Dear Grace Church Family,
Are you struggling to grow your spiritual life? If you’re having a tough time with it, the struggle may be the problem itself. In Jesus teaching in the Gospel According to John, he tells us how to get there. His prescription, though, just might surprise you. It could be way easier than you think.
Jesus’ prescription for the Spiritual Life: Relax! (John 15:1-11) So often, when speaking of the Spiritual life, we hear words like “discipline,” and “pursue,” and “seek,” and “bear fruit,” and “journey, walk, and strive.” Everything is about action and doing stuff in order to achieve a deeper, richer, and more meaningful awareness of God’s presence and leading in our lives. Fact is, I use these words all the time myself, and I think them to myself whenever I’m “seeking” to deepen my understanding, or “discipline” my prayer life, or “bear” the fruits of love and joy, or “do” a better “job” of “walking” with Jesus during a given day. No wonder that the “pursuit” of the spiritual life can sometimes appear to be just one more “demand” on our time; just one more “tiring” thing to “get done” so that we can get it “checked-off” our “to do” list.
How amazingly wonderful it is, then, to hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel about the vine and the vinedresser. Here he says, Relax! That’s a sort of loose translation of the word he uses, which is, “Abide.” It means “remain”, just “be.” In this passage Jesus is telling us that all there really is to the spiritual life is to just rest in him, to absorb his life-giving energy, to just let it flow through us by remaining connected to him.
Jesus uses the analogy of a vineyard to help us understand how simple it all really is. He is the vine, he tells us, the root stock that draws all the nutrients of life from the soil, air, and water. It is the vine that does all the work of producing the life. That’s not our job at all. We are the branches. Our only “job,” if we can call it that, is to receive the life as it is freely passed into us by him. If we are abiding, then “the Life” will simply flow. Even the business of maintaining that connection with him, keeping the flow going, is not left entirely up to us. God, the vinedresser, comes along and prunes us, lobbing off dead ends and spent growths that might divert the flow, so that we can continue to remain fully open. While the pruning is sometimes painful, it’s not done as a punishment. Rather, it is done purely for love, so that life will continue to freely come into us.
What Jesus is saying with this agrarian metaphor of the vine and branches is that the spiritual life is a pastoral endeavor; it’s a matter of our simply “letting” it happen, rather than “making” it happen. What a relief!
Hey, wait a minute! What about all that “bearing fruit” stuff we’re supposed to be “doing?” You know, fruit stuff like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?” (see Galatians 5:22-23) How does that fit in to all this “let it be” attitude? There’s got to be something that’s up to us, that we have to “do” there, right?
I’m so glad you asked that question! Think of it this way: what actually grows the fruit on the branches? It’s not the branches themselves. The growth of fruit is the result of the work of the vine. It’s the life flowing through us from the vine that creates and grows the fruit. Our part in all this is to let the life flow into us, then through us, and out beyond us to others, and the fruit will just “happen.” Growing the fruit is God’s work in us; done in partnership, in cooperation, with Jesus.
So, do want a deeper, richer spiritual life? Then Relax! Let Jesus life-giving presence flow ever more freely through you. And the fruit will happen.