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Friday, December 24, 2010

The right tool produces the right cut

1-3 "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.
(John 15:1-3)

An age-old question:  Why does a tree or vine need to be pruned?  Doesn't it hurt it?  Won't it die if we do all that cutting?  I remember watching Dad take out the pruning sheers, oiling them a little, sharpening the blades, and then cutting the bushes, vines and trees until they barely resembled what they were.  In the end, they looked "naked" - cut back almost to the point of what I considered to be "death".

What I did not understand was that proper pruning produces even more growth and prolongs the life of the tree or bush.  In fact, Dad would point out that an un-pruned tree could actually be a hazard - branches breaking off in windstorms or causing damage to roofs and surrounding structures as they swayed in the wind.  In our yards, we want things that enhance the beauty of the yard, so the purpose of pruning is to keep things "in shape" so that they contribute enhancing effects to the landscape.  In the orchard, pruning has a significantly different purpose - it is designed to get more fruit, earlier fruit, and healthier fruit.

Pruning is usually done during the dormant season - when the tree or bush has less sap flowing, leaves are not consuming all the life-flow of that sap, and the health/lack of health of the branches becomes very evident.  The one thing I learned from Dad was that the right tool produces the right cut.  Use the wrong tool and you may splinter off the branch, leaving a ragged cut that was neither beautiful, nor conducive to further growth the next season.  In fact, "where" you cut the branch is just as important as the tool you use to do the cutting.

You always cut near the "collar" of the branch - where it joins in with the branch you want to have remain.  Why?  It produces a better cut that ends the life of that pruned branch and focuses the growth potential on the branch that remains.  You go to where a large branch "V" occurs and cut it off at the "V" - leaving no indication that the branch existed except for evidence of the "cut".  This forms the tree into the shape you desire.

Dad never "topped" trees - he always pruned them.  For those of you that don't know what it is to "top" a tree or bush, it is the arbitrary cutting to do nothing more than shape the tree/bush.  There is no care in where the cuts occur.  What ends up happening is that the tree or bush sends off many more shoots from that area, increasing the wildness of the growth instead of stopping growth in that area.

If you can draw a few lessons today from what Dad taught me, they would probably be this:
  • God never prunes us for the sake of just "pruning" - he always has an intention in mind - healthy growth, staying some wayward growth in our lives, and/or the production of fruit.
  • God uses the best technique for the "pruning" in order to accomplish the desired results - if it is to stop us in our tracks before we become too "wild" in our growth, then he even does that.
  • God is concerned with the end result - not just with the appearance of health.  He wants to see solid growth, productive lives, and healthy relationships.  To that end, he prunes.
  • God always uses the appropriate instrument to get the desired result of his pruning.  Sometimes it is a saw, producing a more noticeable "cut" in our lives - other times, it is the sheers, just barely cutting away a small sucker or a branch that is not looking as healthy.
We have a great "gardener" in Jesus.  We can trust him with his "pruning" techniques and the exact timing of his work.  He is skilled at what he does and he understands what each "pruning" will produce.  We can embrace the pruning if we trust the one doing the pruning!