God expects us to stay connected to Jesus and continue to bear fruit for the kingdom. If this is deficient in some way, the Heavenly Gardener will find the fruitless-but-draining offshoots in our lives and prune them away.
Thousands of people called in when they saw the Super Bowl commercial -- one that sponsored by a mutual fund company but left them wondering. These callers weren’t interested in money markets, bonds or treasury notes.
They wanted to know if what they had just seen was true.
About five years earlier, Christopher Reeves had been competing in a horse-riding competition in Culpeper County, Virginia. Wearing a reinforced vest and helmet, he skillfully guided his thoroughbred, Eastern Express, through the equestrian course. As his horse approached the third jump, however, it suddenly stopped, and Mr. Reeves was hurled over the animal and landed on his head. He broke his neck at the first and second vertebrae, leaving him completely paralyzed from the neck down.
At this time, Mr. Reeves been able to breathe on his own, without a respirator, for up to 90 minutes. He has experienced some minimal movement in his hands and could sometimes tell the difference between hot and cold on his arms. However, while he has been making courageous progress in his rehabilitation, the ability to physically function on his own seems to be a long, long way off -- if not impossible.
That’s why, when millions of commercial viewers saw Christopher Reeves get out of his wheelchair and walk across a stage to accept an award, the calls started pouring in. What happened? Had he experienced a miraculous breakthrough? How soon will this treatment be available?
These inquirers, however, were disappointed. The event they had just witnessed had been simulated by computer animation. The purpose of the commercial, stated the mutual fund company, was to give people an inspiring vision for what was possible.
This tragic accident, and resulting lifelong consequences, illustrate how utterly dependent all the functions of the body are on a healthy and obstacle-free connection to the brain. Without this healthy connection, the entire body would not function at all -- not just less effectively. It would cease to exist as a living entity.
Jesus offered a similar analogy to help us understand our absolute dependence on him for the ability to function spiritually. He likened the relationship of those who desired to be his disciples to the relationship between the branches of a fruit-bearing plant with their life-giving vine.
In this analogy, Jesus is the vine, his heavenly Father is the gardener, and all the potential and actual disciples are the branches. When the branches are securely connected to the vine, they are expected to bear fruit. In a moment, we shall see that three telltale signs give evidence of the strength of this connection.
Pruning the vine
But first, recall that Jesus said, “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.”
In the callused world of corporate mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations, it seems that the “pruning” of staff and laborers is almost a weekly event. When global economies lose their momentum, people tend to lose their jobs. Granted, once-thriving corporations often must let go of some of their best people to simply survive as a company. The salaries and influence that these premium employees command are simply too weighty for the weakening company to sustain. Some of these executives who must let these people go hope, when the company recovers, that they will be able to woo some of these all-star players back into the fold.
Another harsh reality of this type of pruning, however, also proves to be a way of letting go of unproductive people. When a reorganization hits a company, usually the first people to be cut are those who voice their constant dissatisfaction without ever presenting viable solutions. When coworkers try to address their problems, these entrenched whiners lament that those solutions have been tried before to no avail.
After a while, you begin to suspect that these people are energized by unresolved conflict and really have no interest in solutions. These types of people prove to be a constant drain on their co-workers’ morale and emotional energy. These grumblers have the time, resources, and abilities to be productive workers. But, perhaps due to some false sense of entitlement, they choose not to tap into these gifts and make a positive contribution. And then they are most surprised to find out that their position has been eliminated in the latest reorganization.
While this might seem to be a severe way of dealing with unproductive people, it seems that God is just as serious about keeping people fruitful in the kingdom of God. As Jesus reminds us in Luke “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”1
Three ways to bear fruit
The “fruit” that God expects us to bear basically manifests itself in three ways. Most obviously, in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.2 Not only should these traits be evident in the life of every Christian, but they should also be deepening and humbly more noticeable -- both to the believer and those around him or her.
In addition to these godly traits, we should also be able to identify and exercise our spiritual gifts in such a way as to encourage growth in those around us. Along with spiritual gifts, God also gives all of us spiritual gaps that can only be filled by our fellow believers -- thus encouraging interdependence in the body. If our spiritual gifts are left unidentified or remain static, those gaps remain unfilled and growth in the church is stymied.
If a Christian is growing more Christ-like in character and actively exercising his or her spiritual gift, then the third and final “fruit-bearing” manifestation is the ability to fully experience the presence of God as we worship. Prayer becomes more vibrant and dynamic. Singing becomes a fuller expression of the heart. We find ourselves more clearly attuned to teaching of the Word and better able to appropriately apply biblical truths to our lives. In all these aspects, worship becomes rich and soul-satisfying.
What needs to be pruned?
Experienced gardeners know how and when to prune their plants to maximize their crops. If they see an offshoot with browning leaves, they cut it immediately. They understand that this branch is simple draining water and nutrients away from the branches that have the capacity to bear fruit.
God, the Heavenly Gardener, also wants to make sure that the branches who can bear fruit for his kingdom are getting all the available resources -- and those branches which are draining resources are eliminated.
So, if the fruit of Spirit, spiritual gifts, and genuine worship seem to be suffering in a believer’s life, what kinds of “pruning” does the Heavenly Gardener do to spur on increased growth? Since the Lord “disciplines those he loves,”3 part of the pruning process in our lives includes events and circumstances that grab our attention and point us to what needs to be corrected.
When these deficiencies are called to our attention, God expects us to draw from his strength to take corrective measures. If the fruit of the Spirit seems to be stunted in our lives because of unconfessed sin or simmering anger, then these areas of disobedience need to be acknowledged. If there are needs in the church that match our spiritual gifts, then we should attempt to fill those gaps as our own well-managed time and resources allow. And if worship seems to ring empty, we probably need to examine our lives for any obstacles that might be preventing us from fully sensing the Spirit of God -- and then ruthlessly cutting those impediments from our lives whenever they are discovered.
In all of this, the key to bearing much fruit is staying well connected to life-giving vine of Christ. As we toil for the kingdom, we must never lose sight of the source of our strength. We must keep reminding ourselves that apart from Christ, we can do nothing.
By acknowledging our minute-by-minute dependence on the Lord, we are assured of staying connected to the vine so that we can bear much fruit for God -- in our Christ-like characters, spiritual gifts, and our ever-increasing ability to sense the presence of God when we worship.
1 Luke 12:48.
2 Galatians 5:22-23.
3 Hebrews 12:6.
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