“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NKJV
As a New Englander I don’t have much experience with grape vines. But I do remember that in the winter we used to prune apple trees.
First to go was the sucker growth. These long spindly sprouts looked healthy but in reality, suckers just stole strength from the better branches and in return yielded nothing but leaves.
Next we sought out the dead branches. Often these were hidden by the healthy ones and each part of the tree needed to be examined and have the dead wood cleared to open a pathway for sunlight and air.
Last of all we carefully cut away any diseased limbs. Fireblight was the usual culprit and could only be safely removed in the coldest season. That is why we chose winter so as not to spread it to the rest of the tree.
What remained behind waiting for spring was the good fruit bearing wood. To the casual observer the trees looked savagely treated. But the orchard owner could see the beautiful but still dormant fruit spurs just waiting for their chance to give the sweetest and most abundant harvest at the right time.
Without him we can do nothing. But pruned and shaped to the master’s design he promises we will one day yield a mighty harvest!
And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ Matthew 20:6-7
Often this parable is taught as if the workers were being sent into the harvest of the vineyard. But though harvest is the high point of any year in farming, Jesus never mentions harvesting. Often people forget that in every season of the year there is work to be done on a farm and all of the seasons matter to God in His vineyard. The owner kept going out to find workers even till the eleventh hour because of the urgency of the work.
I am more a pruner of apple trees than of grapevines, but the process is very much the same. As we sit in Winter it seems the hopes and the flowers of Summer are only a distant memory, But, God has a job to be done even under the load of Winter snow. This is the time of pruning and it begins when the trees reach full dormancy. At that moment when everything seems cold and hopeless the preparations for next year’s harvest urgently need to begin.
That is the perfect time for pruning away the sucker growth that will rob the plants of their fruit bearing strength. Those are the days when diseased branches can be cut out without spreading the infections. That is the exact moment when the dead branches no longer can hide under the leaves of the living and can be stripped away to open the trees up to sunshine and air.
As co-workers in God’s vineyard we should never be discouraged in whatever season He is sending us out to work. Even at the eleventh hour Jesus sends us out with His promise that we will receive from Him His reward of equal grace. It is never too late, nor too early to press ahead with the work He has sent us to do.
There they were: two does and a buck quietly browsing under the branches of the old Apple tree until they saw us coming. Then at a leisurely pace they turned and in a moment they were hidden from our view. Though the tree is probably over 60 years old, all it took to have another fruitful year was a good hard pruning last Winter.
For those of us turning the corner towards retirement that tree stands as a great encouragement to me. Just as long as we are still willing to tolerate a good pruning from time to time there is no reason to give up hope on new beginnings, new ideas or new friends. God’s promise is not only to the young. Here is one for some of us today!
Psalm 92:14 They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing (Fat & flourishing?) well yes there is a bit more there too!