Pruned by God

By Traci Rabenstein, executive director of Mission Advancement

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. . . . I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
~John 15:1-2, 5, 8; NRSVue

Spring is here! Temperatures are on the rise. Plants and trees are budding. The earth is “springing” back to life after a few months of lying dormant.

Since my father retired, he has devoted more time to focus on his garden. He has started growing his own seedlings and talked about building a greenhouse. His enthusiasm has encouraged me to think about creative ways to plant vegetables at my home where I do not have the luxury of a couple of acres. In the meantime, I have houseplants that I do my best to keep alive.

All the plants in my home have meaning. Two plants were given to my family when my father’s mother passed away just over seven years ago. One plant was given to me a year before my mother’s mother passed. Another plant—an herb—I picked up near the Southern Pennsylvania District’s women’s luncheon last year. One plant I bought at the place where we met to celebrate my cousin’s pregnancy. The most recent planter was from a meeting held at Cross Keys Village – The Brethren Home Community. Each holds significance and sparks joy in me when I look at them.

Just like the seedlings and plants in my dad’s garden, my plants need to be tended and cared for (even beyond the times I remember to give them water). One thing I do consistently is check my plants each month for leaves that are decaying or discoloring, or parts that might damage the rest of the healthy plant if they aren’t removed. The process of doing this is called “dead leafing” when removing leaves and “deadheading” if you’re pinching off dead flowers, as I do with indoor plants throughout the summer. Both are ways of pruning plants.

Pruning is a method that allows the plant to flourish. It makes way for the nutrients from the soil and created by water and light to move toward the healthy parts without wasting energy on dead parts. Proper pruning is an investment in the long-term health of plants and in their overall appearance.

As we look to John 15 and read the words Jesus shared with his disciples, the language he used was intentional. He used the agricultural terms of “vine” and “vinegrower” to highlight the connection between God, himself, and the disciples. Just like other parables and references in the gospels, Jesus used the everyday, ordinary things to explain the Kingdom of God. God is the thoughtful and experienced vinegrower or gardener, Jesus is the main trunk that provides nutrients and stability to the entire vine, and we are the branches. If we’re deeply connected to Jesus through receiving spiritual nutrients from the Word, prayer, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, we will produce Kingdom fruit. And God will determine how to prune us so that we can bear fruit with increasing measure.

Even though God’s pruning is good for our growth, that doesn’t mean trials and hardships are fun to go through. In those moments of hearing a difficult diagnosis for yourself or someone else, grieving a loved one, losing your job, feeling bullied, being frustrated by what is going on around you, or whatever hardship you’re facing, we lean into Jesus even more to gather courage, to gain strength, to live fully in him so that we might persevere and flourish.

Looking back in time, I can identify seasons of pruning. I didn’t know it at the time when everything was so raw, but in hindsight, I can see what God was stripping away and allowing a new opportunity for the life of Christ to grow in me and fuel me for what was to come. In fact, it is because of a season of pruning that I now serve the larger church with the Mission Advancement office.

Whatever part of the growth cycle you find yourself in—lying dormant, being pruned, thriving, or all of the above—I pray your faith in God, the divine vinegrower, and Jesus, the life-giving vine, will grow. This spring and in every season, may we abide in Christ and bear much fruit, bringing honor and glory to God!

Learn about the faith-building and life-changing missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren at or support them today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

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