Early in our marriage, my wife and I planted a garden. We knew little about gardening, but we thought the back corner of our yard looked fertile. And indeed it was. In one area we planted banana squash. The squash vines grew almost without any effort on our part until they stretched some 40 to 50 feet (10 to 15 m) along the top of a long fence. The squash were enormous. It was an incredible result for novices.
In the scriptures we often read about vineyards and grapevines. But growing grapes is not as easy as growing squash. It takes the right climate and skilled cultivation to maintain a fruitful vineyard.
Grapes were an important part of early Hebrew culture, and the tablelands and hills in the Holy Land provided an ideal place for grapevine cultivation. The land was groomed, the vines were planted along the hillsides, and the vineyards were carefully fenced to keep out unwanted animals or people. The vines were cultivated and pruned so that they would yield as much fruit as possible.
Pruning is probably the most important part of growing grapes. Branches not producing fruit are cut off. When a vine’s main branch reaches a certain size, it is cut back by taking off the tip to force the development of side shoots. Such pruning and shaping halt the growth at the tip of the branch and send nourishment into the new branches. Then, as these side branches develop, each produces as much fruit as the single vine had produced. The sturdy center stalk of the vine, rooted deep in the soil, provides the nourishment to all of these long, fruit-bearing spurs.
Vineyards have often been used symbolically in the scriptures. In the book of John, the Savior used the grapevine as a metaphor to explain the nature of His relationship with those who would be His disciples.
Prior to leaving for Gethsemane, the Savior taught the Apostles how they must live if they were to continue to be His disciples. Among the things He taught during that sacred hour was that their lives must be entirely grounded in Him and in His teachings:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. …
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:1–2, 4–8).
In this allegory are two important principles: First, we must be grounded in Christ. If we are not, we will not be fruitful (see John 15:4). If our lives are not in harmony with the teachings of the Savior, it is no more likely that we will bear good fruit than that a branch cut off from a vine will bear fruit. Second, even when we are living righteously, we still need the Gardener, who knows us so completely and sees beyond what we see, so that He can purge, or prune and purify, us (see John 15:2). While at times this pruning may seem hard to bear, it is only through this process that we will become more fruitful.
Our pruning comes in a variety of ways. We may develop an illness or physical limitation. We may find that our expectations are not fulfilled. We may find sorrow in relationships or experience personal loss. Yet what initially might seem to be a sad event can help us grow if it causes us to rely more on the Lord and to rethink our priorities. Such difficult experiences can make us more fruitful, or more like the Savior—our true vine.
Throughout my life I have had ample need for pruning. For example, a few years ago I expected to receive a company promotion. I felt I had the experience, skills, and longevity required, and I hoped the choice was obvious.
At that time there was a new top manager in our company who had different priorities and goals than I did. Among other things, he expected all senior managers to work weekends in addition to weekdays. I was a stake president then and knew that to best serve the members of my stake, I needed to spend a certain amount of time fulfilling my Church responsibilities.
When the hoped-for promotion never occurred, I had to struggle to keep myself from feeling bitter. What a disappointment! I determined just to keep going, to try to do things as well as I could, and to maintain a positive demeanor. Yet my sense of self-worth had been challenged. My abilities had been called into question. Other Church leaders I knew seemed to capably manage both demanding Church callings and time-consuming employment.
In a weak moment, I even wondered whether I had made the right choice to devote so much time to the Church. Then I decided I needed to focus on what was truly important. I began to look not only at my capabilities but also at my limitations. I could see that the time I was spending in Church service was necessary and that I probably wouldn’t have been able to manage both the employment position I had sought and my Church calling.
I think the Lord was telling me I had to choose and would have to keep choosing. To have chosen to devote extra time to my employment so I could get the promotion would have disengaged me from the Lord’s work. As I look back, I can see what a blessing it was for me to devote so much of my time to the Church. The ensuing years were some of the most rewarding of my life. I felt closer to the Lord. My testimony was strengthened. My relationship with fellow Saints in the area was a great blessing, and I am sure I became more fruitful than I would have been otherwise.
We can expect that we will be pruned throughout our lives. How wonderful it is to know that an all-wise Father is watching over our development and that He is nurturing us through His careful husbandry.
We must derive our spiritual nourishment from Jesus Christ. He is the source of all truth and of all goodness. Without Him we can do nothing (see John 15:5). When we focus on Christ and His gospel, we are filled with His light. Then the fruits of the Spirit are made manifest in us, and the blessings come (see John 15:7; Gal. 5:22–23). If we seek to achieve our full potential, let us daily think of Christ and emulate His example until we become firmly rooted to Him, the True Vine.