“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown into the fire and burned.” John 15:2,6
For a long time those words worried me. To be honest, sometimes they still do. It’s kind of scary. Getting cut off and burned in the fire is not where anyone wants to be.
When I was 9 I remember praying with my mom on a Sunday night after church. I don’t remember every word said, but I remember one thing clearly: Hell was real and I didn’t want anything to do with it. I asked my mom what exactly to do to fix my problem. She prayed with me to repent of my sin and to believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though it took me almost 20 years to build on that first step, I feel at that moment of prayer with my mom, God saved me. The fire would not be my future.
But then I would read passages like this and would worry. Was my salvation secure? Am I bearing fruit or am I a useless branch to be burned? Most of the time, I felt fruitless. Some honest self-reflection would often leave little evidence of what I assumed fruit was.
In my teenage years I probably prayed a dozen more times asking God to save me. I wasn’t a terrible kid, but I didn’t feel right. I saw the fruit in other’s lives: people sharing the gospel, leading worship, receiving praise from godly adults. People growing and maturing. Yet, here I was still feeling the need to pray a prayer of salvation again and again and again.
I would read John 15 and other passages of scripture and see Jesus talk about how important fruit was. I believed that fruit was basically our deeds. The things we do. So I felt that I needed “to do stuff for God,” but I didn’t know how or where to start. It was a frustrating place to be, to know that something is wrong with you but you don’t know how to fix it.
Some activities would give me momentary peace. Mission trips, small groups, showing kindness to people. Sometimes the opportunities came to me and sometimes I made them happen. But a week or month after my good deed I would feel empty again. I’d feel my branch was bare and I had to make something happen again before God found me fruitless. It was exhausting.
Then something happened to me at 27 years of age. I got sick of it all. I was so tired of the guilt and the pressure to be something that I wasn’t. Healthy branches bear fruit and to be honest, I just wasn’t healthy. I had a college degree that did nothing for me, a one year old baby that I was responsible for, and a wife with whom I had a strained relationship. I felt like a failure. Jesus talks about the peace and joy He brings to people’s lives but I hadn’t experienced it. Was this being a Christian? It was so hollow and empty. It had done nothing for me. Sure it saved me from Hell but it gave me a life devoid of happiness. A life of continually not meeting God’s expectations.
I knew I couldn’t go on like I was. God had to show me that there was more to the Christian life or I was done with it all. I just didn’t have the energy for it anymore.
So, I did the only thing that came to mind in the moment. I got down on my knees by my bed (something I almost never did) and asked God for help. Not to save me from something this time, but to fix me. I told Him how I felt, how tired I was, how much I doubted. I asked Him to change my life, and for really the first time, I told Him that I would do whatever He asked and I truly meant it. The only thing that mattered to me was that He would do something. That HE would do something. That He would ask something of me that would require me to change and maybe, finally, bear this fruit the Bible talks about and have peace.
What followed could be multiple posts in themselves. Suffice to say within 6-8 months I was teaching a couples Sunday School class of my peers. I had no idea what I was doing, and I still don’t, but I knew God was working in me and for the first time in my life I felt different. I began to BE different.
I have experienced a lot of happiness in my life. I married the most amazing woman, I have seen two children born and begin to grow before my eyes. I have owned my own business and have been able to build something from nothing with my bare hands. Yet, one of the greatest joys I have ever experienced is bearing fruit. Not fruit I manufactured, but fruit that came from a direct connection to Jesus Christ. Fruit that He prepared in advance for me to do (Eph 2:10).
I also began to look at fruit as more than just what we do. Galatians 5 tells us what the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When examining yourself for fruit don’t look at your calendar for how many service projects you did this year. Look in the mirror. How’s your heart? The fruit may be the patience that He’s given you in a stressful situation. Maybe it is the peace He’s given you during uncertainty. Maybe it is the love He’s placed in your heart for the people you’ve started ministering too. Maybe it’s the kindness you’ve started to show your spouse or children. Maybe its the gentleness He’s given you to handle a situation with a difficult neighbor or co-worker.
Moreover, there is one thing I have noticed about John 15. The immediate command is not to bear fruit. The immediate command is to REMAIN in Him. It begins with Him. No fruit without it. We read the dire consequence of no fruit so we feel the importance of producing it. But too often we start at the end. We try to skip to the fruit. Jesus says start with Him and the fruit will come. Us + Jesus= Fruit. For too long I thought it was Us + Fruit = Jesus.
Healthy fruit branches are going to produce fruit. It’s what they do, it’s what they were created for. Spiritually healthy believers connected to Jesus bear fruit. It’s what we do, it’s what we were created for in Christ Jesus.
If like me you read these scary verses in John 15 and worry about your condition, I’d like to encourage you. Don’t compare yourself to someone else. Don’t aspire to bear the fruit that someone else is publicly bearing. Start with Jesus. Get down on your knees like I had to do and be honest with Him. Ask Him to change you.
In Rev. 3 Jesus says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and He with me.” I often looked at these verses as talking about salvation only. But I think it is more. It’s knowing Christ, eating with Him, living with Him. Inviting Him into your everyday life.
Don’t go another day living with the pressure you’ve placed on yourself to do something that you can’t do on your own. Open the door to your heart today, Jesus says “Here I am!”