I’ve been reading Steve Jobs’ biography. It’s a really fascinating story. I’m currently in the section that describes his return to Apple in the late 90’s after he’d been ousted in the mid 80’s. When he returned to Apple, they were making lots of products, lots of good products, but none of them were great. In his first year back, Jobs cut things like crazy. He cut production, he cut the work force at Apple, and he cut the number of products Apple created. In one meeting, he shocked the Board by drawing a graph with four quadrants on it and he said Apple was going to focus on making four products. They thought he was crazy! They thought the key to Apple being a great company was to make tons of good products. Jobs passionately disagreed with them, and in the end, he was right. Apple has thrived on making a few great products instead of several pretty good ones.
In John 15, Jesus uses the imagery of a vine, branches, and pruning to talk about the concept of fruitfulness. In verses 1-2, he says, ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.” In verse 8 he says, “My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.” Jesus wants the lives of those who follow him to be fruitful, and he says there are two things that will help lead to fruitfulness.
1. Pruning – Saying “No” to Good Things
Pruning is a counter-intuitive thing, it works in the opposite way of what we normally think. We can all agree that getting rid of dead branches is a healthy thing to do. But pruning is more than cutting off dead branches: it involves cutting off perfectly healthy, living branches so that the whole vine or plant or tree can thrive. Logic would say that the more good things on a plant, the better the plant. The reality, though, is that when you cut off good branches, the rest of the plant becomes healthier.
Our lives, according to Jesus, are like those branches. Most of us have figured out that we need to cut out the bad stuff from our lives. We’re pretty clear about the bad, unhealthy things to which we need to say “no.” The thing is, there’s more to it than that. If we want to be spiritually healthy, if we want our lives to be as fruitful as possible, we have to say no not just to bad things, we have to say no to good things.
I spend most of my time on the run, going from one thing to another thing to another thing without stopping. I told Amanda last night that Sunday morning until Friday afternoon is one big, non-stop blur for me. I spend a lot of time doing “good” things, but nothing I do is great, nothing is really thriving. This is the norm for our culture. What are the good things in my life I need to say “no” to? What good things can I cut out of my life?
The other essential thing Jesus says here is in verse 5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.”
We fool ourselves when we think we can be fruitful on our own. Branches don’t produce fruit unless they’re connected to something bigger than themselves. Disciples of Jesus don’t produce fruit unless they stay connected to Christ through things like spiritual disciplines, worship, and serving. (If those were on your “good things I can cut out of my life” list above, you need to rethink your list.)
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What do I need to let go of? Of all the good things happening in my life right now, what are the least fruitful?
What things in my life do I really want to see thrive but they’re not because I’m not giving them enough attention? What would it look like if I were thriving in those areas?
What am I currently doing to connect to Christ? What helps me connect better than anything else? When will I commit to do those things?
God, thank you that you desire us to live fruitful lives instead of dry, dying, stale ones. Give us the courage to say no to the good things in our lives that keep us from being fruitful.