He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:2
The Gardener cuts off whatever branch bears no fruit. God tends his garden. Pruning the living branches adds new and healthy growth while cutting away dead branches gives the living ones growth. Both are needed for a plant to thrive and bear fruit.
As living branches in Christ, we make daily choices. These choices either water the vine or add fuel to the brush fire. Watering includes being washed in the Word, cultivating right attitudes of the heart, rooting our minds in truth, and feeding the right appetites. Fueling the fire would encompass choices that draw us away from the Vine, Christ. They may even seem like fruitful pursuits, but in time they prove to be bitter thistles or weakening forces against bearing fruit.
Some growth can be directly tied by daily choices we make. Here are just a few that we are certain to encounter in our own hearts on a regular basis. Does your own thinking need watered by the Word or pruned in any of these ways? (I know mine does!)
1. Follow your heart...
...or Guard your heart
You don't have to go far to hear someone say "follow your heart". Advice like this elevates the human heart as chief in matters of love and life. "The heart wants what the heart wants", and who can reason with that? But following your heart will likely lead you right off the edge of a cliff.
Scripture says something all together different. It teaches that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) In this fallen world, our own hearts betray us. If our hearts are telling us to do something contrary to God's word, we see this rule at play. Rather than following our hearts, we are urged to guard them...to willfully yield our hearts to God and follow him.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23
In time, this willful submission will bear good fruit. We will notice our hearts and desires changing. And at varied amounts--through seasons--we begin to see ourselves being transformed more and more in his image. This takes persistence and careful watch but it is very exciting when you spot the fruit of righteousness which you know wasn't there before.
2. Remind yourself how hard you have it...
...or Speak thanks and gratitude
We all certainly face challenges or many kinds. This is not to diminish that fact. But does your self-talk ever sound like this: "Nobody knows the troubles I've seen...nobody knows my sorrows"...? Mine does. Each day we have a choice about what we say to ourselves at the kitchen sink, as we drive to work, on our bed at night. What messages will you tell yourself? "I quit! This is so hard. No one appreciates me. They don't understand. If only I could..." If these are the mantras we chant in our head all day, how could we expect to act otherwise? Remembering the heart can mislead, these things are likely not even true.
In order to bear fruit in our daily circumstances, we may need to change the messages we tell ourselves while we go about our work. Here is a small example: doing the laundry seems like it would be a neutral exercise in managing a home. Yet in my house the laundry room can be a place that I am either brewing trouble or thanking God. It is generally a quiet room where I am left with my own thoughts in short bursts throughout the day. If I use that time to relinquish hurts of the previous week or stir up anger and disappointment, or tell myself "this is too hard", I will later act on those thoughts and most likely say or do something I later regret. But if instead I am deliberate to name reasons for thanks to God or I sing a song of praise, or I recall that I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13) it is a tremendous help in keeping my heart soft toward the peeps in my home.
How about you? What are you saying to yourself throughout the day? Do you recognize where watering an area with thanks and praise to God will bear more fruit than dwelling on the difficulties you face?
3. Feed your appetites...
...or Master your appetites
How does the brownie pan empty so fast when all I did was nibble at it?....all day! I guess because even nibbles are eating, and over time you can nibble away a whole pan. Most of us recognize that if we give our appetite for food a continual feast, it will be satisfying, but it will undoubtedly produce discomfort and in time, a wider waistline. Perhaps gluttony in this area will produce the same decadence in other areas of our lives as well.
We may resort to nibbling away at the things that tempt us, thinking a little won't hurt. But nibbling can empty a pan too, just more slowly. Our appetites are about more than food. They are the cravings and drives which draw us to something and can in many cases, draw our appetites away from the things of Christ.
"I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1Corinthians 6:12
Instead of letting our appetites drive us, we are called to master them. Whether it's mastering what we put in our mouths, how often we check Facebook, the music we listen to, how we discipline our bodies, our time. Sounds like a lot to manage all at once. But in this case way leads unto way. A little self-control in one area will most likely lead to discipline in other areas too. I am not speaking of legalism and rules galore. But instead of being able to manage good things with self-control and not be mastered by anything-- except Christ.
Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28
4. Promote yourself...
...or serve others
It is easy to promote yourself today...take a selfie, write a blogpost, throw your kids' accomplishments out for likes. All of this can lead a person to believe they are great. But thinking we are great is a huge blow to life in the Vine. Pride is one immediate way to choke out vitality in Christ. Jesus says in John 15:5...apart from me you can do nothing.
The sentiment that "You are enough" is gaining steam these days. This phrase seems to have been coined in the right heart: as a counterpoint to the pinterest-perfect voices which tell women that our worth lies in how many summer crafts we did with our kids and if we have chevron fabric on the pillows or not. Each of us has inherent worth because we are created in the image of God. Beautiful externals do not add one iota to that great worth given by God.
But if we begin to believe the sentiment (which the pride of the heart wants to do) that "You are enough" in and of ourselves, we will squelch the life source. Apart from him we can do nothing. We are NOT enough. We need a savior and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bear true fruit. We don't "got this" without him.
If and when my pride rears its head, I am reminded that the way to be great and the way to be tall in the kingdom of God is to be a servant to all. We cannot do things apart from Christ that will last. The things done for and by the flesh will all burn up in his refining fire. The things that are done for others and in service to him will last. These are things worth promoting and investing in--serving others and Christ.
I am personally challenged on each of these points and I write them because I struggle with them too. When I have, by his grace, been able to gain ground in any one area, I know it has come because He--living in me, is enough. He Is Enough! and I am not. Only through him can we bear much fruit!
In Christ's love, Erika