A church in my area does morning worship every day from 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM. I don’t go very often because – let’s face it – I’m a senior in college, which basically equates to “not a morning person.” When I do go, though, I never regret it. That was the case this past Thursday. I got up at 5:30 AM and joined three friends, all of us holding mugs of coffee, in making the half-hour drive out to the church. Morning worship is a great way to start your day with Jesus. Usually when I go, I spend time praying, singing along to the songs I know, and reading my Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s word is living and active. I’ve found that to be very true; I get something new each time even out of passages that I’ve read over and over. This Thursday, I asked God to show me something he wanted me to learn, and I ended up learning more about a passage that I thought I already knew backward and forward: John 15.
John 15 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. It starts out with a word picture that I absolutely love. Jesus says that he is the vine, and we are the branches. There are two parts to the analogy he draws: pruning and bearing. We go through seasons of both in our lives, and they’re both important for us to be spiritually happy and healthy. So let’s take a look at what each of those things entails and how we are meant to respond to them.
In John 15:1-2, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser. Every branch that is in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (ESV). I don’t know very much about gardening, so I had to look up what the purpose of pruning is. Pruning is when old or excess branches are cut away in order to make room for more fruit. A grapevine with too many branches would have an excess amount of grapes and not be able to make them very ripe because it wouldn’t have enough nutrients to go around. In order for the vine to produce the maximum amount of ripe, good fruit, it has to be pruned. The same thing must happen with us.
One thing I’ve learned is that when I try to do too much, nothing really gets done well. I am a “doer” and always have been. It’s hard for me to say no, and I can be something of a control freak. I always think I can do a job better than anyone else, so I take on extra responsibilities to make sure that things get done “the right way” (MY way) the first time. But when I take on so many things, I get overwhelmed and either give up or finish halfheartedly and with minimum effort. When we take on too many things – have too many branches – we have to be pruned. Sometimes God will take something away from us in order to prune us. It might hurt. Cutting off branches that have the potential to be fruitful isn’t an easy process. It’s hard to let go of things that we think we can still make work. If we want to produce the maximum amount of ripe fruit, though, we have to let God do it. Maybe God is asking you to hand over to someone else a ministry that is very close to your heart. He’s done that with me, and it did hurt. It was hard. But in the end, we have to realize that there are lots of good things out there, but not all of them are good for us specifically to be doing. Sometimes you have to hand the reins to someone else and focus your energy on the tasks that God has set apart specifically for you to do.
Vinedressers also prune away old branches. A branch that is two years old or older isn’t fruitful. It’s great to keep in mind and learn from our past experiences with God, but we need to have fresh ones, too. An experience you had with the Lord ten years ago is probably not enough to sustain you with him today. He wants you to have new experiences. He wants to keep showing you more about who he is and keep supplying you with strength. If you water a plant once and then don’t do it again for six months because you already watered it once, you wouldn’t expect it to live. So how do you expect yourself to thrive if you don’t keep coming back to the source of strength, the living water? We have to keep our relationships with God fresh and not allow them to be stagnant.
The second part of the analogy Jesus draws in John 15 is bearing fruit. In verse 5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is who bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing” (ESV). This is the part that amazes me. Think about this: Jesus has good works set apart for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). He has things in mind specifically for you. You are an important part of his plan! But he doesn’t expect you to go it alone or accomplish these things in your own strength. You have to abide in him first. Imagine you’re walking by a grapevine. You see that the vine has some branches growing from it, but there are also some branches that are lying on the ground. Which branches are you going to expect to start growing grapes? Just like you wouldn’t expect the branches that were lying dead on the ground to start producing fruit, you can’t expect yourself to produce fruit if you’re not in the vine. We have to draw our strength entirely from Jesus if we want to bear good fruit.
I think this word picture is so beautiful. It’s such a great reminder that we have to keep it fresh with God. We have to allow him to either give to or take away from us depending on what’s in our best interest without pouting or fighting him. We’re also expected to bear fruit, but we don’t have to strain to do it ourselves; he is the source of the fruit and helps us to bear it. So how do we abide in the vine? The word “abide” means to dwell or stay in a certain place. In other words, we simply need to stay in close connection with Jesus. We draw our strength from Jesus in our quiet time with him, then we pour that strength out in his service, then we do it all over and over again. That’s what we need to be doing in order to abide.
I would encourage you to keep the word “abide” in mind as you go through your day-to-day life. Remember that Jesus is the source of your strength, and nothing that comes your way is too hard for his strength to handle. He thought up all sorts of great things specifically for you to do. Imagine that! When God was thinking up good deeds, he set aside some with your name on them. Isn’t that amazing? He wants to help you accomplish the things that he’s put on your heart. Keep abiding in the vine, and you will bear much fruit. You might get pruned sometimes, but it’s always for the best (Hebrews 12:11). I want to leave you with my very favorite verse in this passage, John 15:9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (ESV). Live in the knowledge of how loved you are by God. Abide in the vine.