“Remain in me, as I also 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.” – John 15:4
Last week I mentioned the grapevines I used to have in my old backyard in Victorville. Although they grew like weeds, the grapes themselves were tiny and sour. Later on, I learned what I was doing wrong. As the branches shot out in every direction, they looked so lush and green that I was afraid to prune them.
I learned that left to themselves, a grapevine will always favor new growth over more grapes. So, gardeners who know what they’re doing will vigorously prune the grape branches each and every year. It goes against our limited, manmade reasoning, but pruning is a grower’s single most important method for ensuring a plentiful harvest of large, sweet grapes.
Well, the same holds true for Jesus Christ and his church. Sometimes pain comes when we’re bearing spiritual fruit: God is allowing that pain to prune us so that we can produce more spiritual fruit. As Jesus told his disciples, “Every branch that does bear fruit [the Father] prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2b)
Sometimes God needs to prune us of our immaturity, our bad attitudes or our messed-up priorities. At times He even cuts away something good in our lives to make room for something even better. That’s not discipline in response to sin. That’s God pruning us to make room for more spiritual growth, so that He is more glorified in our lives.
Now, if your life bears a lot of fruit—congratulations! But that productivity has pitfalls of its own. Often, we as Christians are very busy serving the Lord. And in the midst of that busyness, we produce a good amount of fruit. But just because you’re fruitful doesn’t mean you’re happy. You may feel burned out, and your relationship with God may feel distant and stale. If this is hitting close to home, let me try to explain what’s going on.
When you first accepted Christ, especially if you had a dramatic conversion, your relationship with him was so fulfilling. You just wanted to serve Jesus however you could. Maybe you weren’t even very good at serving him yet. But that was okay, because you were so enthusiastic and you did your ministry out of sheer love for him.
But as time passes and you get better at serving him—as you get better at growing spiritual fruit—your doing for Jesus begins to outpace your being with Jesus. You find yourself running around just like Martha in the book of Luke. Martha had opened her home to Jesus and, according to Luke 10:40, “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Her sister Mary, meanwhile, was sitting at the feet of Jesus. When Martha asked Jesus why he didn’t make Mary get up and help, he responded gently: "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41b)
That’s what you’re missing out on when you feel spiritually burnt out. While you’re running around doing, Jesus is sitting patiently saying, “You need to be more like Mary. You need to sit at my feet. You need to talk with me and listen to me. You need to love on me and allow me to love on you.”
Do you know there’s only one way for a branch to draw more sap from the vine? The branch has to widen its connection to the vine. The funny thing about that is, this stage of spiritual growth is completely on you. When you’re bearing no fruit, God will discipline you. When you’re bearing some fruit, God will prune you. But if you’ve matured to the point where you’re bearing much spiritual fruit, God is waiting for you to come to him.
If you’re a fruitful Christian, you may be running around doing so much ministry that you’ve left Jesus in the dugout. And that’s not okay. Spending quality time with Christ must not be one of the many items on our daily “to-do” list. It has to be our top priority. We must deepen our connection to the vine if we are going to continue to be fruitful and actually enjoy being fruitful.
You have to choose to spend quality time with Jesus every day. You have to choose to read his word with an open mind and heart and to spend quality time in worship with him. You have to choose to spend quality time talking with him and listening for his still, small voice. When you do that, your connection to the vine will widen—and you will experience the deep, abiding joy of Christ’s love.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.fccvv.com and join us for worship Sunday at 10 a.m.