Two weeks ago, while on a family vacation in Vignale, Italy we had the privilege of crashing at an amazing Bed and Breakfast. Tracey, the owner of the B&B was one of the most spiritually vibrant people I have ever met. She took the four of us in and treated us like family for two days.
The B&B, appropriately called "LaRocca" (Italian for "The Rock") was given the name for two reasons. First of all the main house is literally built into a huge rock. But the second, and most important reason, is that Jesus is the rock that Tracey and her two kids depend on for everything. And he has come through for them again and again in amazing ways.
After breakfast on our second day there we were asked by her son Nico if we wanted to help prune the vineyard as a family. Without hesitation I said "Of course we do! How often do city people like us get to do something like that?" My wife readily agreed. Tracey warned us, "Be careful! The vines will speak to you as you prune them!" I just nodded and awkwardly smiled, not completely knowing how to respond to her statement.
We were all given gloves, clippers and a crash course in pruning by Nico. He told us how to cut away every vine that didn't have grape buds on it (it was too early in season to see actual grapes.) He told us to trim relentlessly and throw away the branches that have no fruit on them. He reminded us that the buds need as much of the sap and sunlight as possible and that, when we cut away huge branches that have no buds on them, we were actually helping, not hurting the vine.
So we started, relentlessly cutting away branches in the increasingly hot Italian sunlight. And, within minutes the vines were "talking" to me.
The vines were reminding me about Jesus's words to his disciples in John 15:1-8, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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. 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. 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. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
With all this as context, here's what I learned from pruning a vineyard:
1. Pruning seems ruthless, dangerous and mean...but it's not.
I'll never forget starting the pruning process and slicing off huge branches, throwing them into the middle of the rows, wondering if I had made a mistake and hurt the vine. Nico kept reminding me that I hadn't made a mistake. He told me that the huge, fruitless branches were taking away precious sunlight and sap from the branches with fruit on them.
The vines talked to me about the areas of my life and ministry where Jesus seemed ruthless and reckless, cutting away the excess branches. But what seems mean is actually an act of love. He wants me, my family and the ministry I lead (Dare 2 Share) to be as fruitful as possible. To do this he has to cut away the excess, the fruitless and throw it out.
I can't help but think of a major pruning we experienced at Dare 2 Share five years ago or so. Our budget, staff and focus got fully pruned. It hurt. I didn't know if we would survive the pruning the Father had "inflicted" on us. All that was left was the bud of inspiring and equipping teenagers to evangelize. And I wasn't sure that this bud would survive the summer. But, over the last few years this bud has bloomed, blossomed and produced some of the richest fruit I could ever imagine. What seemed ruthless and reckless was God trimming away distractions and enabling us to produce the most fruit possible when it comes to energizing a generation to evangelize the world.
What is he pruning in your life and ministry? Whatever he is doing is an act of love. Whatever he's cutting is waste.
2. Only with God is the pruning process perfect.
That morning in Vignale I counted three times that I accidentally cut off a branch with buds on them. My son counted two and my wife counted one that they accidentally cut off the wrong branches. I cringed every time I realized that I had wasted a good branch with fruit on it. Nico assured me that everyone makes mistakes when it comes to pruning. He had been pruning for years and still made mistakes.
But, once again the vines talked to me and this time they disagreed with Nico. They reminded me of John 15 once again, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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."
While we will make mistakes pruning vineyards the Father, the master gardener, has never made a mistake pruning our lives. He cuts, clips and snips with absolute precision. He has never cut off the wrong branch and he never will. His cuts are to produce the best and most fruit possible. I may screw up a vineyard but God will never screw up our lives. He is the perfect pruner.
3. Ultimately it's all about the owner of the vineyard.
As I pruned I began to realize that this act of pruning was not really about the vine, the vineyard or even the grapes. It was all about the owner of the vineyard. I began to think about Tracey and her wonderful family harvesting their sweet grapes in due time and turning them into delicious wine that they could savor or sell.
It made me think of "my" life, "my" family and "my" ministry. It's really not mine at all. God is cultivating, planting and pruning so that He can produce a maximum amount of fruit, both in the form of spiritual fruit in my life and discipleship multiplication through my ministry, for his maximum glory. As Jesus said, "This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
These are the lessons I learned from pruning a vineyard in Vignale. If you ever find yourself there, look up Tracey and book a night or two at LaRocca. Perhaps the vines will talk to you too.