March 9, 2018
Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (320)
Hard Pruning Brings More Fruit
Because I have a commitment this Saturday at SpeakOut Illinois, I had to execute one of my annual home chores today. It couldn't wait until next Saturday—the annual pruning of grapevines. In Chicago, this is usually done in early March, that is, late winter. It can (and should) be done earlier only if February is particularly warm; you need to prune before the sap runs lest you have a vine bleeding, so to speak, profusely.
February was very warm last year, so it had to be done earlier than usual. It was the first time I ever pruned a grapevine according to the book, that is, following the collective advice I gathered from watching several YouTube sessions on the subject. I remember last year's pruning also because it was a two-man job. I had just had spinal fusion surgery and accepted the help that my wife (wisely) said I should accept. I couldn't bend or twist a lot, so together we got it done. This year, of course, I did it all by myself, saving the pruned canes, which she turned into three wreaths for later use.
Some of the YouTube teachers and online articles emphasize that you really need to "abuse" the grapevine. Between 80 and 90 percent of the vine is cut off and discarded (or made into grapevine wreaths that you see in the craft stores). Hard pruning brings more fruit. I am still enjoying the grapes harvested last fall in the form of a savory spiced grape spread made with loving care in our kitchen this winter. But, boy, it doesn't look very promising for grapes after the pruning, does it?
Lent is always a good time to think about the Lord's teaching about pruning in John 15: we suffer pruning—call it discipline, bearing wrong, persecution, trials, and difficulties—so that we might bear much fruit. This only occurs when we accept the "discipline" for what it is.
James tells us, in an opening statement that I don't want to hear, to "count it all joy when you meet various trials . . . " Joy? Yes, testing our faith leads to steadfastness which, allowed to continue to its full effect, will see us becoming perfect and complete.
Perfect? Even those called "saints" usually suffer in some fashion until they go to be with the Lord, so any perfection lies on the other side of this mortal life. These saints bear hardships, including the act of dying, in faith, knowing that the Lord is with them in their suffering, for the Lord himself suffered, inviting us to follow in his steps. All of us together in Christ make up the one Vine, the one Body of Christ. The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste are shining examples, like a cluster of grapes on the Vine of Christ.
This past week, I kept thinking about the much-fruit-bearing preacher Billy Graham. His ministry was as a branch of the True Vine. He would be the first to say that nothing he did of significance was really about Billy Graham; it was all about Jesus. All those saved at his crusades became members of the One Body of Christ, the one true Vine. We are all members of the One Christ. He is our Life. Our Rock. Our Truth.
If we abide with Christ in his pruning, we can't go wrong; even when the world abuses us, it will fail in the end. We are pruned by the Word, but only with attentiveness to it, not mere repetition.
We are pruned when we cut off distraction when reading Scripture, praying, and attending divine worship. The sole purpose of worship, the object of our worship, is the Lord God Almighty, not self-improvement, spiritual growth, or a worship "experience."
Give due worship, expecting nothing in return. Cut out everything and be attentive to the Lord. That's what a disciplined and pruned branch of the Vine does. When you attend divine worship, remember only One Thing is Needful, attentiveness to Christ and his Word. He is Lord and Savior, and we live by every word that proceeds from his mouth. Over time, through hard times and good times, winter, spring, and summer, we will grow in Him. The season for fruit will come, a season of refreshment. But first, the hard work of the patient vinedresser.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.