I have discovered something lovely and encouraging that I thought you might enjoy sharing with me. I have been slowly studying through John 14-15 lately, and taking the time to really absorb what Jesus was saying. These are some of my favorite passages, and they have had tremendous influence in my life. I love how favorite Scriptures can jump to life with added dimension and richness. The Holy Spirit takes the Word, which is already living and active, and He causes it to leap into our lives, surrounding, bathing, and filling us with more of His truth and light.
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit, so that they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.” John 14:1-3 nlt
I have been meditating on this concept of pruning, and my own experience in this long season. I have journaled various thoughts with God, and, on what I believe to be a holy nudge, I looked more closely at the origin of the words. I was surprised and moved by what I saw there. Please allow me to insert the Strong’s definition of the words into the text, so that we might capture the image that Jesus’s disciples would have understood.
“I am the true vine and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me (this means true believers) that does not [bear up and bring forth] [works, acts deeds, effects, results] by [enduring the rigor of it], He (the Father) [lifts up forcibly, moving it from its place and carries it off]; and every branch that does [bear up and bring forth] [works, acts, deeds, effects, results] by [enduring the rigor of it], He (the Father) [cleanses it of its impurities, cuts away useless shoots and expiates their guilt], that they may (again) [bear up and bring forth] [works, acts, deeds, effects, results] (by again) [enduring the rigor of it]. Now you have already been [cleansed, purified by fire and so fitted to bear fruit] through the Word I have spoken to you.”
It settled upon me that this very instruction explains so much of why we wither away even though we have a true faith in Christ. It’s the challenges that we face… we get worn out, discouraged, and sometimes we opt out; we quit. Perhaps we lay down our burden so that someone else must pick it up. Maybe we shrink back quietly into the shadows of our faith, consoling ourselves with these thoughts: It is just too much for me; I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough. I’m not smart enough. This burden is too much; I’m simply not enough.
And it is; the burden is too much for you to bear. But that is where we must reach out to the Master Gardener, our loving and always good Father, to lift us up, put support under and around us. We must choose to stay connected to Jesus by living every day in His Word, the Scriptures, to feed us, fertilize us, and water us. God’s beautiful sun is always shining down upon us, giving us nutrients that we will need for the challenge that is placed before us. But if we do not regularly drink deeply of the living water that moves powerfully (although sometimes invisibly) through the written Word of God, the sun will dry us and exhaust us and we will wilt. When we take the time to drink deeply of the ever-flowing fountain of God’s life, through His carefully recorded Word to us, the water we soak up balances out the sun that is beaming down upon us, allowing the Holy Spirit to convert those nutrients into energy and strength for us.
But the soil… well, that’s our responsibility. What are we putting in the soil of our hearts? Or what are we unwilling to let go of? Jesus taught quite explicitly that the condition of one’s heart (the soil) correlates directly with the outcome of our fruitfulness. Are we pulling up the weeds that are strangling God’s good life in us? Are we tilling up the soil so that air can reach our roots? Are we removing the rocks that block our reach for more life? Yes, our Father is the Master Gardener, and Jesus is the life that will flow through us, but the maintenance of the soil happens through our looking to see God, listening to hear God, and our cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He reveals the obstacles that are blocking our growth.
Will we endure the rigor of the thing? If we will, Jesus promises in this passage that our Father will cleanse us of our impurities, cutting away useless growth, and wash away our guilt… but only as we endure the rigor, bear up, and bring forth. We have to choose to endure. If we will not endure, if we turn back and shrink away, our Father will lift us up out of our comfortable hiding place, moving us forcibly from where we feel safe, and will allow us to learn what it feels like to be truly disconnected from the flow of God’s effervescent and blessed life. Yes, you are still IN JESUS, as He stated in the beginning. But having chosen to disconnect from the challenge, God then disconnects us from some of the flow, some of the blessing that accompanies being willing to stay right where God has planted us and to bear up and bring forth. We only live under the fountain of God’s blessing and His amazing life flow when we endure the rigor of the challenge He has placed before us, remaining closely connected to Him by remaining in His presence. We like to think that God’s blessing follows us wherever we want to wander, and it does, but only in small measure. The good life, the beautiful life, is found by enduring the rigor of the challenge, bearing up and bringing forth works, deeds, acts, effects, and results that further God’s kingdom work in us, through us, and around us.
The sweetest joy that I have ever known is the joy of feeling His presence, seeing Him move, hearing Him speak, and experiencing His good gifts. It is ours… if we endure.