Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he “lifts up” (John 15:2).
This morning I read for the first time David Ortis’ article titled “When Prodigal Children Don’t Return” (July 1, 2019). I was amazed when I noticed it had received 5,551 “reads.” Obviously, it was, and probably still is, a subject matter that is very close to the hearts of many of the CL readership, both for parents of wandering children and wandering children alike. I would encourage a reread of this excellent article. It provides hope for the suffering parent.
I would like to share some words of hope for those wandering children (aka “the lost sheep of the church.”) reading this. I once was one of those lost sheep.
I grew up Mennonite Brethren. I came to faith as a young teenager at a Billy Graham crusade held in Fresno, California, in 1962. I was soon baptized and became a member of our local congregation. Sadly, my life produced little fruit of his work in and through me for the next 10 years. Truth be told, I produced more fruit for Satan’s kingdom with the passing of those years than for Abba’s kingdom. And I was an emotional wreck because of this.
When many young American boys in the ’70s were fleeing to Canada to avoid conscription and being shipped off to fight in Vietnam, I fled to Canada as a 22-year-old to find peace for my restless mind and heart. I was a broken mess.
One day when studying at university, I gathered what few belongings I had and packed them into my VW bug and then headed north. I didn’t tell my university roommates, my then-girlfriend or my parents of this decision. I told nobody of my spontaneous plans. I was so confused as a young adult.
In my search, I didn’t run toward God as one might think and hope for. Rather, I simply ran from my Mt. Everest of emotional pain. But God was graciously working even then as I have realized later.
Upon returning to California, I first looked up my girlfriend. By then she had hooked up with a guy who claimed to be Jesus. Years of previous Bible training had taught me that he wasn’t the one. Crazy as it was, this encounter caused me to consider the real Jesus. Life was beginning to make sense again.
In recent weeks I have been overwhelmed by the fresh realization of God’s profound mercy toward me back then. He never gave up on me in those years of abject disobedience. I am grateful today that he chose not to “cut me off and take me away” as most Bible versions would translate John 15:2. Rather, in response to my gradual heart change and plea for help, he lifted me up (a better translation, I believe, of the Greek verb used here) for greater present and eternal purposes.
He did for me what any wise vinedresser today would do for those new branches of his vineyard that bear no fruit. A vinedresser once told Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, author of “Secrets of the Vine,” that “new branches have a natural tendency to trail down and grow along the ground, …but they don’t bear fruit down there. When branches grow along the ground, the leaves get coated in dust. When it rains, they get muddy and mildewed. The branch becomes sick and useless.”
Because these branches, just like us, are much too valuable to cut off and throw away, this same vinedresser describes what happens next. “We go through the vineyard with a bucket of water looking for those branches. We lift them up and wash them off… Then we wrap them around the trellis or tie them up. Pretty soon they’re thriving.”
As I approach 72 years of life, I give thanks to the divine Vinedresser who lifted up this wayward and dirty young branch nearly a half-century ago. But he didn’t stop there; he then got me onto the path of fruit-bearing. I smile as I write this!
Perhaps you dear reader may be a barren branch in your spiritual walk at this moment. Please realize this: God the supreme Vinedresser so much wants to lift you up as you trust him again. In due time you too, by his grace and power, will bear fruit (v.2) and more fruit (v.2) and much fruit (v.5) as you remain in him. And increasing joy (v.11) will be your life companion!