Abide. That is my #oneword for 2017. Inspired by Margaret Feinburg, I am going to focus on this word this year as a catalyst to deepening my faith. I will look ahead and forward to hearing this word, being sensitive to what God will use in and through this word to teach me.
Abide. There are many definitions of this word, but I am using “to remain” as it relates to “remaining in Christ”. The Scripture I have meditated on is from John 15: 1-11.
“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.
The richness of these verses in this new year astound me, my heart and my being. I am not a grape grower…though I would very much love to be, most especially because I enjoy the treat of a glass of the finest type of grape juice every now and again. I digress…but, in doing a very small amount of research, from hearing my mother in law speak of the ups and downs of the business of grape growing for profit and from Stan and I’s tours in Napa, I have learned that growing grapes is a very fine and tender process…much like the tending of human souls.
I do wonder why Jesus used the comparison of grapes on a vine to believers and their connection to Himself. And a step further…that God is the gardener in this comparison, who cares for the branches to best prepare them to bear good fruit. It peaked my interest on exactly what it is like to grow and cultivate grapes.
According to the Old Farmer’s Alamanac, grape vines, when tended to and pruned most properly, can produce good fruit for over 30 years. One must buy the very best kind of grapes, ones that are “certified virus free” vigorous one year old plants, from a reputable nursery. The grapes must be planted in early spring and only after their roots have been soaked for 2-3 hours in water, planted alongside a trellis so that they can be trained to grow upwards to prevent disease. The soil must be deep, well-drained and loose with good air circulation. Vines must be spaced apart 6-16 inches depending on the variety of grape being planted. Each grape-vine needs a 12 x 12 hole filled with 4 inches of topsoil before said vine can be placed into the earth, broken roots torn away, more soil placed on top and a plentiful water shower provided. And…after all of that…the farmer should not “allow” the plant to produce fruit for at least 2-3 years! The vine must strengthen its root system before it can shoulder the weight of grapes of the very best quality. And while waiting for the promised harvest to come to fruition? The farmer must remove 90% of the previous year’s growth, the more one prunes, the better the chance of a bountiful harvest. Flower clusters must be removed, moisture around the vines must be just so and mesh nets should be used to keep pests from snacking on the tenderly nurtured harvest.
Growing grapes takes a great deal of attention to detail, focus, skill, patience, commitment and trust in those who have previously experienced and perfected this art. Growing grapes is not unlike raising children. It is also not unlike growing in our own faith and trusting in things not yet seen. In the midst of the deep, we do get glimpses of the good fruit, the fruit that has reached the perfect ripeness, with goodness oozing out as it is placed on the tongue and then used to nourish the body…and the soul. That good fruit is easy to pick out and it begs the taster to come back for more. You know that good fruit…it looks like love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). And that good fruit comes from abiding in the True Vine, tended to by the best Vine Grower one could imagine – the very maker of the Vine, Himself.
The good fruit came out in my oldest child on a random outing to Target. He recently had a birthday and had extra money burning a hole in his sweet little pocket. His little brother, my spender, had a much smaller amount of money he had saved from odd jobs and quarter handouts from his Pop and Nanny. The boys accompanied me on an errand run, a day when we had planned to spend time as a family at the zoo, but their little sister got sick on the way, forcing a turn around mid-trip and change of plans. I was disappointed, as I imagined more intentional family time away from our normal daily routines, like a quick run to Target.
We gathered the items I needed, both boys with a “kid temp hot chocolate” in hand, looking at me, embracing me and genuinely thanking me for this treat they have often taken for granted. We walked to the glorious toy section, my oldest found a treasure to meet his desires, while his little brother pondered which items he could afford…and I make them account for sales tax too. Because he could not afford all he wanted, he had to put two little race cars back on the shelf. Having walked to the next aisle while they finalized their decisions, I saw only my younger son headed towards me. “Where’s your brother?” I asked. Next thing I knew, my oldest came around the corner with those two little race cars in his hand. He said, “I am going to get these for my brother.” Seeing my oldest boy’s face when he saw his little brother sheepishly grim and extend his arms out for a hug will forever be imprinted on my heart. We stopped, talked about and reflected on the family devotional we had shared the night before, which “happened” to be about generosity. In the midst of what has been a challenging time of pruning and intentional cultivation of faith for our family, that glimpse into my son’s heart was most certainly the good fruit.
You know the other kind of fruit too. It grows all around us and in us…rotten words spoken, shriveled and dried up hopes and damaged dreams ruminating, disease ridden minds controlled by the worldly, vulnerable hearts filleted wide open to predators sure to devour. We live it and we breathe it. The bad fruit…it’s not always easy to recognize. It comes in forms that can be disguised. You may take a big bite, chew and begin to swallow before you realize that it is not what you thought it was…do you swallow it or do you spit it out? Do you adopt the messages of the naysayers and allow Satan to imprint them on your heart? Or do you spit them out, rejecting his lies…pulling from the True Vine with the very roots you grew while you struggled, strained and wept? Those are the roots that are so strong they remind you “that nothing can ever separate you from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate you from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39. Nothing can separate us from our True Vine and His guidance of how to best cultivate the good fruit. We must simply Abide.
Abiding in the true vine takes a great deal of discernment. It takes careful recognition of the good and the bad. It takes intentional sorting and filtering to produce a ripe, nourishing and lasting harvest. It takes a deep commitment to the True Vine. The grapes we cultivate today will be the seeds of the future. Disease, drought, scorching, predators and the like will continue. We have to learn to live in the midst of this rotten fruit. But, by remaining connected to Jesus and his love, by reading His word, studying His ways and choosing to follow Him, we know that the strongest vines are those that remain and flourish.