In September 2017, I visited a vineyard in upstate New York at the height of harvest season. My eyes feasted on the lush, green canopy under which large, juicy bunches of purple grapes hung from sturdy vines. Every slight breeze that ruffled the green oasis carried a sweet smell of ripe, luscious goodness.
I wanted to settle in and stay a while.
It was night and day compared to the last time I visited Gage Farm Vineyards during winter. The pruned vines appeared as lifeless sticks — old and unusable.
The harvest season offered a vision of lush abundance that caused a deep sense of peace and contentment. The winter season looked harsh and felt like hope had been pruned away with the canopy.
I walked down many rows in that vineyard during both seasons, Bible in my hand, reading John 15. Jesus tells His disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Those words made sense amidst the harvest, but seemed out of place in winter.
God brought to mind the parable in Matthew 9:17: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”
Winter looked and felt like an old wine skin.
Settling in and staying a while in winter never crossed my mind. I kept thinking, “How can these cold, lifeless sticks produce new wine?” My eyes desperately scanned each row for signs of life.
That’s how spiritual winter seasons feel. Sometimes it seems that God prunes so much out of our life it leaves us wondering, “How in the world is there anything left to prune, God?” We feel like a bloody, useless stump looking around a barren winter stick yard.
Maybe you are there right now. Maybe you feel the blood frozen on the stump of your dreams. You may be tempted to believe that the spring thaw is never coming. After all, what use is an old wine skin?
Let me tell you, fellow branch in God’s vineyard, God never prunes for the sake of pruning. He’s not trying to make an ornamental bonsai tree out of your life. God prunes to make us abundantly fruitful for His glory.
He promises: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) You and I may have some years under our belt and feel like an old wine skin.
But hold on a minute.
The Lord promises that His mercies arrive new every day (in every season) — even in winter. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) He creates in us a clean heart — a heart transplant at our baptism.
We’re going to be spending some time in John 15:1-17 over the summer because there are beautiful truths we need to understand if we are to survive and thrive as a branch in God’s vineyard.
Whatever season you are experiencing, take heart. We may long to settle into the lush canopy full of ripe goodness, but harvest does not appear without winter pruning.
Only the Vinedresser sees the future of the branch. When God prunes us, He holds us safely in His mighty hands as He clears away the extraneous thoughts, words, and deeds from our life.
Sometimes when the winter is severe, you may think that He is absent.
Just remember, beloved, He is holding you TIGHT.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear … for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
Coming July 5, 2018, a brand new DVD Bible study series: