Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Partridge In A Pear Tree

The gardens at the back of our row of houses used to be a fruit orchard. Very few trees remain now, but we have a couple – a pear tree and an apple tree – on the boundary between us and our neighbours. Now the summer is over, and most of the leaves have fallen, a few pears cling on among the bear branches. You wouldn’t want to eat them. We’ve let all the fruit, on both trees, fall for the birds and animals.

What the trees need is a thorough pruning, by a qualified tree surgeon. If we owned the property, we’d get it done. Done this year, the trees would recover. Leave it much longer and, like the trees that have already been cut down, they will be no good for anything but firewood. Their energy is spent on feeding branches, and fighting disease; the fruit is stunted and bitter.

Jesus said that our lives needed pruning back, at the end of each season of growth and bearing fruit (John 15:1-17). For a tree to continue to bear good fruit over any length of time, the gardener must not only lop off any diseased branches, but also cut back healthy branches: if not, the tree will grow straggly and wild. Left unpruned, it may continue to bear fruit for years; but the fruit will become increasingly bitter to the taste…

It is one thing to allow Jesus to prune us of things like anger, jealousy, or pride. Allowing him to prune us of good branches – contexts which have been fruitful, such as opportunities to serve and bless others – can be another matter. Especially as we are judged by others, and so often judge ourselves, mostly on what we do, on activity, on ‘measureable results.’ These are the criteria by which the effectiveness of churches and missional leaders are usually weighed.

Ask me right now, “Where is the visible fruit in your life?” and I’d have to say, there is not much to see. I’ve been pruned back, hard. And all I can do is abide, allow Jesus to enfold me and hide me in his love. Out of that, he has promised, will come new growth, and fruit that is good. No-one enjoys pruning at the time. But, it has got to be better than the alternative…

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