“I am the Vine; you are the branches. 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)
I am passionate about grapevines.
I enjoyed swinging from grapevines, like Tarzan, when I was a little boy. My friends and I would cut grapevines off about three feet above the ground; and then, we would jump into the air, grab the severed vines and swing through the trees.
But then, I watched something happen.
The grapevines spread through the woods and engulfed an entire valley. The grapevines climbed their way to the tops of the trees where they could be strengthened by sunlight, and they even killed the trees that were supporting them. I have watched that happen many times as an adult; and I even walk through the woods, once each summer, and cut any grapevines that I find off at the ground to protect the trees behind my home.
I did that, several days ago, and the picture at the top of this post shows the results of my latest efforts. The branches began to wither within hours of being severed from the vine. The grapes shriveled and the leaves turned brown. There won’t be grapes. The branches will be barren and dead in no time. Jesus once said: “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Life ends when branches are severed from the vine.
The Church is going through a tough time, right now. Church attendance is shrinking, and many leaders are both weary and discouraged. Ministries are being scaled back because of financial shortfalls, and rising deficits are eating away at assets that could be invested in new and life-giving ministries. People are both worried and scared. Leaders throughout the Church are brainstorming and are trying to make plans for the future using the best information that they can find and the most up-to-date statistics. But it isn’t working. You can never cut, hack, and saw your church’s way into a new and brighter future.
I believe that, as Christians, we need to trust Jesus.
Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. Ministry is the fruit. Strong and vibrant ministries hang from the branches of Christian lives that are connected to the Vine. Christians and their churches are sustained and strengthened as people read Scripture, pray together, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and build ministries that are borne in the heart of God. Christians remain strong and ministries remain vibrant when people cling to the Vine which is the Giver of all life and drink from the Well that never runs dry.
Jesus has promised us that the Church, as a whole, will never fail; but Jesus never gave that same promise to individual congregations. Individual congregations are closing their doors for the last time all across America. Christians who are trying to operate their church like nothing more than a business are discovering that the pulse of a thriving Church isn’t going to be found in prayerless business meetings, carefully-engineered strategic plans, and good ideas – as well-intentioned as they might be. The beating heart of our resurrected Lord provides the life-giving cadence. The presence of the Living Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit are the lifelines that God has provided to ensure the Church’s success in ministry. “As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4b)
The shriveled grapevines behind my home reminded me again today that, apart from the Vine, we can to nothing. Churches will thrive again when Christians wake up each day with a burning desire to spend time in the presence of the Lord. New and life-giving types of ministry will be discovered as Christians learn again to listen to the cries of those who need to hear the life-giving message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Pastors need to live their lives with their source of news in one hand and their Bible in the other. Christians need to be surrounding their pastors and church leaders in prayer every day, and need to prayerfully consider what Isaiah wrote: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’” (Isaiah 6:8)