I’ve been in a pruning mood. It’s a good thing, too, because there is a lot of pruning to be done in my yard. You see, the previous homeowner thought it would be nice to have a few pieces of home-grown fruit, but instead of planting a tree or two, he planted an orchard! Have you seen the rows and rows of trees at Peace Valley? Exactly!

OK, my backyard doesn’t have rows and rows — anymore! That’s because this year I pruned a couple of the trees right at the ground. Yep, I cut them down altogether. The problem wasn’t that they weren’t producing, it’s that they were producing too much and that my annual ritual was annoying. As fall would approach, one apple tree in particular filled with sub-standard fruit and then the seemingly angry tree would begin to spitefully spit the fruit onto the ground below. So for several weeks, I had a choice to make.

Option 1 — Ignore the fruit on the ground and mow over it. Eventually, the fruit would rot, then it would attract bees, rodents and other unsavory guests before it killed the grass. There also was the issue that prior to rotting, the hard, dense apples could get picked up by the mower and be shot as projectiles throughout the neighborhood, breaking windows and knocking children off their bicycles. 

Option 2 — Pick up every piece of fruit by hand. It was not unusual to pick up multiple five-gallon pails every few days. However, fearing one of my flying apples would put an elderly neighbor in the hospital, I always went with Option 2. Not any more! This year I went with … 

Option 3 — Cut it down.

The interesting thing about that tree was that it looked like it was thriving. It had grown tall, the leaves were a rich green and it provided some nice shade if you wanted to sit beneath it at your own risk. The problem, however, was that it wasn’t thriving — not as an apple tree. Green leaves aside, a quality apple tree isn’t tall and it’s not a good shade tree either. A quality tree is one that is pruned to be smaller and airy so it can be sprayed to prevent disease and so the sun can reach the fruit. My tree looked healthy, but it wasn’t.

My tree reminds me of a lot of some people trying to follow Jesus. If you look at them, they are growing and look healthy. There is something that is being produced by them and maybe even some fruit. But if you look more closely, you can see that there are some very serious issues. For one thing, the fruit being produced in their life is diseased and never ripens to maturity before it is spit out and rots away. For another, they may have worked to grow in a way that is reminiscent of a different species, but in so doing, negates their ability to do what they were intended to do. How many times do we pursue our own interests and possibly even make some headway in producing it in our own strength, but all the while we miss out on the calling of God or the purpose for which He has made us?

The problem with my apple tree was that it was neglected. It wasn’t pruned when it should have been and it wasn’t sprayed when it was vulnerable. That didn’t kill it, but it rendered it worthless in fulfilling its purpose. Eventually, the best choice was to cut it down, extensive branches, green leaves, broad shade and all.

If we’re going to avoid the problem of my apple tree, we need to make sure we’re not neglecting the basic principles for developing a thriving spiritual life.
There are times when we must prune something that might LOOK good in the moment, for the sake of what IS good in the big picture. Jesus used this pruning analogy in John 15 to let us know that it’s not OK to just produce something, we are to be focused on producing the right things. Evaluate your own heart and life to see if you are getting rid of the things that might be good, but aren’t best, and if you’re pursuing the things that will line you up to fulfill God’s purpose in you. If not, start pruning.

I didn’t get rid of the entire orchard in my yard. I have another apple tree, a peach tree and a pear tree. I’m doing my best to prune them and care for them as necessary to see what can be produced. Perhaps with some intentionality, there will be a good harvest in the months to come. If there is, I’ll be sure to write about it. If not, look out neighbors!

— Pastor Jeff