“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides (dwells, lives, stays) in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
I have been obsessed with John 15 this year, and it seems that I run across it in other people’s writings at least weekly, if not more often.
My life, at this point, is almost exactly how I wanted it be when I was a child, dreaming up what I’d like my future to look like.
I always struggled with feelings of unworthiness, and for so long felt some kind of twisted guilt that my life was so good as an adult.I had a feeling that I had to earn my blessings somehow- to produce and do.
I’m not saying there haven’t been troubles and tragedies, we all have those, and I’m aware of that, so those don’t really count. I think people who don’t grow up “rough”, and experience poverty and hardship have a harder time being grateful, honestly. I think our perception is about 98% of our life experience. If not more. So, I can honestly say my life is rich, it’s full, and it’s beautiful.I suspect I have an easier time perceiving that because my childhood was…not this good.
But still, there’s that little bit inside of me that struggles thinking I need to do more, be more, and have more. Contentment is a virtue-a strength- you know. Without it, we have a form of weakness. It’s in our characters. I always feel like I need to pay back some debt. So I have done all manner of community service and ministry-type things over the years. But mostly I’ve learned to bypass and manage my own feelings of inadequacy and stop trying to measure up to my own standards. I do this by practicing my identity as a child of God, and dwelling in Him. Abiding in Jesus, I know He puts desires in me “to will and do good things”. The Bible says so, in Philippians 2:13. The problem arises when opportunities are presented, or manufactured by others or myself, to do “things”. I get tired out, there are so many things to do. It’s a smaller world now that it’s gone digital, and I find there are endless ways to help others, to be busy long distance, or even to find local projects. Just being busy for others isn’t the same as producing fruit though.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, so you will be My disciples.” John 15:7-8
These are truths that are evident in my own life. I know them not just by reading, but 23 years now of living in- abiding, dwelling, resting in- Jesus Christ.
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 15: 9-10
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13
I’ve learned that a family in this culture is rare and more valuable than it used to be, simply because of rarity. I’ve learned that Jesus valued people more than laws and traditions. I’m at the point in my life now, at 49 and getting tired, that I think abiding in Jesus is more than I realized, and better than I had hoped. Just as my relationship with Jesus has become more valuable to me over the years, so has my family. And family in general. As I hear more and more often of divorces and tragedies that take families apart, I am grieved. I value my own relationships more than ever. In fact, I think family is so very important that I believe it’s a significant part of the fruit Jesus is talking about.
That abiding in the Vine, and the rich soil of faith, helps grow healthy families. There are always going to be weeds, droughts, and destructive virus’ and insects, but if we stay connected, the Gardener takes care of those, like a good manager.
I dwell on the babies and children without families in foster care still. I dream of cuddling newborns again. I dwell on the lonely elderly folks whose young family doesn’t appreciate them with visits and talks. I dwell on those who have abandoned their families for selfish reasons and regret it later on, after the damage is done.
But our God is a redeemer. He takes a humble heart and works miracles. I hold out a lot of hope for the things that are wrong in my own family, simply because God sustains my hope with His word. I read it daily, I bathe my mind in it, and I keep it close to me no matter what’s going on.
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:16-17
One thing I have learned, and that’s love is a verb. It’s not a warm feeling. It’s sometimes a discipline and sometimes it requires we give sacrificially, but sometimes we must put up boundaries. Healthy love has action behind it, and motives.
I may feel strongly about those I love, or even those I feel compassion towards, but without acting on those in ways prescribed by wisdom, then they are nothing but noise. Love doesn’t enable a bad person. It isn’t agreeing with everyone, and it isn’t telling someone “you are enough” when clearly none of us are apart from Jesus.
Love is a fruit. I think some good fruit looks like taking in a child temporarily or permanently without a family, and bringing them into yours. Fruit is visiting your elderly neighbor and making them part of your family if they are lonely. Fruit is enjoying the gifts God has already given you and being content. Fruit is preferring your spouse to yourself and not having to win every argument.
Living in an agrarian community I have had the blessing of learning about fruits, and vines, cultivating, hard work, soil, and fertilizers first hand. It’s been invaluable for my spiritual growth. I’m thrilled that it’s right outside my doors every day.
I watch the orchard workers prune the trees one season, thin the apples the next, and all of it looks like hard work, patience, and tough on the trees, but the apples they produce are delicious, beautiful, and good for us. They go out all over the world. They dwell in rich, volcanic soil, and they submit to pruning and thinning. Just like us believers. God is the Vinedresser, the Master Gardener, and He takes the time to make us fruitful.
We must root down deep, being nourished in the rich soil of abiding faith, and in this way, connected to the Vine, we will bear much fruit. Genuine and good fruit.
But if we are shallow and rootless we will also be fruitless.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” John 15:4