“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:4-5 (NIV)
We’re definitely in a major, worldwide crisis. There’s no question about that fact. So what’s our responsibility right now? We’re supposed to stay home as much as possible, maintain “social distance”, stay connected with our families, friends and neighbors by phone or email, and try to maintain hope.
For some of us, our lives have become smaller and more constricted, as we are forced to do without the usual activities and social contacts which we have so carefully put into place in order to enrich our day to day lives.
For others of us, our lives have definitely become more demanding, our time and patience stretched thin, and our homes more crowded with people working from home and children out of school, requiring added supervision and engagement. Time, physical space and finances are perhaps stretched to the breaking point.
For some, this enforced “down time” is welcome, as it has required us to be “off the hook” from some taxing demands, freeing up time for activities we’ve long pushed aside.
But for others, whose desperate home situations and family relationships are painful or even dangerous because of addiction or abuse of various sorts, this time can feel like an undeserved prison sentence.
While world governments debate appropriate measures to manage this unprecedented pandemic (even to the extent of the entire country of India – over 1.2 billion people – being told to stay in their homes for three full weeks), we grapple with our own responsibilities.
The other day, I considered the word “responsibility”, and suddenly thought of it as “response-ability”. With so many unique life challenges facing many of us right now, what will supply the ability to respond as we ought? Our human efforts and good intentions might carry us for a while, but what if things get worse, as is predicted by so many? Where will we find reserves to draw from when we become frayed and depleted emotionally?
I think many of us, including myself, have considered Jesus’ image of the Vine and the branches before, but, to be honest, I had never actually registered His words, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”. I think I had always thought that when I prayed and asked for God’s help with something, somehow God was going to supplement what I could do on my own. I could do some things on my own, couldn’t I?
Yet in this passage, Jesus is pretty unequivocal: I can do nothing without Him. What does this actually mean? What is the “nothing” that I cannot do on my own?
In the context of the passage, it’s clear that Jesus is saying that I cannot be “fruitful” without Him, and by this fruitfulness, demonstrate that I am truly a disciple of His (verse 8).
And what is this “fruitfulness”? It is clearly the action of love; not just a feeling or an impulse, and surely not love crippled by my manifold human limitations. It is instead (verse 12) Jesus’ own self emptying love – love that lays down life itself on behalf of another (verses 13-15). Once again, the bar Jesus sets is a high one.
“Remain”, “abide”; these are the words that Jesus uses to indicate our intimate connection as “branches” to His “vine”, the Vine which channels His own life into us, the life of God’s own Spirit of Love. It is that very energy that alone allows fruitfulness to happen.
But how do we “remain” and “abide”? Especially when we’re harried, stressed, stretched?
We practice; practice reminding ourselves of the truth that without the actual life of God in us, we will sooner rather than later be “running on empty”, and quite possibly “crash and burn”.
We can practice saying in the moment, on the fly and whenever we need: “Lord Jesus! Reveal your love right now, in this mess!”; or, “Holy spirit, without you, I can do nothing, but with you, all things are possible!”; or perhaps,”I do believe; help my unbelief!”; or something similar.
And when we do have time for real prayer, we can choose to spend a bit of that precious time acknowledging our total dependence on the God who loves us, who has made us part of Himself as His Body, and who lives in us by His Spirit. We pray until this becomes so much a part of our awareness that we no longer dread what might come, but instead find opportunities for loving even in the difficult challenges that come our way.
That’s a lifetime of practice, for sure. But God is faithful, and so must we be.
“Get moving – begin to abide now. In the initial stages it will be a continual effort to abide, but as you continue, it will become so much a part of your life that you will abide in Him without any conscious effort. Make the determination to abide in Jesus wherever you are now or wherever you may be placed in the future.”
My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers (June 14)