teaching me an important lesson along the way.
Pruning Away a False Front
When we first moved into our home, we found a huge group of wild grape vines that had choked out just about everything that was growing along one side of our property. From a distance, things looked lush and green, but up close it was plain to see that the vines had all but destroyed the bushes underneath. At that point, there was only one thing I could do. I had to use a chain saw to remove most of the bushes in order to pull away the thick and twisted growth that had taken over.
Some of the vines had wrapped themselves around the branches of a young mulberry tree. Pulling them off the tree was no use. I had to go to the roots and cut them with a pruning saw and then clip the different sections around each branch and carefully remove them one by one. I found that in order to save the tree, I had to cut off several of its branches where the vines had coiled themselves around the wood. The more of the vines I removed, the more I realized just how far gone the tree really was. At the end of the whole ordeal, I found that there was very little foliage remaining and I was left doubting whether the tree would even recover at all.
In this I was reminded of the similarity of my personal sin to those vines. Sin had started off quietly attaching itself to my life. At first I didn’t notice what had happened; and when I did, I ignored the problem. “I’ll get rid of it later; it’s nothing to worry about right now!” I told myself. But slowly, like the vines around the bushes and trees, the sin began to wrap itself around my soul, intertwining with my daily actions and becoming a part of who I was. Like the vines and the tree, it was difficult to tell the difference between the temporary pleasure of sin and the green full life God had given me. They looked almost the same – at least from my disinterested distance and twisted sense of identity.
The Divine Gardener
Eventually, I began to see that the sin was taking over, choking out the light and drying me up inside. Things looked healthy on the surface; but I knew I was in need of a good pruning. I remembered reading the words of Jesus in John15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5, RSVCE)
I needed to let the Divine Vinedresser cut away the deadwood in my life. My sin had become a thin veneer over a soul that was starved for the nourishment of new life from the True Vine. I couldn’t wait until the choking, twisted growth of sin had toppled the shell of my life to the ground and left it used up and worthless. I trusted the heavenly Gardener to be as gentle as possible in the process. I knew there would be pain and even some loss; but I was prepared to accept what was needed to make me into a fruitful believer once more, trusting that it wasn’t too late to save me as I opened my heart to His healing.
I discovered that my roots in Christ were strong and the life surging through me came from the One who was my sure foundation. The Gardener knew what to do. Through the pruning power of confession and the nourishment of the Word and Lord’s Table, I began to heal. At first, I didn’t like what I saw. I had let my spiritual life go, but now I was painfully aware of just how deeply rooted the sin in my life had become. I was ready to begin again.
A Question of Discipline
In the story, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, there was a young prince who was a faithful gardener on a tiny planet where seeds blew in with the wind. Some were innocent and became beautiful roses, but others were dangerous and grew into giant baobabs. The prince knew that when a baobab first appeared, it would look as harmless as a rose, but if neglected for too long, it could grow so large that it would engulf and tear apart his tiny planet with its huge roots. “A baobab,” he said, “is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces.” In the words of the Little Prince, it was all a “question of discipline.” And so it was with my sin. I needed to remember to dig out the roots of sin as soon as they could be distinguishable from the fruit of the Spirit within my soul.
My yard has been looking better with each passing year. The mulberry tree is flourishing and our bushes have come back to life. With every new spring, I see more and more growth and new beauty where there once was only the appearance of healthy greenery. There has been a similar kind of growth in the garden of my soul as well. I have learned the sobering lesson of the baobabs and the meticulous methods of the Gardener. I have come to see that it is our connection to the True Vine that helps us to find an abundant life and a fruitful harvest.
The Divine Vinedresser continues to tend to my soul-garden with disciplined hands. But I must be willing to pay the price for cutting sin out of my life and ready to cultivate the seeds of new growth that the He will plant within me through each and every new season of change. My life today may show a few signs of the pruning, but I accept them proudly because they are proof of the Gardener’s great love for me and for all who will allow Him to prune away the dead and lift up our branches toward the sun where divine life will enable us to bear fruit once more.