God is a Gardener

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry … 21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.  (Acts 1:15-17&21-26)
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  (John 15:1-8)
Every September, I prune back the vine in my back garden. Every time, it provokes a discussion between my wife Ruth and me. Am I pruning the vine back too harshly? Will it ever grow back again? How much is too much? We always receive our answer the following May, when the pruned vine grows back faster than ever.

On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus used the pruning of a vine to explain how things work in his Kingdom. When God loves a person, he will often prune their plans in order to develop their character. When God loves a church, he will often prune its number in order to develop its long-term fruitfulness. Pruning is done with sharp clippers and it hurts, but a wise gardener doesn’t shrink back from doing it. He wants the vine to be truly fruitful.

We see this principle at work in the first church meeting in Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus back to heaven. The twelve disciples have become eleven, which looks like a bit of a disaster, but don’t miss what happens in the wake of that pruning. It isn’t just one new leader that emerges in the story. It is two – both Matthias and Barsabbas. It’s almost as if a sudden gap within the church makes people start looking at these two believers a little differently. I never really thought about him that way, but now that there’s a gap, maybe he could be the one to fill it? This has happened to us as a church during lockdown. The elders couldn’t pastor everybody remotely, and that gap helped the Life Group leaders to step up brilliantly. I can’t praise them enough. It is going to happen to us again as we regather and spot a few missing leadership roles among us. God prunes in order to bring through fruitfulness.

In Greek mythology, the hero Hercules attacks a many-headed hydra in one of his Labours. To his horror, every time he chops off one of its snakelike heads, two more grow back in its place. The Lord has designed the Church to be like that for the devil. Every time that the devil attacks the church and creates gaps within its ranks, the Lord uses it as his opportunity to raise up two or three new leaders. The church suddenly becomes one of the most exciting places for us to be. New leaders start to come through everywhere, bearing fruit on the vine’s pruned branches.
  1. What gaps are you beginning to spot in our church family as we start regathering back together?
  2. How might the Lord want to use these gaps as a way of inviting you into fresh leadership responsibility?
  3. How do you think Matthias and Barabbas felt when they were recommended for their new leadership role? What can you learn from them about what it means to follow Jesus with all our heart, mind and strength?
Father God, I thank you that you are the wise gardener and that you do not shrink back from pruning the church as your vine. Please help us to trust you that you know what you are doing. Please help us also to be like Matthias and Barsabbas, willing to rise up and to seize the gaps in our own church as opportunities for us to grow in serving you. Please help me to live all-out for your glory as I serve you in this season. Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
Today’s Everyday Devotions have also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube channel.
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