We long for connection. Some of the greatest inventions have to do with getting us closer to one another; removing the distance between us: boats, wheels, trains, cars, telephones, radios, airplanes, the internet. On and on the list goes.
It’s clear: we are built for connection. Look at what Jesus says in John 17:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21 ESV
There’s something profound about the vision Jesus cast for those who would choose to believe in Him and follow Him, especially in the world we live in. In a world that is disintegrating rather than integrating, we can find connection with one another through our individual connections with Jesus.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1 ESV
Why does Jesus use the word “true” to describe himself as the vine? Because there are other ways we use to find connection – race, gender, politics, sports, a cause – all of these points of connection have the potential to produce disintegration between us rather than integration. They can polarize as much as they can unify.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2 ESV
I have this tree in my front yard, and every year it goes crazy. Limbs going in every direction. If I just let it be, would the tree continue to be healthy? No. Eventually the trunk would not be able to sustain the weight of an unpruned tree not to mention the lack of fruit the tree would bear. I have to cut dead limbs off and prune the healthy limbs so that it can actually live into its fullest potential. Jesus is the true vine because he is willing to prune us so that we can bear more fruit and have more love and be more connected…
He is also the true vine because of what he says in verses 4 and 5:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 ESV
We cannot bear fruit by ourselves. We can do some amazing things without God’s help – because we are created in His image – but Jesus is saying that apart from God we can do nothing of eternal value. We can do nothing that will outlast our own lives when all else is gone.
When I read Galatians 5, Paul describes the kind of fruit the Holy Spirit produces in our lives, and it’s completely clear how incapable I am, on my own, to consistently and abundantly produce this kind of life:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 ESV
So, according to Jesus, who is the true vine, what are the keys to experiencing lasting connection with God and with each other? Two things we see in John 15…
- Remain in Jesus
- Remove anything that keeps you from Jesus
Jesus uses the word “abide”, which in the original language indicates the idea of “settling down and being at home.” I’m at home with Jesus. I’m connected to him. I’ve settled down. I’ve stopped looking everywhere else for real and lasting connection and I’m sticking with Him.
Remain in Jesus.
What happens when a branch is cut off from the trunk?
What happens when the water skier let’s go of the rope?
What happens when you unplug the power cord from the computer?
Connection equals life, whereas disconnection equals death.
It is this remaining in Jesus – drawing near, coming close – that opens up the possibility to deep connection with others.
I believe the foundation for deeper connection with each other is finding connection with our Creator.
Maybe you feel like God or his people have hurt you or abandoned you – I’ve been there – but I’ve come to know that this is a tactic to try and convince us to give up on God and church – to move further away from Him and others – and to get us to lose faith and distance ourselves from Him.
Instead, remain in Jesus and remove anything that keeps you from Jesus…
If you’re into Viticulture you have no problem with the idea of cutting, hacking or pruning something to get something better, something healthier – but nobody is into into it when it comes to our lives.
But I’ve learned that the painful times, the lonely times, are often moments of pruning – to grow closer with rather than farther from him. I’m learning to move in close when life hurts, both with God and with others.
We have a tendency to disconnect when things aren’t going well or it doesn’t look like it’s gonna pay off. We bail too soon on Jesus and each other when stuff gets rough. But you have to stick with it in the good times and in the bad times.
Whatever you do, don’t leave the game early. Don’t distance yourself. Let the pruning in your life draw you closer to God and others.