“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I spent several hours this past weekend pruning our two apple trees. We have lived in our current home for almost 10 years, but sadly I have never taken the time to prune these two trees. They have started to look like an elevated, mangled bush, not an apple tree. The trees were in pretty good shape when we moved in. We often plucked some good size apples off the tree. After years of (my) neglect, we had hundreds of apples, but they were half the size. If we want the trees to continue to be healthy, I needed to do some pruning.
You have to have two trees for them to flourish. I did not know that until we bought this house. I have a friend who owns an orchard and he informed me that you have to have at least two trees if you want apples. They help cross-pollinate each other; apparently one tree cannot survive on its own. It has to have some connection to another tree to survive. In the Christian life, we need others to spiritually cross-nurture each other in order to stay healthy. People cannot grow when their own life is the solitary blueprint for growth.
You have to prune limbs so the tree stays healthy. After 10 years, our apple trees were a mess. Branches growing everywhere, suckers growing all over the place, limbs jamming into other branches, limbs growing in every direction – it was choking itself with having so many limbs encroaching on each other. So Saturday I spent a couple of hours giving the front tree a major deforestation cut. I probably cut too much, but I had to take some severe steps to give it the room to get sunlight, take away the sucker shoots and get rid of the competition.
John 15 indicates our relationship with Christ is similar. We will never bear fruit on our own. We must abide in Christ (the vine) because we will never produce fruit on our own. Christ alone provides the nourishment to produce fruit. Left to ourselves we will choke ourselves on chasing to many things that are not productive.
The true mark of a healthy, growing follower of Christ is to abide in Him. We often measure success by the means, not the fruit. What I mean is this – we talk a great deal about prayer, reading the Word, memorizing Scripture, the discipline of a quiet time, knowing our gifts, etc. Often our measure of success is based on how many times we read their Bible or how many verses we have memorized. These things are not the goal, but a means to an end. Christ’s concern was for us to abide in Him. Success is not so much the activity of prayer, but how prayer helps us abide in Christ. We all know someone can read volumes of Scripture, but if it does not help our heart to abide intimately in Christ, we are spinning our spiritual wheels. The activity of reading the Word does not automatically mean we are abiding in Christ.
Could a person not read their Bible for two weeks and still abide in Christ? Certainly! We all know that the Word is the spiritual food that nourishes our heart, so it would be a mistake to say the Word is unimportant or not necessary. But these disciplines are the “inputs” of the Christian life. We need to keep on evaluating the “outputs” of the Christian life – the fruit of abiding in Christ.
In His grace,