My archaeological travels have taken me often through the rocky slopes of the Judean foothills between Bethlehem and Hebron, where some of the Holy Land’s most fruitful vineyards grow. I have witnessed the joy of the fall harvest when the fruit of the vine is lush and full. A single bunch of grapes can be of mammoth proportions.
Into this region Moses sent his spies to explore the land the Lord had promised. They returned “bearing a single cluster of grapes,” which it took two of them to carry (Num. 13).
During the winter months I have seen those same vineyards reduced to rows of bleeding stumps. I marveled how anything could ever grow out of those truncated vines. But since ancient times, this practice of cutting back has been used to produce more fruitful harvests.
Today we hear a lot about “downsizing.” Automakers close plants and idle tens of thousands of workers. Department-store chains cut their management teams by half and put thousands out of work. Corporations downsize. Schools downsize. Even governments cut programs to shrink payrolls.
Unfortunately, the modern approach to downsizing has often shrunken institutions and shriveled organizations permanently, nearly crippling them, instead of breathing life into them. Short-sighted managers trim for today with no thought for the morrow.
This is certainly not the picture of “downsizing” we find in Scripture. In John 15 Jesus uses the allegory of the vineyard to show how the Father makes us more fruitful. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,” says Jesus, “while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2, NIV).
We Christians need the tender hand of the gardener, who cuts back to bring forth greater fruitfulness; ...1
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