“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.
I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead I called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
John 15: 1 – 8, 15-16
I have read and taught this passage of Scripture what feels like a thousand times. But today, in an Adult Discipleship class at Fuller Theological Seminary, this passage came alive in a whole new way. I was so moved by the lesson and what was shared that I thought I would share it with you. This is just a glimpse of what I learned in class, but I pray that it will be a nugget of wisdom and “bold faith” for you in the same way it was for me.
In this well known passage, Jesus is using a vineyard as an example of our connection to Him. He tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. Imagine a grape vine, deeply rooted and filled with branches hanging heavy with rich, succulent fruit. God is the gardner, tending to the vine, watering it, nurturing it and making sure that it grows healthy branches that will be productive. With God as the gardener, Jesus says that He is the vine. I imagine a thick, sturdy, and solid vine that can hold the weight of many, many branches, breathing life into them and sustaining them as they grow and ultimately produce plump, juicy grapes. As Jesus is the vine, you and I are the branches. We are all connected to the strong, sturdy, life giving vine. When we remain connected, taking in the nourishment of God’s word, the Truth of Christ and a life fed and filled the richness of a deep relationship with Jesus, we will bear fruit!
Now what does Jesus mean by fruit? Fruit can mean several things, like family, the richness of friends and a good life, but what Jesus is really referring to, is disciples. My friends, just as Jesus led and taught His disciples, it is now our role as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, to make more disciples. Jesus left us with the Great Commission, to “Go and make disciples of all nations….” Our job is to make disciples. Fruit. And the closer and more connected we are to Christ, the Vine, the more fruit, (disciples) we will develop through our teaching, our service and our sharing of the Good News of Christ.
Well, this is where I always left the story. Remain in Christ and He will remain in us. Be a good little branch, stay connected to Jesus and bear fruit. Love it! But today, just when I thought I had the whole Scripture all figured out, our professor brought in a former student of hers, Alan Fadling, who shared a teensy part of the story that I had missed. A part of the story that perhaps I had glossed over or maybe I just didn’t want to deal with. Well friends, we are going in. Let’s tackle the harder part. This is where it gets interesting.
In the second verse, right at the very beginning, Jesus has introduced himself as the “true vine” and His Father as the “gardener”. He goes on to say that the Gardener cuts off every branch on the Vine that bears no fruit and He prunes back every branch that does bear fruit. Let’s read that one more time, He prunes back every branch that DOES bear fruit. What? If I am a branch bearing fruit, I am going to get pruned? Yep! That’s what it says. And, for anyone who gardens, they know that this is true. In order for healthy branches to continue to grow and produce, they need to be cut back. Pruned! The gardener cuts off the excess and trims everything way back so that the branch can be even more fruitful.
Well I don’t know about you, but being pruned and having the excess cut back doesn’t sound very pleasant to me. As Alan explained to us today, the pruning process usually includes loss of some sort or even letting go of things that we might love but that need to branch out on their own, allowing us to continue to grow and to bear more fruit.
As I heard these words today, I immediately thought of the pruning that has recently taken place in my life and the growth that has begun as a result. Six months ago I made the difficult, but necessary, decison to let go of the youth ministry that I had developed and loved. For six years I tended, nurtured and poured my heart and soul into a group of kids who became a part of my heart and my life in such a way that they will be permanently etched in the fibers of my soul. I love those kids and they brought a tremendous amount of joy to my life. I praise God for the blessing of that ministry and the relationships that were formed because of it. But as God has begun to lead me to new challenges and a new calling, it became necessary to let go. The youth needed a new leader and I needed to move into the new places where God was calling. My eyes well up with tears as I type this because that was a difficult choice to make. Thankfully, though, I know that it was the right choice. The youth have a great new leader and I am exactly where I need to be. I got pruned!
Then, just four months ago, I made another difficult decision. This one was even harder. My son, Cody, who most of you know, is almost fifteen. He suffers from severe mental illness and our journey together has been quite an adventure, to say the least. For the last few years, Cody has expressed a deep desire to live with his father in Texas. While the thought of Cody leaving me to live with his dad was unbearable and became a source of debilitating grief, the day came where I could no longer hold on. I had to let go. Cody moved to Texas in June. The one person who I have all but laid my life down for, the person who I love most in the world, left and moved to Texas. I got pruned!
The incredible part of all this, is that by letting go of two of the most precious loves of my life, by allowing God to prune me,(although, admittedly, I did not know I was being pruned) there is new life being breathed into all of us. The youth group is on a new journey with a new leader and all of them are growing and blossoming in a way that I know will bear much fruit. Cody and his dad are on a journey of their own now. They are developing a relationship with one another that has sorely been lacking and now they will grow and blossom and bear fruit of their own. And then there is me. All the time as I fought to hang on to keep my “fruit” and the very things that defined my life and my meaning, I was holding everyone back from new growth that needed to take place. Now that God has pruned me, set them free from me and set me free from them, I am also growing, blossoming and stepping into new places that I never would have ventured into otherwise. I got pruned! The inital cut was pretty painful, but the joy that has followed is inexpressible. When we remain in Him and He remains in us, we will bear much fruit. I pray that God will lead all of us to a place where we will bear rich, ripe, plump, succulunt and juicy fruit!
Nuggets of Bold Faith:
Have you read this Scripture before? What parts stand out in it for you?
Are you a healthy branch, connected to the Vine and bearing fruit?
What are some things you can do in your life to strengthen your relationship with Christ, the Vine, so that your branch can flourish? Bible Study? A deeper and more intentional prayer life? Stepping into a leadership role at your church?
When have you been pruned? How did that feel? What were the results?
Are there things in your life that need to be pruned, that are weighing you down and that would be better served if you let go?
Where is God calling you next? Are you content? Are you bearing much fruit? Are you answering God’s call to make disciples?
Holy and loving God, we thank you that you are our Gardener. We thank you that you tend to the Vine and to us, your branches, nurturing us, feeding us, leading us and calling us nearer to you. God we pray that if there is pruning to be done in our lives that you would open our hearts to your will and help us to make those necessary cuts so that we can bear much fruit. We pray that new and healthy relationships would grow as a result and that we would draw closer to you in the process. Help us to love you, serve you, glorify you and make long lasting and fruitful disciples for Jesus.
In Jesus Name, Amen.