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Nov 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 30, 2016 – John 15:1-11

Pruning: When and What to Cut

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:1-11

Intro: The teaching of Jesus included numerous symbols and parables

But no other analogy is more expressive of intimacy than the vine and branches

Abide in Me, and I in you

– here we have ample inspiration for Christian devotion
– but what does this metaphor look like in lived-experience?

Consider some of the key words in this passage

Jesus set up the analogy by giving away the punch line: I am the true vine, and My father is the Gardener
– he did not always provide an explanation of what the symbols represented
• “true” in John’s gospel can mean “spiritual essence”
(cf. John 6:32-35 where the true bread is also the bread out of heaven and the bread of life)
• whatever a vine is to a branch, Jesus is to his followers
– with that as the backdrop, he goes straight to point

The branches do or do not bear fruit (v. 2)
– the branch that does is pruned to bear more fruit (v. 2)
• but by itself a branch (or disciple) cannot bear fruit (v. 4)
◦ the disciple that abides in Jesus bears much fruit (v. 5) and much fruit is what glorifies his Father (v. 8)
• several Hebrew prophets used the vineyard analogy and it was always about the fruit
◦ reflecting on the wood of the vine, Ezekiel learned its one purpose was to bear fruit
◦ unlike wood from forest trees, the vine wood was useless for anything else
– in God’s vineyard, as in all vineyards, fruit is the main concern
• does Jesus specify in terms of discipleship what that fruit might be?

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. . . . This I command you, that you love one another (vv. 12 & 17; cf. 14:23, 31)

• that is a good enough start for now

This is the most repeated word in the passage — it means to stay, remain, or dwell
– Jesus is home to us, and he also finds his home in us
• this is the critical factor in bearing fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing 
◦ to be apart from Jesus is the same as to not abide in him (v. 6)
• the love Jesus desires from us is impossible without this union
◦ his life flowing into us, sustaining us, enabling us to abide and be fruitful
– Jesus adds important variations to the abiding theme
• it is not only Jesus, but also his words that are to remain in us

Abide in Me, and My words abide in you (v. 7)

◦ nor is it only in him that we abide, but also in his love

abide in My love (v. 9)

• these give us clues as to how abiding can be made practical
◦ how we can develop and deepen this state
◦ through giving his words an ongoing life within us and dedication to love

Me and My
Two other key words deserve attention: Me and My
– Jesus is the heart of the vineyard and the source of fruitfulness — abide in Me
– “My” reveals all that he shares with us: My Father, My words, My love, My commandments
• keeping his commandments explains how we stay in his love
• My joy, which is his objective for us (his followers)

Prayerful awareness is a way to practice abiding

Biblical words for awareness include wakeful, watchful and seek
– we’ve learned that the awareness we bring to prayer can be hijacked
• and the same distractions that hijack awareness can prevent us from abiding
– the primary distractions are not external–i.e., outside of us

  1. Prayerful awareness can be crowded with thoughts
    – who, what, when, where, why, how
    – logical problems, analysis, deductions, speculations
    – inner monologues or dialogues or both
    – imagination – both negative (What if I lost my job?) and positive (What if I won the Lottery?)
  2. Prayerful awareness can be crowded out by emotions
    – anger, hurt feelings, shame
    • anything negative, like fear, anxiety, or despair
    – it’s good to notice emotions, but not get stuck in them
    • it doesn’t matter when I finish my time in prayer whether I feel closer to God
    • it only matters that I was there
    ◦ that I did what I needed to do
    ◦ my spirit was exposed to God’s Spirit and all the holiness and mercy that he radiates
  3. Prayerful awareness can disrupted by physical sensations
    – pain, cold or flu symptoms, hunger, the need for a restroom break
    – discomfort from sitting for a long time, itching, drowsiness

First, use common sense — address your needs before you begin
– settle into a comfortable position, one you can sustain for the length of your prayer
• if you have an itch, scratch; if you get uncomfortable, change positions
• however, before scratching or shifting, observe the sensation
◦ frequently, if you observe the annoyance it goes away by itself
◦ then scratch or shift prayerfully (don’t break your focus)
• otherwise you’ll be scratching and shifting whole time
Second, join your body to your thoughts and emotions
– focus on one thing (Lk. 10:42; Ps. 27:4)
– it sometimes help to prepare your mind and heart
• like a biblical meditation or reading from a devotional book

Another challenge: the “scary parts of prayer”

First there is the apparent nothingness (to the rational mind) of prayerful awareness

God is spirit, and those who worship Him just worship in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24)
. . . my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful (1 Cor 14:14)

– this takes some getting used to
• but it is how God connects with us: Spirit to spirit (Ro. 8:14-16)

Second, when our prayerful awareness is taken over by the Spirit
– that is, when God shows up
• biblical heroes like Daniel, Ezekiel and John all collapsed as if dead when God appeared
– perhaps our prayer suddenly receives a huge and powerful answer
• then we realize we’ve been playing with matches

Third, when our time in prayerful awareness begins to change us
– something usually brings us to the threshold of change
• opportunity, possibility, ultimatum–e.g., “Give up alcohol or it will kill you”
◦ or if sudden changes is thrown on us – either by tragedy or some unexpected blessing
• when we come to threshold of change, our heart may not be onboard
• change into what? there is always the fear of uncertainty
◦ where is this taking us? what new dangers will confront us?
– it is possible to talk about “facets of transformation”

  • Risk: My life may never be the same
  • Response — two possibilities
    ◦ Resistance: My life isn’t perfect, but I’m comfortable where I am
    ◦ Receptive: It is time for me to move forward
  • Realization: as the process begins we feel, “This is what I needed” — we own the change
  • Resilience: we adapt to the change — “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break”

• what if we feel a strong resistance to the transformation process?
◦ have you ever tried to get a child to try a new food? sometimes we cannot overcome their resistance
◦ other times, all it takes is for us to say, “Just take one bite. Just taste it”
◦ that is how God sometimes overcomes our resistance

O taste and see that the LORD is good (Ps. 34:8)

Conc: The truth is, we all tend to move into this slowly anyway

Before we really begin to abide, it is more like repeatedly returning
– it’s important that we see Jesus as a safe Person, and that in him is a safe place
• trust makes crossing the threshold of transformation an adventure
– but there is something more we need to consider
• a negative experience, mood, or emotion is never the end of trail
◦ it may be a necessary but temporary condition during the process

. . . because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you (Jn. 16:6-7; cf. 16:19-22)

• for us, the end of the trail will be that your joy may be made full (v. 11)
• when Jesus said, My joy, it was similar to when he spoke of My peace (14:27)

Like his peace, which does not come from the world,
it is not a worldly joy he gives us
–something that our circumstances can deliver and then take away.
Rather, his joy transcends our thoughts, emotions, and worldly experience.
It is the transcendent joy of Jesus
and it comes to us
independent of our thoughts
and infinitely deeper than our feelings.


Leave a comment
  1. Ingrid / Nov 10 2016

    “It’s important that we see Jesus as a safe person and that in Him is a safe place.”

    This might be a stretch but it is what comes up.

    Fairytales speak to the power of the inner self. They are stories of transformation. A tale like Sleeping Beauty speaks of the relationship between the ego (also known as Edging Out God) and the divine mind. The wicked stepmother (also known as ego) can put sleeping beauty (also known as Christ) within us to sleep. One thing the evil stepmother could never do is destroy the Christ within. What God created is indestructible. The most distructive thing ego can do is to cast a spell over us (also known as crowded thoughts and crowded emotions) putting the beauty to sleep. So, in the fairytale, that is exactly what she does but the love inside us never dies. It just falls asleep. In every fairytale there is a Prince ( also known as the Holy Spirit). His kiss reminds us of who we are and why we are here. He can come to us dressed in various suits of clothing to awaking us with his love. In the fairytale just when it seems all hope is lost, because we have been asleep so long, our Savior appears and takes us into his arms. The prince has many faces and one of them is Jesus. To think about Him is to think about and to call forth the perfect love inside ourselves.

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Nov 10 2016

    Ingrid, not such a “stretch” as it may seem. In his work The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim explored the role of archetypal images and hidden themes in fairy tales and their value in bolstering children against a threatening world of “giants.” The sort of virtues that fairy tales emphasize–heroism, nobility, humility, generosity–help to make life not only “doable,” but an adventure.

    A couple of days ago I read again the passage in John 20 when Jesus breathed on his disciples and told them, “Receive the Spirit.” Like the original breath of God in creation, is this not the “kiss of Christ” that brings to life his own perfect love poured into our hearts?

    Thank you for sharing your reflections.


  3. Ingrid / Nov 10 2016

    Funny…most days I feel like I live in a world of giants. I guess that’s why I still love fairytales.

    Breath of God… kiss of Christ… His perfect love poured into our hearts … and the story continues…

    Beautifully said. Thank you for your reflections, Chuck.

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