Years ago in middle school, I memorized most of John 15, specifically the first passages where Jesus compares us to fruit-bearing vines. In the past year, I even read an incredible book called “Scouting the Divine” by Margaret Feinberg that spent about a quarter of the book unpacking the continuously-used Biblical metaphor of the vineyard. Each time I’ve gained new insights on what it means to be a vine in our Heavenly Father’s vineyard.
This morning was no exception.
As I’ve been slowly making my way through the Gospels once again, this morning I reread John 15. The first verses captured me as they never have before.
“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more.” (John 15:1-2, The Message)
Perhaps I’m just blind or deaf or slow, but I had never noticed that Christ is the roots…the foundation…the base of the vine. Typing that statement now, it seems so simple and obvious, but bear with me. In the past, I pictured a large vine representing Christ that all Christians were supposed to remain attached to and bear fruit from. However, this morning I was struck by the fact that Christ is not the tall, winding vine, but rather the below-ground SOURCE of the vine. Let me explain why this is key…
Based on what I have learned about ancient (and most likely modern) vine-dressing, the “Real Vine” is actually the portion of the vine that is mostly invisible to the average passersby. During much of the year, the farmer keeps the vine pruned back to nearly ground level where the plant drinks in nourishment and prepares for the brief fruit-bearing season up ahead. Year after year, each fruitful vine is cut back to the naked nubs…demolished…torn down…pruned. Matter of fact, according to one book that I recently read, the best grapes come from vines planted in harsher conditions where the roots must fight for adequate water and food (“Harvest of Rubies”). The richest wine is born from suffering-but-victorious vines.
Continue down this road with me…
If our view of Christ as the “vine” involves Him being the leafy, above-ground plant and us merely the spreading branches that may or may not be cut off at any point, then our faith and journey would be easy to doubt. For instance, if we are going through season after season of trials and painful situations, then we might begin to wonder whether or not we are actually connected to Christ. Have we been deserted? Have we been thrown out as an unproductive vine branch? These are certainly doubts that I’ve entertained…
However, if we are to “remain in Him,” the Real Vine, then we are to remain grounded in the roots of the plant no matter whether or not we can see visible fruit hanging from lush branches. Perhaps, we’ve been called to a prolonged period of suffering, so that our wine will be even richer than before. Perhaps, we’ve been called to trust no matter if it seems that the Vine-Dresser is continually pruning back our dearest dreams and desires.
A fruitful branch is not defined as one heavy with purple grapes. No, a fruitful branch is one that endures every season of drought, believing that the Source of the vine is only being more and more empowered.
Yes, sin separates us. Yes, fear cripples us.
But, we are woven into a root system that is grounded into the rivers of living water that will never run dry.
We can truly never thirst again.
Whether or not we see fruit.
Whether or not we appreciate the pruning…the decimation…the cutting back.
Currently, I’ve found myself in transition, as you may also have discovered about yourself recently. To be honest, I’m comfortable with the partial-facade that I’ve hid behind. To be even more honest, I’m also comfortable with the person that I believe I’m going to become. What I’m not comfortable with, however, is the in-between. The pruning back. The ugly nubs that poke from the ground.
I detest how ugly this growing season may be. Spiritually. Relationally. Emotionally.
Let’s be honest, at my core, I tend to be a people-pleaser. Even my sarcasm is just a shield from the truth of what others might think about me if they knew my doubts, fears, and passions.
My challenge to myself and you: Let yourself be pruned without fear of decimation. Let yourself be real about the difficulties of the drought. Let yourself explore your passions even if they flop again and again.
One day, the wine will be even richer if only remain in Him.