My husband was in an automobile accident on August 25th this past year. He was coming to a stop at a red light when an intoxicated 18-year-old plowed into Dan and two other vehicles. My poor husband has had a migraine every day since that night. He recently had a facet procedure that would hopefully stop the migraines or lessen the pain. The doctors thought the procedure would provide significant relief in a day or two. It hasn’t. As a result, Dan is exhausted from a lack of sleep. I am unsure if I have seen him so worn out and tired.
Have you ever felt that way? Powerless? Like you are unplugged from the source of your power? Jesus calls us to be connected with Him and with others. But that will only happen if we are plugged into the right source. We cannot obey the words of Jesus without a connection with Jesus.
Think with me about all the complicated, almost impossible-to-do teachings of Jesus.
-Love your neighbor – easy with some, hard with others.
-Pray for those who hurt you.
-Love your enemy.
-Forgive those who hurt you.
-Be at peace with everyone.
-Turn the other cheek.
And so many more. The words of Jesus sometimes seem undoable. But check this out. Jesus also said:
Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God (Mark 10:27).
The impossible becomes possible when we stay connected with Jesus. Those “impossible to keep” commandments of Jesus become possible when we stay connected to him. This connectedness is crucial to the life of a Christ follower. The Bible uses metaphors to help us see the reality of our relationship with Jesus. The primary metaphor of the Old Testament is the one with which the Jewish people of Jesus’ day would have been most familiar.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener (John 15:1).
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Amos Bar-Zeev
When Jesus said I am the true vine, his followers, who were well-versed in the Old Testament, would have perked up because that line, “I am the true vine,” is a quote lifted directly from Psalm 80, a psalm many of Jesus’ followers would have known by heart. This Psalm would have come to their minds because it is built around this vine metaphor.
The Psalmist retells the story from the book of Exodus. He is talking about the nation of Israel and comparing them to a vine clipping taken from Egypt and planted in a new land.
You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land (Psalm 80:8-9).
God snipped Israel, the vine from Egypt, and planted them in a new fertile land so they could grow ripe fruit that all the world may taste. But the Psalmist later says that this vine died. Israel failed to give themselves to the one true God who saved them. They failed to be a people of justice and mercy, caring for strangers, foreigners, and the poor. As a result, they were unable to bear fruit for the world.
Despite God’s generosity, patience, and care for his people, they did not yield the fruit he desired. And so, the Psalm says God decides to send one singular and obedient vine to them who would do what Israel, and what all humanity, could never do and, in doing so, restore and save us all.
Here is what Psalm 80 goes on to say:
Return to us, God Almighty!
Look down from heaven and see!
Watch over this vine,
the root your right hand has planted,
the son you have raised up for yourself.
Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire.
At your rebuke, your people perish.
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you.
Revive us, and we will call on your name (Psalm 80:14-18).
The hope, says the Psalmist, rests upon the son of man – on Jesus. Once he comes, the people will be made strong and faithful, and they will be saved through him and in him. They can call upon God’s name, meaning they can live in connection with him. So, when Jesus says, “I am the true vine,” he announces to his followers and all of us that he is the one God has sent. He is the true vine the Psalm is alluding to, the one who will come to save the whole world from evil, sin, and death. The one who will bring God’s Kingdom nearby. The one who will provide us with the opportunity to live in an ongoing loving connection to him is our creator forever.
Jesus is the one who has come to give us freedom and peace, belonging and forgiveness, and love and kindness. He is the one who has come to rescue us from exhaustion, to lift the heavy burdens laid upon our shoulders and replace them instead with easy and light responsibilities that come from being in connection with God and living within his kingdom. Are you tired of being tired? Then put your trust in the true vine, Jesus, and receive the rest he has to give you and your soul. How does that work? Jesus describes it for us in John 15.
I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. Abide in me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches.” Those who abide in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing. But if you abide in me and my words abide in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.” When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (From John 15:1-11).
Dan and I visited Napa Valley a few years ago. While there, I learned a lot about vineyards. The grapevine is actually the trunk of the vine that connects it to the ground. When the branches stay connected to the grapevine – the trunk – they produce fruit.
Now back to the words of Jesus.
Jesus says, “I am the vine – the trunk. You are the branches. If you stay connected to me, my life flows through you and produces fruit. If you do not stay connected to me, you wither and die and produce no fruit.”
So how do we abide in Christ? How do we stay connected with Jesus? How do we remain in Him?
Check your connection.
There is a big difference between trying to produce fruit – trying to do good – trying to follow the words of Jesus – and being connected with him. When we are connected to Him, his life flows through us, and his life in us produces fruit. Jesus calls this connection “abiding.”
“Those who abide in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing. But if you abide in me and my words abide in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” (From John 15:4-5).
To abide is to reside, to stay and remain, which shows us that another aspect of abiding in Jesus is remaining in Jesus. This commitment to staying connected to Jesus means we trust, depend on, and never stop believing in him. To abide in Jesus is to persevere in Jesus and his teaching.
The Shawnee campus of our church plant, Restore, is in the western portion of Shawnee, Kansas, located in the Mill Valley. Mill creek flows through this valley and eventually into the Kansas river. A mill operated for years on this creek in the days before electricity. When the water flow was high, the mill could operate. When it was low, the mill was useless. When I am abiding in Christ – getting my life through Him – constantly connected to Him – I can operate as a Christ follower and obey Jesus. But, when the connection is non-existent or sporadic, my obedience is also non-existent or sporadic.
We must be plugged into Christ for His power to flow through us. Check your connection.
Check your company.
Abiding in Christ is absolutely a personal reality. Abiding in Christ is also a team sport. We must do life with other Christ followers who also abide in Christ. We must live with other Christ followers who are also connected to Jesus.
Check out this picture of a healthy set of branches that are producing fruit. The healthiest branches grow in clusters. Unfortunately, these clusters are so dense that you cannot hack through them in the wild.
We need other people who follow Christ, connected to Him. We are better together. Here is what Jesus says immediately following his words about abiding in Jesus Christ.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).
You cannot “love each other” if you are a solo branch. There are no other branches to love or serve.
Following Christ is a team sport. It is an individual choice to join and stay on the team, but it is a group effort to play the game, and it definitely takes a team effort to win the game.
Think of the time in your life when you felt the most connected to Christ. When did you feel the closest to Him? I am confident that more than the vast majority of us, it was a time when we were part of a group of people pursuing Christ together.
Check your connection.
Check your company.
Check your condition.
It is easy to tell if you are connected to Christ. Jesus tells us how to check our level of connection.
“Those who abide in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit … When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” John 15:5, 10-11.
Two specific fruits result from staying connected to Jesus,
1. Connection produces obedience.
When we are connected to Jesus, we will obey Him. We will do what He tells us to do. Sometimes obedience is simply choosing to do the right thing, even when it is hard. But obedience shifts as we walk with Christ and stay connected to Him. Obedience moves from something we should do to something we want to do.
2. Connection produces joy.
When branches produce fruit, they do what God designed them to do. When we stay connected to Jesus, we do what God created us to do, which brings us joy – the joy of the spirit of Jesus within us. Joy is the result of being fully connected with Jesus and others and having a deeply rooted confidence that God is in control.
Check your fruit.
Check your obedience.
Check your joy.
Jesus is the true vine. Life flows from our connection with Him. Life flows from being connected to others connected to Him. Life flows into the fruit of obedience and joy when we are connected to Him.
How is your connection with Jesus?
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/pcess609
Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.