4"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
I have this little vine that has been attempting to grow for about two years now. Each spring, it sends out a little shoot, but before it can develop all that much, the hot suns of Arizona beat upon its fragile leaves and it withers. After a particularly hot summer, it has only about 5 leaves at the very base of it. I will cut is down, trimming away the dead shoots, and see if it has a chance to come back this fall, but I am not holding out much hope.
Jesus reminds us that we have to be connected to the vine if we are to bear any fruit. Those shoots that I will trim away this weekend are indeed still connected to the vine, but they are definitely dead. They were affected by their environment more than they were affected by the vine they were rooted to! Sometimes, we are like that - we are affected by our environmental pressures more than we are the fact that we are rooted in Christ!
I know this passage speaks to the fact that we cannot bear fruit apart from Christ, but sometimes we begin to realize growth in our lives long before we see the evidence of fruit. When that growth begins to occur, we sometimes get all jazzed about the growth, putting it on display! Just like my little vine, sending up a bold new shoot in the spring. One thing I noticed is that it sends off only one shoot. I wonder if that is why it withers so quickly.
You see, I don't think Christ made any of us to stand alone in him. When we are in a position of new growth, we need each other. Trying to grow strong in Christ is not an easy thing. We face many "environmental challenges" that seek to make us wither up before we ever get a chance to take on that growth and make it permanent! If you have ever wondered about all the "fresh starts" you have made in your life, it might just be because of the times you have tried to stand alone in that new start.
I am the vine - you are the branches. These were Christ's words. He never said, I am the vine and you are THE branch. He identified that the strongest vine - that which bears the most fruit - is that which has BRANCHES. Yep, we need each other. We cannot be well-rooted alone. We are sitting ducks, wide open to the attacks of the enemy of our souls when we try to go it alone.
It is just a simple lessen from a struggling vine in my yard, but one I needed to learn myself. I tried for years to stand alone - unrelated, not properly connected to others who would encourage my growth. It just did not work. The fact is...I need the other branches! They provide what I lack. In turn, I hope I provide something they lack, as well.
So, the next time you wonder about why your growth may be withering away, you might want to ensure that you are still connected to the vine. If you are, then you might want to ensure that you are connected with other branches. Don't go it alone - it will never work out well.