"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." John 15:4,5
In middle school I decided I should be a Christian bearing "fruit". I remember consciously thinking as I walked down the hall of my school, "Smile. Keep smiling. Be friendly. Remember, you're a Christian. It should show. Be nice." There you have it- embarrassing self talk of a seventh grader.
I read the fruits of the Spirit while thinking, "I need to work on peace. Hmm... I need to work on patience. Er... with God helping me, of course." Resolve was followed by discouragement as I worked harder.
I was remembering my feeble attempts at proving myself while reading John 15. "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." Jesus is giving action to take but instead of "go make your list of how to be a good Christian" it is "abide in me". Abiding is not passive. It is obedience, it is following, it is holding fast to the Lord, but it is not, "go prove to everyone you're a follower of me."
In Matthew 21 Jesus curses a fig tree for it's unfruitfulness, and initially I thought it was pretty harsh. He had just walked away from a confrontation with religious leaders and came to this tree, which had the appearance of being a"good" fig tree. Yet what looked healthy from a distance had nothing substantial about it. He drew the parallel to the religious leaders- the "right" talk, the "right" actions, the "remember to smile" mentality , yet nothing about them reflected the character of God. The way they lived their lives pointed to the Law and their ability to follow it. It wasn't about who God was or Him manifesting in their lives. So, he tells it to wither and die... and it does.
The religious leaders (and seventh grade Shilo) wrongly believed fruit comes from mustering up willpower. Jesus isn't talking about the sum of our good deeds. He is saying that we bear fruit by abiding in Him and without Him we can do nothing.
I had reduced "fruit" to only what I measure outwardly; "I invited someone to church. God probably even gave me the boldness to do it. Check out them apples!" "That guy serves the homeless and does overseas missions. How fruitful!" "That middle schooler smiled at every person in the hall. She must love Jesus!" Fruit, to me, qualified as God helping me have my act together. I believed it was my job to evaluate myself to make sure I had evidence of following Christ.
My narrow perspective shifted last summer when I went out with a friend I hadn't seen in sixteen years. As we attempted to summarize our lives post high school, I felt prompted to share some not so polished aspects of my life. Initially, I brushed off the thought rationalizing, "Here she thinks I'm a Christian and wouldn't it be confusing to share the ugly things? It sure as heck isn't a neat and tidy testimony. Maybe let's just stick to the areas of life with happy endings.... or surface stuff." But, I couldn't shake it (and I'm lousy at surface talk anyway).
I didn't gloss over sixteen years. I was honest about struggles and pain, and honest about abiding in Jesus. In my not-so- sugar coated candor, the entire conversation changed. As a result we were both transparent, able to encourage, and to rebuild a friendship we had missed. She later told me that our evening changed her relationship with God not because she witnessed a smooth life, but because of the drawing near to Jesus. I cried. (As usual.)
I was humbled, thankful, and really miffed. "God, how did that happen? I went into this assuming I was an empty, barren tree and somehow there are amazing things from You coming out of hours of conversation." (Okay, hours and hours of conversation. Sixteen years and two talkative friends here- doesn't leave much time for bathroom breaks.)
I reflected on years of abiding in Him; years praying over this friendship, resting and wrestling with the Lord, coming to Him repentant with nothing to show for myself. He hadn't used squeaky clean "look what I've done with my life" moments to accomplish His work, yet He did what He promised- grew fruit that was evidence of Himself, not evidence of Shilo. It had the nutrients, the growth, the timing, the stamp of The Vine and just happened to hang on a scrawny little branch. It was if He was reminding, "This is MY fruit, Shilo and I will even use your failures to produce it."
"Without me you can do nothing." I was not a reconciler of friendship. I was not the testimony I imagined was fruitful. I don't have all the answers. I didn't even force a smile and think to be nice! Yet here He was intervening, weaving things together I could never fabricate, doing His work, and by the end of it... something redemptive, healing, and fruitful.
When Jesus talks about bearing fruit, He isn't giving us something to add to our checklists. He's giving us a beautiful promise that He will bring evidence to show His work in our lives. He will bring forth HIS characteristics and His signature to our lives.
At 4am a few mornings ago I was staring at my ceiling letting thousands of thoughts assault me. As I began praying I was brought back to abide in me. Abide in me. My little branch self, simply adhering to The Vine? Shouldn't I be doing more? Yet often when I'm grasping for a measure of control over my life, listing inadequacies, and spinning 4am circles, I'm trying to achieve results I think are good instead of lining my heart up with the heart of God. Realistically, my little branch-self can't do a darn good thing apart from God's grace and I have no energy but to abide and hide in Him, anyway. That understanding brings a wave of freedom and peace. He determines the fruit He brings, whether it's a brace-faced middle schooler smiling in the hall, or the restoration and growth of a friendship that began the same year.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...