“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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:1-8ESV
When I look back at my childhood, I think a lot of my teenage years were focused on what was ahead. What was next? What was God going to do with me? Who was I meant to be? What would my career be? Would I ever get married? Mostly, I felt such a powerful longing for what was next that oftentimes…the moment I was in felt like a waste, an unbearable waiting period before that next.
I don’t think I really appreciated the uncertainty of “next” until August 2015. I had been in professional ministry for three years. I was twenty-eight years old. On August 5th, I received the news one of the teens I had mentored in my first youth group during my internship had died in a car accident. It wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t even the driver. No one had been drinking. There were no drugs or even speeding involved. It just…happened. One minute he was a vibrant, intelligent, caring, gifted young man coming back from a concert in the beautiful Rocky Mountains…and the next he was gone. He was nineteen years old. He was also a twin.
Next is not certain. It can be ripped from your hands. We are so eager for what is next, so focused on what may be coming we rarely recognize the importance of now. I never realized how much I took for granted the now until that moment.
In John 15:1-8, Jesus talks about how God the Father is the gardener of a grape vine, pruning and nurturing the branches of the “True Vine” (Jesus). God is preparing the branches (us) to bear good fruit that flows from our connection to Jesus. It is interesting to note growing a strong, healthy, fruitful grapevine is not a quick endeavor. New branches on a grapevine are not allowed to produce any fruit until they are three years old. In other words, a new branch gives nothing of value to the gardener at first. No grapes to sell. No wine to produce. Instead, it takes time and resources and energy without any output for that whole time.
Yet those three years are critical. The gardener is preparing the branch for the work ahead. He is trimming it back, severely in fact. The branch may be trimmed back to only a few inches in length. The gardener is monitoring it to make sure it doesn’t get sick or damaged by frost. He is making sure it gets the nutrients it needs to survive. Ultimately, his goal is a strong and healthy branch, one able to survive the years of bearing fruit which lie ahead. Under the best care, grape vines can live for hundreds of years, bearing fruit that well makes up for the three years of nurturing the branches required.
We are so focused on the next…and we don’t know what that next could be. But Jesus reminds us the now is making us into the people we will be. The now is, in fact, critical to the next we long for. Instead of aching for the future and resenting the present, what if we dared to pay attention to what Jesus is doing in us right now? What if we focused on the eternity He is weaving in the present, strengthening and nurturing us for the days ahead, so we could appreciate every drop of His presence…and take advantage of the opportunities all around us He is creating. How then might we live? How then might He use us right now for the good we long to do?
- Describe a circumstance that impressed on you the uncertainty of the future.
- Have you viewed the circumstance described in question one as an opportunity to learn to appreciate the presence? Why or why not?
- What “next” have you been living for up to this point?
- Challenge for the week: every time you start to worry more about the future than the present, write down the circumstance. At the end of each day, ask God to show you how He is preparing you right now for those future events.