This summer I worked at a Christian summer camp called Pine Cove. Sharing and teaching the gospel through my actions and words was my only job, be it through Bible Study, crazy cheers, or one-on-one hang times. Over the course of the summer I got the blessing of seeing fourteen of my 6th and 7th grade guys give their lives to Jesus. Coming back to New Orleans, I was confident that the Lord would continue to work in a powerful way.
Now, I am reminded of the fact that real life ministry is tough. Sharing the gospel with people who don’t want to hear the gospel, people who don’t believe in any God existing at all, people who live far from the truth of the Gospel without any desire to change; you might say it’s a little harder than sharing with campers who respect you and expect you to tell them about Jesus, in an environment where temptation is minimalized and all of your coworkers hold similar beliefs. Needless to say, it’s easy to be discouraged—especially on a college campus.
My frustration and anxiety comes from John 15 where Jesus says,
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV).
I do not see the salvation that I saw this summer, yet I desire it. I pray for opportunities yet I don’t see them like I did this summer. I do not see the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of multiple people every single week from my explanation of the Gospel. Following the course of logic in John 15:8, I am failing miserably at glorifying the Father and proving to be a disciple of Jesus. However, as the deceiver comes in to condemn me, I can find peace and joy in thinking back to that same passage.
“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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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 15:1–5 ESV)
There are a couple of things in this passage that give me great comfort. One is that because I have seen fruit in my life, I can find comfort in knowing that I will not be taken away. I can know that I am already clean. I can know that right now, although I may not be seeing fruit, I can rest assured that I am in the very capable hands of the vinedresser. I can have peace in knowing that he is pruning me, snipping away the unproductive parts and forming me into a branch that will bear more and more fruit. Therefore, I don’t have to worry about striving to bear fruit; my unchanging, all powerful Father deals with that. My concern is this: abiding in Christ.
Does a branch have very much control over how much fruit it bears? No. It is not as if the branch decides one morning that it will go and bear fruit. It is the natural flow of nutrients from the xylem and phloem of the branch that causes fruit to form. It is the sap that comes from the main vine.
Jesus promises this: If you stay attached to me, you will bear fruit! You won’t have a choice in the matter. If you are attached to me, the true vine of God, my Spirit will flow through your veins and you will produce fruit. And if part of you doesn’t look like it’s bearing fruit, if some of the nutrients are being wasted, going to a place where fruit isn’t being bared, don’t worry! The Vinedresser will take care of it. He will cultivate you. As for you, you worry about abiding in me.
Jesus finishes this part of the passage by saying,
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11 ESV)
Therefore, don’t get sucked into the mindset of our culture, where success is a number to be obtained. Our job is to abide in Jesus, to stay attached to the vine. Everything else will flow out of our identity of being connected to Him. When we place Jesus at the center of our lives, focusing on our relationship with our Lord and Savior before all else, we will bear much fruit, and we can find great joy in this.