When I planted a Ficus nitida tree in my back yard, my son and I placed it in a spot in our back yard where it would provide the most benefit for us—to filter the hot morning sun as it heats up the picture window to our family room. It is a beautiful tree—lush and bright green, evergreen and fast-growing. It is now a mature tree, over thirty feet tall and provides the shade and beauty for the back yard that we dreamed of when we planted it.
As we knew nothing about this scrawny little tree when we bought it on sale in a 5-gallon planter, we asked the nurseryman what we should do for it. He gave us good advice: he told us to prune every branch that hangs down. As the tree recovered from its transplantation and began to grow, its beauty also increased. The branches grew so fast that soon it really looked like a tree instead of a spindly bush. It was so attractive that we did not really want to prune off any of the branches that were growing so fast. We just enjoyed watching it grow.
Soon it was obvious, though, that the fastest growing branches were the ones that were pointed downward. Not only did they make it difficult to walk around the tree in that narrow portion of our yard, but they seemed to be reshaping the tree. It did not look like a tree, but more like a lush, green bush planted in the middle of our lawn. Christopher and I realized that we must take the advice of the expert and we began to prune the largest branches that were growing toward the ground. In a few weeks we were surprised with the rapid upward growth that we observed.
In our spiritual lives, we are told by our Master Nurseryman that we must prune branches out of our lives that are “growing downward.” Anything that hinders our relationship with Jesus must go! If it is not producing the type of growth that glorifies God—growing toward the sun and providing useful fruit (shade), then we must be obedient and cut it out of our lives. The longer we let it go, the harder it is to cut if off and the more our shape may be damaged.
As I enjoy the beautiful tree in my back yard, I am so grateful that Jesus gave me strong images in his word to help me understand him better. Being a slow learner—both in gardening and in my walk with him—the pictures he gives of the vine being lovingly pruned by the Master Gardener are a beautiful example of how to learn to be more like him.