With the arrival of summer, my wife and I have been enjoying more time outside. Our yard has many different fruit trees, shrubs, and grape vines that provide shade, beauty, and a harvest of berries and fruits. Each year, I prune the old raspberry canes and the odd branches to keep the plants healthy and producing. Managing the trees and shrubs is easy. However, the grape vines are another story.
A grape vine can be an extremely productive plant. Each fall, after harvest, I aggressively prune the grape vines all the way back to the main vine. From the time they begin leafing out in spring until the post-harvest pruning, they don’t seem to quit pushing out new growth. My goal is a blend of shade for the pagoda and plenty of grapes. It’s necessary to prune in order to maintain that balance and to keep the vines from overtaking the yard. Without it, they just keep shooting out new branches in every direction. This means less energy is directed to producing the tasty concord grapes that make great juice and jelly.
Having experienced my own backyard grape vines, Jesus’ analogy characterizing himself as the grape vine and God as the gardener in John’s Gospel takes on new meaning.
“I am the true grape vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15: 1-2 NLT).
The spiritual pruning Jesus describes is not an occasional event occurring once every few years. It is an ongoing process of plant management that allows the grape vines to focus their energy on the desired result: good fruit.
Constantly Stretched Thin
The lives of many Canadian families are like grape vines on the verge of becoming a bundle of unmanageable foliage. The Kuhns were a typical Canadian family with three young children involved in various school, sports, and fine arts programs. It seemed like every other day one of their children brought home a new note with another commitment to add to the calendar. They spent too many evenings figuring out where to squeeze more registration fees out of the budget and more time out of the schedule.
If Dad drove one child to soccer practice, Mom could take the littlest one to gymnastics. Then she’d swing around to pick up their middle daughter from school. After that, everyone had to be at the evening choir concert! They often thought about saying ‘no’, but with so much pressure to give their kids every opportunity, guilt always drove another ‘yes’. They struggled to keep up with a regular offering at church. Despite wanting to do more, they felt constantly stretched thin. Perhaps the Kuhns’ story sounds familiar?
Pruning to Increase our Fruitfulness
In my role as a gift planning consultant, I have met many families in this type of situation. Just like the Kuhns, they know they aren’t giving the way they want to. They need simple gifting solutions to keep giving from getting lost in the busy pace of life. In discussions with donors using Abundance Canada services, I often meet people who take great joy in giving precisely because they have pruned their financial commitments to produce a greater harvest of generosity.
When the Kuhns realized they didn’t need to enroll in every activity to provide their kids with a happy childhood, they began cutting back the social and financial commitments that were sapping energy from the things that mattered most. Freed from the tangle, they began to cultivate first-fruits giving in response to God’s call on their lives. A new sense of purpose and happiness permeated the family, and they grew closer to God and one another.
What about you? Has the grape vine of your life become overwhelming? Or are you involved in regular pruning to increase the fruitfulness of your generosity?
Contributed by Harold Penner
Gift Planning Consultant