Dragging the Withered Branch

In our current series on John 15, Ryan has been talking about the idea that connectedness to God is more important to our thriving than our circumstances. It’s an encouraging reality to embrace. Jesus tells us, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15:5, ESV]. Yet, how do we remain in Him in seasons when it would be much easier not to?

In the past months, I have been in relationship with God and in connection to community at a time when, frankly, I often wanted nothing to do with either. Circumstances of transition, mistakes, and exposed areas of needed growth, made me want to run away. There were weeks when I felt like I was dragging a stinking, withered branch through the doors of Awakening. Yet, in ups and downs, through mistakes and setbacks, I just kept coming.

In a recent dinner conversation, my parents were chatting with some friends about their landscaping. They all talked about some of the natural rhythms of the land, and noted their fruit trees would almost always have a couple of barren years before the years that bore good fruit. I don’t think Jesus had the particulars of California fruit trees in mind when he gave the analogy in John 15; still, agrarian metaphors like that can sometimes highlight interesting truths. There are tough tensions in walking out the reality that apart from God we can do nothing. Life transformation, I’ve always been told and always believed, doesn’t come from directed behavior modification, but from running to God with our wrecked lives and accepting his grace and new direction. Still, I think mature believers realize this is a process; sometimes we are going to bear some iffy fruit for a couple of years.

The difficult and wonderful thing is to remain in spite of all that. We can stay grafted into the true vine, even when we’d rather give up and live for ourselves. We can accept accountability and speak in honesty, even when we’d rather hide. We can be present in community and accept encouragement, even when we’d rather wallow by ourselves. I think God meets us in that sort of sticky and difficult faithfulness. It was God who pursued us from the start. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” [John 15:16, ESV].  It is God who slowly and relentlessly changes us and bears fruit in us. If we remain.

withered branch