“They’ve ruined our trees!” That’s what we thought when workmen finished pruning the magnolia trees in front of our quarters at Camp Zama. They left the trees stripped of branches as well as leaves. The trees looked terrible, humiliated, and damaged beyond repair – like a dandelion head whose seeds had just been blown off. But this is a common sight in Japan. At certain seasons a motorist will witness row after row of row of trees with every last branch cut away. They look as if some terrible judgment has befallen them.
But it is not a judgment. Believe it or not this savage cutting is redemptive and beneficial to the tree and keeps it healthy. It’s called “pollarding” and it will make the tree grow fuller. Consider the words of Jesus in John 15:1-4: “Every branch in Me that bears fruit, He prunes that it may bear more fruit … every branch that does not bear fruit he takes away.”
Experts on Palestinian culture explain to us that when a branch in the vine is pruned it is cut nearly right back to the stock, and in the winter, when the main stock of the vine swells, it actually envelops the stub of the pruned branch so that it truly abides “in the vine.” But when the growing season returns the branch grows back and explodes with fruitfulness. It appears that the Palestinian vinedresser and the Japanese “dendrologists” know what they are doing.
But it’s puzzling to the lay person, who cannot see the difference between the pruning and the “breaking off” of the branches. To the untrained eye the two applications are indistinguishable. Yet there is an eternity of difference between them. One is redemptive and one is judgmental. One expresses God’s love and the other his wrath. Yet, outwardly, they are hard to distinguish.
The same is true of our trials and adversity. They look so much like divine judgments that we can easily mistake them for God’s displeasure. They’re painful and humiliating. Yet the Scripture tells us that “those whom the Lord loves He rebukes and chastens” (Hebrews 12:6). Our trials are not evidence of God’s wrath but of his love for us. And they are God’s means of making our lives more fruitful.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me to endure the pain of tribulation and trial that I may experience the fruit they produce and ultimately share in your holiness. Amen.