As I walk around my garden I can see the familiar signs that spring is not only upon us but moving rapidly on. Just a short while ago the snowdrops were showing but now they have gone over. Even the crocuses, in their yellows, whites and purples are passed their best. But to replace them early daffodils have brought rays of golden sunshine to an otherwise rather sombre garden. And catching up quickly a red camellia has burst into flower. So all around there are the sure signs of spring and the growth of new life where until just a while ago everything lay dormant.
But as I look at the garden there are some things which paint a rather different picture. In one of the hedges an old silver birch tree has died and buffeted by the recent strong winds dead branches have fallen away to the earth below. And a closer look at the new growth on some rose bushes reveals that some of last years growth has actually died and will no longer give rise to beautiful and fragrant flowers in the summer. So in the midst of new life there is also death. It is far too late for the tree, it can only be sawn up and disposed of. But the rose bush is a different matter. Some careful pruning and it will be as good as new. In fact it ought to be even better as new growth is stimulated following the cutting back.
Our natural environment provides a wonderful glimpse into the ways our own spiritual life can develop and grow. Just as with my garden at this time of the year, we all have periods when new spiritual life and growth can burst forth within us. Slowly we begin to realise there may be new ways of following the Lord’s teaching in our lives and new areas where we may of service to others. And just like the spring garden our lives become brighter, warmer and more fruitful.
But where we have followed our own ambitions in the past rather than listen carefully to the Lord, our spiritual growth will have been stunted and even in places died completely. If we try to grow in ways that serve ourselves rather than others then we will create spiritual ‘deadwood’ that isn’t capable of supporting a loving and caring way of life.
But the good news is that, with the Lord’s help, we can do something about it!
Dead branches on trees should be carefully cut back. Rose bushes should be trimmed and deadwood removed. And the same approach needs to be taken in our spiritual life. Self-serving ambitions and intentions that are spiritually dead need cutting completely away. Sometimes we try to follow the Lord rather half-heartedly and although new growth develops it soon dies back. Such areas of our lives need hard pruning to stimulate new spiritual growth that is good and true and properly focused on the Lord’s intentions for us.
The need to carry out spiritual pruning is described very clearly in these words of Jesus in Johnâ€™s gospel, chapter 15:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
[John 15:1-4 ESV]