John 15:1- 8
"1 I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will 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. 5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
As you spend time looking at this passage the focus will not be on the various skills that one might employ when tending vines or the characteristics of a vine, for I am not a vine dresser. Rather, our focus will be on the words in this marvelous passage and the truths that naturally flow from these words; words that will invite us to explore your image of God and Jesus, words that will challenge us to look deeply into your own hearts. In taking a deep look into our own hearts we are seeking to discern with God what areas might need pruning or to discover how we might be able to remain and deepen our connection with Jesus and with Jesus’ words and to love and in turn love others.
This passage is not some quaint paragraph one might find in a Home and Garden Magazine but rather is a passage that is both comforting and challenging, delineating what is needed to enter into the abundant life that Jesus offers those who have come to know him.
It is comforting in that it expresses the heart of God (the farmer/gardener) as desiring to work with us/partner with us so that we produce fruit (he prunes so that we will be even more fruitful) and in turn bring glory to God (“This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit”). God's image is one of a farmer whose sole goal is to bring forth a bountiful crop and who tirelessly labors to make that happen.
It is challenging because it reminds us of the necessity of staying connected to Jesus. The passage starkly declares; “apart from me (Jesus) you can do nothing” (v.5). In light of this truth, Jesus’ words, “live, remain, abide or make your home in me” (v.4, 5, 7) are transformed from a mere request or suggestion into a prerequisite to one's ability to live out their faith. And added to this challenge of maintaining our connection with Jesus we are also instructed to make a home for God's Word within us (v.7 and my words remain in you) and to live, remain, abide or make our home in love (v.9 Now remain in my love.). This passage lays out most simply what it takes to live a life infused and formed by Jesus and to experience the joy (v.11) that naturally flows from such a life.
Also in our passage we find an “I am” statement of Jesus. This is the last of seven “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John: (I am the bread of life (6:35), I am the light of the world (8:12), I am the good shepherd (10:11), I am the door (10:7), I am the resurrection (11:25), I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6), I am the true vine (15:1). This statement declares essential truths about who Jesus is and what our relationship needs to be with Jesus.
As you can see this passage contains much to sit with and ponder. These are truths that will lead you into a fuller life with God, help you to live life from a place of connection with Jesus, Jesus’ words and Jesus’ love and birth joy within your heart.
Reflect and React
Exercises for Part One: These next exercises deal with the first three verses of our passage. You do not need to do every exercise.
John15:1-3 "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”.
Please take your time with the exercises, linger with them and with God, seeking to soak in all that God has for you in each exercise. I strongly encourage you to journal.
1. What needs to be pruned from your life? Hebrews 12:1 states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down,especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us”.
Oftentimes as we focus our attention on pruning things from our lives we scour our hearts and actions, looking for sins that trip us up, and rightly so. However, we often overlook those things that are not sin but nonetheless hinder our ability to bear fruit and stay organically connected to Jesus. As you ponder the opening question of this exercise, please take the time to look at those things in your life that may not be evil in and of themselves but are less than helpful in producing fruit and keeping you connected with Jesus. As you discover these things, endeavor before God and with God's help to develop a plan to temper or eradicate these things from your life. Take time to journal around all that has surfaced during this time.
2. Spend time reflecting on the image of God as a farmer/gardener. What characteristics does this image of God convey in terms of God's involvement in your life, desires for your life, and continuing efforts on your behalf? How does this make you feel about God? What do you find encouraging and helpful in terms of your own spiritual life and ongoing spiritual development when you image God as farmer/gardener?
3. Create a collage that communicates the image of God as farmer/gardener and/or the bountiful results of God's efforts in your life as the farmer of your soul and heart.
4. Take some time to reflect upon your life through the beginning of this year, asking God to show you ways in which God was glorified through you as the fruit of the Spirit was manifested in your life.
5. Write a letter to God, thanking God for his commitment to your ongoing growth and development in Christ-likeness and fruit bearing.
6. Reflect upon a time in your life when you experienced the pruning of God. Allow this time to become a time of thanksgiving and gratitude for God's intentional involvement in your life. Also ask God to show you how these times of pruning enable you to be more fruitful in your life.
7. Take a walk spending time looking at the various flowers and plants, pausing to see their beauty and experience their fragrance. Ask God to show you the beauty and fragrance of your life that God has worked to produce in and through you as He has attended to your heart and soul.
Please go back over the John 15:1-3 and answer the following questions:
What is one invitation from God for me found in this passage?
What do I find personally challenging in this passage?
What do I find personally encouraging in this passage?
What do I find as a helpful reminder in this passage?
NOTE: I will be sending you Part 2 (John 15:4-8) in April.