In my back yard, I have a nice big old lilac bush. The last couple of years since I moved in, it’s been growing very well and I haven’t had to mess with it much. A few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the branches had started touching the garage, so I needed to cut it off to keep it from rubbing against the wall.

This evening as I started to do just that, I got an interesting new perspective on the story Jesus told in John 15 about the gardner pruning vines so that they will bear more fruit. Up until this time, I thought of this story as a happy little story, the gardner walking along the rows of vines just whistling to himself as he randomly cut off a branch here and a branch there as he saw fit. Tonight though, I realized how different from that it really is.

First off, from the outside, my lilac looked very healthy. There were nice green leaves everywhere, and it bloomed beautifully this past spring. However, when I walked up and started to cut back those two branches, I got to see what was in the inside of the bush – there were dead branches everywhere! So I started pulling them out and cutting them off from the outside where I was, and realized that that wasn’t going to work, so I had to actually climb into the inside of the bush, and trim from in there. All the while that I was doing that, I was getting poked and scratched and cut. At one point the pruners slipped and now I have a nice little blood blister on my palm. So not only is it painful for the bush, but also for the gardner as well.

But now that I got all that dead wood out, the bush is much healthier than it was before. One thing that I noticed about the dead branches is how much they tangled up the good, live branches. This kept the good branches from growing properly and held them back from moving freely. There is definitely a very close similarity to our lives – the “dead branches” in our lives snarl us up, hold us back, prevent us from growing properly in our relationship with others, and with God. These can be things like bad habits, sins that we haven’t dealt with, hurt, pain, and bitterness from the past and present, and so on. I also noticed how many times a dead branch would be a part of a good living branch. These remind me of times when I have been growing closer to God in an area, but let something get in the way. I get hurt or discouraged, and whenever I try to grow in that area again in the future, there are little bits of the past holding me back.

Sometimes too, the things that need trimmed out can be live, healthy branches. However, by allowing these branches to continue growing, it actually keeps us from growing as strong or as quickly as we should be able to. Experts recommend that every year you cut out a third of your lilac bush. Which is difficult to do, because lilacs only bloom on old branches. So, while it seems like you are cutting out some of the “fruit,” keeping it from blooming as much, you are actually helping the bush to be stronger and more disease resistant. It’s the same thing in our lives – we are so good at trying to be everything for everyone and helping out wherever we can, that we can overdo it and burn ourselves out, thus making us less useful to everyone. Or worse, we can become bitter, resentful, apathetic, or any number of other things. But by allowing our lives to be “pruned” of some of the “healthy” parts of our lives, we can be even more focused on specific areas in our lives where God wants us to be working.

Even though I didn’t realize the extent of the dead branches in my lilac bush until I was inside of it, Jesus knows all about the “stuff” we all have in the bushes of our selves. However, He won’t force His way into our hearts and clean them up. We have to allow Him in there ourselves, and give Him permission to do whatever He needs to in order to make us healthy and help us “bear much fruit.” We have to trust that He knows what needs to be done, and even though it might get painful and seem like big chunks of our lives are getting hacked away at, in the long run, we will be much better off.