No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine . . . apart from me you can do nothing.(John 15:4-5)
Our natural proclivity to prefer our independence is tested by Jesus’ approach to what we might call branch operations. A fruitful and meaningful life, He tells His followers, will take staying attached to Him. Not just when we read the Bible, pray, participate in small groups or on Sunday morning in church. No, we’re to stay attached to Him the way a branch stays attached to a vine. If the branch thinks it can go off on it’s own and just have a part-time connection, it will shrivel and die.
God is not a part-time Father, looking for part-time children. Jesus isn’t a part-time Savior of part-time followers. The Holy Spirit is not a part-time advocate and guide just in case we need one sometime. They’re not detached in their relationship with us, but they survive and bear fruit without you and me.
We don’t have that option. We’re branches that grow from the vine — not the reverse. Jesus says that if we want to operate well we have to get that clear.
It comes down to this: Jesus is the source and sustenance of real life; life as it’s meant to be lived. If we’re not actively and truly connected to him – if we’re just hanging around and trying to look like we belong, taking up space without producing anything of real value – we’ll be cut off. Even when we’re producing fruit, we’ll need to be cut back from time to time so we don’t overextend our reach, trying to do it on our own and getting too far removed from the source of our strength. God knows we’ll need to be reminded who’s in charge here, and it’s not us.
In fact, we can’t do anything of real and lasting value unless it flows from Jesus. If we cut ourselves off from Him by forgetting to ask Him what He wants us to produce, we might as well expect a broken-off branch lying on the ground to yield a crop. What we try to do on our own might survive in a fashion for a short time, but it will soon wither and die. Then the dead branch will be thrown into the fire.
By staying connected to Jesus through His Word, absorbing its life, acting on it and living it out, we can know His will and pray for it to be done. These kind of prayers always get a positive answer, even if it’s not what we expect. When we discipline ourselves to follow Jesus, then we’re really helping to build God’s kingdom.
God’s love runs through Jesus like the sap through a vine, and then into us as the branches. But we cut ourselves off from that love if we disobey his command to love each other. If His love is in us, we can’t refuse to love others. If we treat each other in unloving ways, that proves that we’re not really connected to Jesus. We’ll never find real joy that way.
The branches serve the vine, but they’re much more than mere appendages. They’re part of the vine – a living, growing part of the whole, just as children are part of the family. If we run away, God can have more children, but his heart will still be broken. He chose to be related to us so that we – not just anybody, but you personally and me personally – could have real life and so much more: eternal life.
Let’s make sure that we’re not running toward the end of ourselves trying to get life right. Let’s remember to go back to operating from the source that produced us, nurtured us and continues to sustain us. Let’s get hold of the right end of the branch and keep connected.