A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Monday, June 2, 2014

John 15:1-2 "Living On The Vine"

On the evening that Jesus was betrayed, after the Passover meal Jesus walked with His disciples to the Mount of Olives where they were going to pray.  Jesus, of course, knew what was about to happen.  Although the disciples didn't know, Jesus knew that this walk to the Garden of Gethsemane was His last walk before His false arrest, unjust trial, and brutal execution.  

So, when Jesus pauses at the ancient vineyards near the foot of the hilltop garden to tell them an object lesson, it is significant.  Because Jesus knew this was His final teaching time with the disciples, He was not wasting time talking about trivia.  There was so much He still wanted them to understand, and such a small amount of time left to Him; certainly, He didn't waste it.

As Jesus paused by the ancient grape vines, He told His disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser (gardener). Every branch 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."  John 15:1-2

Since these disciples came from a culture where grapevines were a way of life (the vine is actually a national symbol of ancient Israel) there are probably a few things that the disciples knew about grapes and vines that we might not know.  Because of their agrarian background, this object lesson made good sense to them.  

First, it made sense that a branch had to be connected to the vine in order to grow.  So, if Jesus is the vine, they are the branches and they needed to remain connected.  Also, it was understood that the purpose of grape vines was to produce grapes.  There is no purpose for a branch that does not produce fruit.  So, it makes sense that the gardener would cut off any branch that remains perpetually fruitless.  What they understood that most of us probably don't is how a gardener got the maximum amount of fruit from a vine branch.

Under the right growing conditions, grapevines grow aggressively.   In a single growing season, a branch can grow as much as 50 ft.  The dilemma is that while a branch is growing outwardly, it does not produce much fruit.  The nutrients and energy of the plant are used for new growth, not fruit. 

What this means is that a grapevine can be big and robust with lots of greenery and apparent health, but have little to no fruit.  The casual observer would think that the vine is a perfect specimen -yet there is no fruit.  If there is no fruit, there is no purpose for the branch.

So, a good vinedresser watches and monitors new growth, allowing for a some outward growth, and then at the right time, cuts back the new growth forcing the nutrients and energy into producing fruit.  If he does this right and the vine responds as it ought to, there will be a good amount of healthy new growth and fruit as well.

Once the vinedresser cuts back the new growth, if the branch doesn't set fruit but just starts growing again, the fruitless branch is cut off completely.  There is no purpose in a branch that continues to drain nutrients and energy but won't produce fruit.

On the other hand, once it has been established that a branch will set fruit, the vinedresser continues to selectively prune off non-fruit-producing runners and unneeded foliage so that the branch can produce the maximum amount of fruit.

So, the big picture here is that there is a season of growing and a season for basic pruning and a season of selective pruning -all with the end goal of producing the maximum amount of fruit.

If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, it follows that Father (our gardener) desires us to produce the maximum amount of Kingdom fruit.  In order for us to produce fruit, we need a season of growing.  So, we study and learn and memorize Scripture and pray and prepare and build community and fellowship and do all the things that we equate with growth.  But we understand that after a season of growth, there will be some pruning.  This is not punishment, it is a necessary process to move us from becoming large fruitless branches full of greenery and apparent health to strong branches actually bearing fruit.  And as we cooperate with God, He further hones in on the areas that are not fruitful and trims away all that holds us back from maximum fruit.

Things that in the beginning did not seem like a big deal might actually become a big deal as God identifies the things that need to be trimmed away.  Until He begins to prune, it is not an issue.  However, when Father says it is time for something to go, it is time for it to go or we risk becoming fruitless.

Let me give an example from my own life.  For several years I had a very old copy of a high end photography editing program on my computer.  A friend had installed it my my computer for me and I used it regularly -even though I knew that my friend had obtained his copy illegally.  I justified keeping and using the program with the knowledge that it was so old that it couldn't even be purchased anymore and the company didn't even support that old version anymore.

Then one night in the middle of the night I woke up with a start and felt like God was telling me to delete that program.  It wasn't an issue for me until God said it was -then it became an issue.  God wanted to prune away an area that lacked integrity even though I didn't realize there was a breach of integrity.  Once God identified it, however, my choice was simply obey or not obey.  I obeyed.  Almost instantly the effectiveness of my ministry grew.  God was pruning to produce more fruit.

Do you want to be fruitful?  My understanding is that there are actually steps for us to follow and if we cooperate with God in this we will be fruitful.  First we study and learn and grow in grace and knowledge.  Next, when God begins to bring conviction and understanding to the general areas of life, we stay connected and allow God to cut away the big obstacles to intimacy with Him -and to Kingdom fruit.  In effect we begin to value righteousness over knowledge.  And then as God begins to identify the specific areas of our lives that need change, we obey.  The end result: spiritual fruit.