(July 19, 2021) Geri B shares from her heart graciously on a vital issue…
Jesus made it clear in John 15: 1-2,4-5 that the Father wants his children to be fruitful… ‘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… Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.’
We tend to skip over ‘while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes …’! But three things are outstandingly clear –
- If we remain (abide, an action verb!) in him, we will bear fruit.
- Although bearing fruit, the Father will prune us so we’ll be even more fruitful.
- A twice-mentioned warning… remain in him otherwise we cannot bear fruit, do nothing!
More abundant than before
Have you ever seen a pruned grape vine? It is quite brutally cut back to the main trunk so that it would appear there are no branches at all remaining, just the main trunk. You would be forgiven for thinking the pruning was too much, the vine dresser had gone too far and there would be no fruit for the coming hasrvest season.
However… a true vine dresser knows the necessity of pruning and Jesus spoke this word to help us understand the times and seasons the Father would take us through in our lives in our walk with him. ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens’ (Ecclesiasties 3:1).
At the proper time, after a season of rest and drawing from the nutrients of the soil, rain sent from heaven, sun giving its warmth and light, new buds appear, the branches grow again drawing on the sap of the main trunk to become stronger and, incredibly, the fruit is even more abundant than the previous harvest.
Depending on our walk with the Lord, how much we do, how diligent we are in doing the things he has given us to do, we will go through times where we can find ourselves seemingly having a desert experience, or lacking a sense of fruitfulness, feeling stale, stagnant!
These experiences commonly come after a time of fruitfulness in ministry, our service for the Lord. We cannot understand why we should be experiencing a negative when everything has been so positive. Is it me? Is it those around me? Is it the enemy trying to discourage me? Do I need to work harder? Do I need to change my ministry? Move church? Do I need to network with different people? Why is this happening?
Everything seems dry, possibly barren and more effort is needed to accomplish the same results as before. These times can be frustrating, self-berating and we can inadvertently force ourselves to work harder, even driving others to do the same in our effort to maintain or increase the output and returns.
Taking encouragement from the life of the apostle Paul, we can see that he experienced times of fruitfulness, and then a time of pruning which could be taken as withdrawal, rest, instruction, preparation that led to even greater periods of fruitfulness… as well as the attributes of perseverance, endurance and humility!
Pruning for a harvest
Paul in his encounter with the Lord on the Damascus road and subsequent conversion preached so effectively for Jesus Christ in that city, that the Jews plotted his death and the disciples had to take him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket (Acts 9:15-25).
Even in a very short time after conversion Paul was fruitful in his service for the Lord… but he immediately left Damascus for Arabia where he remained for some three years without preaching or doing anything that seemed to be in line with the word he had received from Ananias or the Lord.
But those years were spent being taught by the Lord, corresponding to approximately the same amount of time the Lord taught the original twelve apostles. An extremely valuable time of abiding in the vine, would you not agree?
Paul may have felt a little frustrated, even nonplussed at this turn of events. Had he not done what the Lord had commanded? (Acts 26:16, ‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you’). Yes, he had!
All this was in the purposes of God and it was time well spent to build in Paul the truth of the gospel message he would use in bringing it to the Gentile nations. And not just the gospel was taught him by the Lord, he learned the discipline of prayer, fasting and the humility necessary to carry the Lord’s miraculous power and remain abiding in him.
After three years Paul returned to Damascus and thence to Jerusalem to see Peter, remaining with him 15 days (Galatians 1:17-20). He travelled about the regions of Syria and Cilicia and also to Caesarea where he spoke boldly about the Lord Jesus and where attempts were again made against his life. From Caesarea he was taken by disciples to Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30).
Again a time of quiet. In fact an even longer period of time – 10 years or so – before Barnabas went to Tarsus to seek out Paul and take him to Antioch where they would serve the Lord for a year (Acts 11:25-26). And after that commenced Paul’s greatest period of fruitfulness – his first of two missionary journeys, persecutions, hardships and prison. Who knows whether Paul would have finished his race so well, if he had not had those times of pruning that seemed wasted, or unfruitful, but in the economy of God, so important.
How does that relate to you and I?
Everything in the Bible is there for our encouragement, to learn from and to apply to our lives no matter how old we are or at what stage our life’s journey is, or how our calling in the Lord expresses itself.
Paul’s life is relevant to us all and we can take onboard lessons that will enable us to be more fruitful for Jesus and to abide in him whatever the season.
Like King David, Paul did not do anything without seeking the Lord and his will first! Throughout the book of Acts and in the epistles we see that Paul –
- Prayed continuously (often in tongues… 1 Corinthians14:18).
- Spent time fasting to gain insight into the will of the Lord.
- Spent time in the word, which was the Old Testament mainly.
- Spent time with Peter, and would have heard firsthand accounts of Jesus’ teachings, no doubt reflecting on those words.
- Waited on the Lord and obeyed when given a dream or direction (Acts 16:9).
- Even when hardship often awaited him and he received warnings of what lay ahead, he was steadfast in his desire to do only what the Holy Spirit was prompting him to do (Acts 21:11).
Paul lived during troublesome times, even as we are encountering an increase in trouble and turmoil globally. We can look at Paul’s examples and be encouraged to do likewise.
We have the same Lord as Paul, and if we also discipline ourselves to pray continuously/regularly/daily; reading and studying the word to keep ourselves built up in our faith; training ourselves to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit; praying in tongues and fasting; seeking his will for our lives and obeying those things he speaks to our hearts, we too will be fruitful for the Lord and not run our race in vain!
So when anyone is experiencing the effects of pruning we need to be careful in our responses to those who are in a time of fruitfulness. Are we jealous? Are we envious? Do we put fellow Christians down, criticising their ministry? Or do we rejoice that God’ kingdom is advancing? Can we encourage those who are being pruned, or resting, while we are being fruitful, rather than being boastful?
Paul is the perfect example – when he was confined to prison he wrote to the Philippian church (Philippians 1:12-18) that it was because of his chains that most of the brothers and sisters had become confident in the Lord and dared to proclaim the gospel more widely. No matter what their motive, Paul rejoiced greatly in the fruit-bearing of others.
When we are able to genuinely rejoice when the Lord uses others for the very thing we feel we have been called to, but are not currently experiencing – or when fellow believers are more fruitful than we seem to be at present, then we have learnt true unity, and are fully abiding in the vine.
Paul had learned throughout his walk with the Lord that no matter the situation or circumstance he could live content. ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want’ (Philippians 4:12).
This is also an attribute of abiding in the vine. If we remain in him, and he in us, we know everything is taken care of – we will receive all that we have need of, both spiritually and physically.
Days contentment may not necessarily be about food and material possessions, but about our need to feel wanted, affirmed, liked and admired by those around us. Social media, self-care and ‘great destiny’ messages from the pulpit of churches (especially with a strong online presence) conspire together to create a false understanding of what it is to be ‘content.’
If we ‘abide in the vine’, then anything we do is not about us, it should be about promoting the Saviour, bringing honour to him and serving the cause of his kingdom, not ours. Because if we acknowledge that we abide in the vine, we actually can do nothing of any worth without him! And, going further, we should not be interested in doing anything that does not produce fruit for his glory.
George Mueller once said, ‘There was a day when I died; died to self, my opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren or friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.’ He learned the reality of abiding in the vine and bearing fruit that would honour the Lord. And we know that the fruit produced by George Mueller was abundant and long-lasting.
Are you abiding?
How fruitful is your ministry, or walk with the Lord? Are you able to say that you are truly abiding in the vine? Or are you weary, burdened, at the point of giving up? When was the last time you can honestly say you heard from the Lord for yourself (not through the pastor or online prophet telling fortunes)?
More than ever today we need to return to the individual reading God’s word; gleaning for ourselves the treasures that can be found within it; taking the time to pray, worship the Lord on our own and seek his face. To build into our lives total dependence on the Holy Spirit and his leading.
The times ahead are not going to be easy – they are going to get harder. Deception is going to become more subtle and we will need the discipline of abiding in Christ to be able to overcome what is coming. We will need to emulate the five wise virgins who had their lamps filled with oil, so they were not ashamed at his arrival (Matthew 25:1-13).
Don’t be deceived, don’t think you have it all together – humble yourself before the Lord and listen to his wisdom. Let me encourage you today, it is never too late to heed the message of Jesus and abide in the vine.