Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Vineyard

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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit;  (John 15:1-2,5a)

Most of us have some familiarity with these verses.  Talk of a vine, branches and fruit, along with the vinedresser who takes care of his vineyard.  How do we apply this to our lives?

Bruce Wilkinson, in his book Secrets of the Vine, does a fantastic job in delving deeper into this topic.  I highly recommend this book.  I am not going to try and recreate it here.  I just have a few ideas I would like to share.

If you are unfamiliar with these verses, here is a quick summary:
Here we find Jesus talking to His disciples, using the metaphor of a vineyard to describe our relationship with Him and God the Father.  In this relationship, Jesus is the vine which feeds the branches.  The vine is the trunk that grows up out of the ground and ends in a large gnarl from which the branches grow.

We are those branches which will produce fruit by our actions in serving Him.  The branches are fed from the vine and grow along a trellis. This is where the vinedresser focuses his efforts because that is where the fruit is produced. 

God plays the part of the vinedresser who tends to the vineyard.  The vinedresser lovingly tends to the branches so they will produce as much fruit as possible.  Basically the fruit represents our good works.  Thoughts, attitudes and/or actions in which God places value because they bring Him glory.  We bear this fruit when we allow God to work through us to bring Him glory.

So why do we need tending?  What keeps us from developing and bearing fruit?  The easy answer: Sin.  The sin in our lives makes us sick and dirty and therefore unable to bear fruit.  So we just need to stop sinning, right?  Now it isn't quite so easy.  If we are truly seeking God, we are striving to lead sin free lives; the problem here is that we are not perfect. 

Even with the best intentions we still fall short and find ourselves dealing with sin in our lives.  Yes, God understands we are not perfect and gives us grace.  But sometimes it is not so much the sin as it is some other underlying issue to the sin. 

Here are a few issues that may be standing in our way.  Disagreement with God in regards to something in our lives, this may manifest itself in many ways including: doubt, fear, worry, hate, anger, impatience, and lust just to name a few.  How about harboring unforgiveness in our heart?  Selfishness?  Resentment?  Maybe just something bad from our past we just don’t want to give up; some vice we try to convince ourselves is ok to have if the rest of my life is good.

Fortunately for us, God love us too much to just stand by and not do anything.  If we are truly striving to better ourselves, God will be there to pick us up, clean us off and support us.  This puts us in a better position to bear the fruit that brings Him glory.  This is where He may start the pruning process.  Think scissors, gently trimming away the bad stuff to help us grow.

It’s when we are not necessarily looking to Him that He may actually start taking steps to address the issues.  He may start with some gentle prodding but if necessary he will start taking drastic, sometimes painful measures to get our attention and move us toward repentance.  This is commonly referred to as discipline.  Think God starting up His spiritual weed whacker and diving in to remove the bad stuff from our lives.  This will continue until we stop doing whatever we are doing that is drawing the attention of God’s weed whacker.

Pruning is the cutting away of dead or dying material or even trimming back the branch in favor of increasing its health and vitality, thereby increasing its ability to produce fruit.  In our lives this is cutting away immature commitments and lesser priorities or removing the parts of our lives that drain precious time and energy.  This is all done for our benefit. 

Sometimes we invite the pruning into our lives.  Have you ever asked God to help in addressing a problem in your life and then suddenly you feel like your life is going all topsy-turvy.  Areas of your life that are not related to your prayer are upended.  Now we panic.  Our next prayer is, “God, my life is going from bad to worse, please make it stop.” 

The problem here is that God was in the process of answering our first prayer. And the what-the-heck-just-happened-to-my-life is God pruning.  We need to remember, God knows what we need, much better than we do.  So when this happens it is because He is trimming what we need trimmed, not necessarily what we expected, or maybe even wanted in the process of answering our prayer. 

The good news is the pruning does not last forever.  The pruning will last until God is done.  I’m not going to say that the pruning doesn't cause pain, in fact the closer to the core of who you are, the more intense the pain will be. 

I will admit there have been times it felt like there couldn't possibly be any more that could be trimmed away and I felt like I had been cut back to nothing more than a stick.  The key is how you respond to the pruning.  We can fight it or we can trust that God has our best interests in mind through the entire process and allow Him to work.

I like how Michael DiMarco put it in his book God Guy:  “You gotta understand the job of the vinedresser in order to really get the full impact.  His goal is not to stress out the vine or the branches.  He’s not grabbing the stuff in anger and just pruning willy-nilly, chopping haphazardly.  He’s not even cutting just to make things look better.  He’s working with a purpose, and each move he makes has one goal: to improve the production of the plant.”

In Philippians, Paul tells us God is going to work in our lives.  “Being confident in this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  (Phil 1:6)  Don’t be afraid to allow God to work in your life.  This is another demonstration of how much He loves us.  He knows what he is doing.

He is tending His vineyard.