I read this book and it has helped me so much. The whole way through it I knew it was something others would need to read also. More importantly, I felt God tugging on my heart to share with you what I read. These are just highlights of his book and I highly recommend purchasing the book yourself for the whole picture.
Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson
“For years I read” John 15:1-2 “as a general call to Christians to bring others to Christ. But there’s no reason to restrict Jesus’s meaning of fruit to winning souls. I have traced the words fruit and good works in the Bible, and they’re used interchangeably. Take, for instance, this verse in Titus: ‘Let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.’ 3:14… In practical terms, fruit represents good works — a thought, attitude, or action of ours that God values because it glorifies Him.
Some good Bible teachers have interpreted this verse to mean that if you bear no fruit, you can’t be a Christian. Others have said, ‘takes away’ means if you persist in a life without showing evidence of your salvation, you lose it. But don’t you think the phrase ‘every branch in Me should prove the main point here? I believe we can safely conclude that it’s possible to be ‘in Christ’, yet be like that branch that produces no fruit for a time…
Besides, we know that salvation was never a work on our part to begin with: (Eph. 2:8-9)…
“a clearer translation of the Greek word airo… rendered in John 15 as ‘take away’ would be ‘take up’ or ‘lift up.’ We find accurate renderings of ‘airo’…Matthew 14:20 (took up 12 baskets); Matthew 27:32 (Simon took up Christ’s cross); John 1:29 (Jesus, who takes away the sin of the world, bore it up on His shoulders)…in both the Bible and in Greek literature, airo never means ‘cut off’…’Lift up’ suggests an image of a vine-dresser leaning over to lift up a branch. Why?… the answer came for me years ago at a Pastor’s conference…
A sun-browned man came up to me…he began to talk about the life of a grower – the long hours spent walking the vineyards… ‘New branches have a natural tendency to trail down and grow along the ground,’ he explained. ‘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.’ ‘What do you do?’ I asked. ‘Cut it off and throw it away?’ ‘Oh no!’ he exclaimed. ‘The branch is much too valuable for that. 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 he talked, I could picture Jesus’s own hand…showing how the Father makes sure His crop comes in full and sweet. When the branches fall into the dirt, God doesn’t throw them away or abandon them. He lifts them up, cleans them off, and helps them flourish again. For Christians, sin is like the dirt covering the grape leaves. Air and light can’t get in. The branch languishes, and no fruit develops. How does our Vine-dresser lify us from the mud and misery? How does He move our branch from barren to bountiful so we can start filling up our basket? The answer to this is the first vine secret.
“If your life consistently bears no fruit, God will intervene to discipline you. If necessary, He will use painful measures to bring you to repentance…so that you can live a more abundant life for His glory. The Bible calls this process discipline or chastening…normally God’s discipline starts because of a major sin problem – an uncomfortable behavior or attitude that is blighting your life. It ends when the problem ends… What does God do to wayward believers? He takes necessary measures to correct a wayward branch… many people misread God’s discipline because of harmful personal experiences in their own childhood. God’s actions are all intended to nudge you – lovingly, wisely, persistently – towards the life and character you desire but can’t reach without help.
Once believers understands God’s motive in discipline, an astonishing truth dawns: The discipline doesn’t have to continue! It’s all up to me. I will only experience pain’ (for this sin) ‘as long as I hang on to my sin… God doesn’t expect you to seek out or enjoy His correction. If you’re being disciplined, He wants you to get out of it even more than you want to. Satan would love to convince you that because your Father is dealing firmly with you, you’re a worthless, unlikeable loser. The opposite is true…never disciplined…doubt His favor.” Hebrews 12:8.
3 Degrees of Intervention:
- Degree 1 – Rebuke: a prick of our conscience, a timely word from another person, a scripture, the preaching of God’s word, or conviction by the Holy Spirit
- Degree 2 – Chasten: something you feel as emotional anxiety, frustration, or distress. What used to bring you joy doesn’t. Pressure increase at work, at home, in your health or finances. Many Christians feel unfulfilled at church, critical of their Christian friends, and ‘on the outs’ with God. When they pick up their Bible, it feels like a lead weight instead of a welcome relief. Their relationship with the Lord…seems blighted by a sadness or lethargy they can’t quite trace. If any of these symptoms sound familiar… You need to look for ongoing sin in your life, the dirt crusting over your leaves and cutting you off from God’s best.
- Degree 3 – Scourge: to whip, to inflict punishment… excruciating pain. At this level of discipline you are living in open sin with a flagrant disregard for what you know is right. You have not heeded previous attempts by God to rescue you from rebellion and return you to fruitfulness… He takes long-term sin very seriously, and He will act.” Read 1 Corinthians 11:30. “Paul said, ‘That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died,’ because of continuing sin…many are weak, many more are ill, and some have already died.”
What stops good people from cleaning up their act?…” They are “held captive by damaging beliefs for years. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?
- I simply can’t help myself. This problem goes back to my childhood. So why wouldn’t God extend grace rather than impose discipline?
- Just because I sin doesn’t mean I can’t do something for God…God uses crooked sticks.
- It’s not a sin. It’s just a weakness, part of my personality, something I struggle with.
If this is you…embrace truth, discarding the lies…the longer you stay in discipline, the more you are asking God to turn up the intensity of His corrective actions.
Are you ready for a troubling truth that once grasped, will free you to view the sticks you’re facing in a new light? Secret of the Vine 2. If your life bears some fruit, God will intervene to prune you… His purpose is for you to cut away immature commitments and lesser priorities to make room for even greater abundance for His glory… Left to itself, a grape plant will always favor new growth over more grapes… Grapevines can become so dense that the sun cannot reach into the areas where fruit should form. That’s why the vine-dresser cuts away vigorous, unnecessary shoots …because a vineyards only purpose is grapes… For the Christian, rampant growth represents all those preoccupations and priorities in our lives that, while not wrong, are keeping us from more significant ministry for God.” (spreading ourselves out too thin). “Without pruning, growing Christians will only be able to live up to a fraction of their potential. Our Father the vine dresser is guided by similar principles. To make room for the kind of abundance He created us for, He must first cut away parts of our life that drain precious time and energy from what’s truly important. Sounds a lot like disciplining, doesn’t it? But it’s not.
The purposes of discipline and pruning are entirely different, and the consequences of confusing them can be disastrous! For years I struggled with anger and confusion because I mistook the process of pruning for discipline. I confessed every known sin and waited for relief. But when nothing changed, I frequently slipped into anger towards God, then into bitterness, then mistrust. The result was a break in my relationship with Him… Over time, those wrong reactions to pruning became a four-lane freeway that took me out of pruning and right back into God’s discipline. You can distinguish pruning from discipline by asking a few simple questions:
Discipline vs. Pruning
Issue: Discipline: Pruning:
How do you
know it’s Pain Pain
Why is it You’re doing You’re doing
happening? something something
What is your
level of Fruit Fruit
What is the
Vine-dresser’s Fruit More Fruit
to go? Sin Self
you feel? Guilty, Sad Relief, Trust
What is Repentance: Release: give
the right stop your God your
response? sin permission
When does When we When God
it stop? stop sinning is finished
The vines ability to produce growth increases each year, but without intensive pruning the plant weakens and it’s crop diminishes. Mature branches must be pruned hard to achieve maximum yields. While early pruning is mostly about your outward activities and priorities, mature pruning is about your values and personal identity. God moves in close for more intensive pruning because by now you are ready to really produce. I find it helpful to think of mature pruning in terms of the Bible phrase, ‘the testing of your faith’… the pruning will intensify as God’s shears cut closer to the core of who you are. God isn’t trying to just take away; He’s faithfully at work to make room to add strength, productivity, and spiritual power in your life… to bring you closer to the image of Christ.
Tests of faith are various trials and hardships that invite you to surrender something of great value to God, even when you have every right not to. You will feel assaulted or stretched by circumstances, but not distant from God; tried by Him, but not judged or guilty. “(Book of Job) & (Psalms 66:10, 12)… “A ‘test of faith’ doesn’t really test anything unless it pushes you past your last test… That’s why pruning often lasts longer and goes farther than we think is reasonable or fair…if you pull back…you will never grow or know how much you can really trust God.
Some important pruning truths…
- God doesn’t apply pruning (pain) when a more pleasant method would be just as well. ‘Pain was the loving and legitimate violence necessary to produce my liberty.’ Blaise Pascal.
- Not every painful experience is the result of pruning. God isn’t purposefully constraining your life just to see how you will react.” (Example: a child experimenting with drugs and sex; facing a future with diabetes or cancer). “Yet every trial you face is an opportunity to let Him work in your life for abundance. Romans 8:28.
- The pain of pruning comes now, but the fruit comes later… but depends on our submission to the Vine-dresser now.
- Even though the duration, depth, and breadth of pruning seasons… will vary, no season lasts indefinitely. A season is coming, I promise, when you will know that you are no longer under God’s shears. Everywhere you look you’ll see amazing evidence of personal transformation and expanded ministry for God.
How can you tell exactly where God is pruning you so that you can cooperate with Him?… Ask yourself the question: Where does it hurt? Through pain, God gets your attention and signals His urgency. The discomfort says, ‘Pay attention here.’ Psalms 54,56,63. These crisis of David ‘coupled with his terrible years in the desert – was part of the pruning season necessary to prepare David for his future as Israel’s greatest king. He learned how to submit to authority to lead men, to endure, and to trust God in trying circumstances.
Mature pruning is God’s way of helping you put into practice His command to ‘seek first the kingdom of God.’ This is why God will always prune those things that we slavishly seek first, love most, and begrudge giving up. His goal isn’t to plunder or harm, but to liberate us so that we can pursue our true desire – His kingdom. This kind of pruning goes beyond rearranging priorities to the heart of what defines us – the people we love, the possessions we cling to, our deep sense of personal rights. These are the very areas God must rule if we are to bear fruit.
Different Arena’s God uses…
- Arena 1: The people you love most. God says to give Him your kids, spouse, family, etc. When the transaction is done, those dearest humans in my life no longer belong to me. I am still privileged to love and tend them, but ownership rights have passed over to God. God may be asking you to give up your rights to be married, to have children, or to achieve a particular kind of success. God may be inviting you to follow Christ without the support of your closest family members – possibly even enduring their hatred and rejection because of your faith. He is pruning closely to what really matters to you – not to take something good from you, but to become Lord of all you desire.
- Arena 2: You’re right to know why God does what He does. We are born with the conviction that we deserve to be in control of our lives. Yet this assumption is in conflict with the life of faith. That’s why in mature pruning, God will ask you to give up your ‘right’ to know why certain things are happening to you. We go through long seasons in our faith walk when we’re unable to answer questions like why? and how long? We only know Who – our loving Father… He asks us to let go of reasons, of rights, of fears, and simply throw our arms around His neck. At those times pray: ‘Father, I’m just hanging on to you. You can do whatever You want. Just carry me through.’
- Arena 3: Your love for money and possessions. Servitude to money and possessions demand our energies, our time, and our loyalties. That’s why, season after season, the Vine dresser asks us to let go of the things we still hold too tightly.’ (ever the dreams and aspirations of these things which can be an idol for security.) ‘To know where you are in this process, ask yourself: ‘How much of what is mine has God already asked for? And have I given it to Him?’ If we allow this process of pruning to continue, an exuberant freedom to bless others will flourish in its place. 2 Corinthians 8:1-2.
- Arena 4: The sources of your significance. The prize at stake here is your God-given need for a sense of worth and purpose. In order to reach the next level of abundance, I would have to completely give back to Him the work He Himself had given me, trusting only in Him for what would happen next to me. For Abraham, it was his miracle son, Isaac. For Gideon, it was his large army.’ Paul …’by the end of this life, we glimpse a rare thing indeed: a man who had been pruned until there was nothing left of his life. All that made Paul who he was – his job, possessions, heritage, pride, religion – had been pruned away. ‘But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ…for whom I have suffered the loss of all energy into their work, hoping to recapture their former fulfillment… ‘The Lord is saying, ‘Put relationship with me first’ — that it’s time to switch hands again. If you do, you’ll find the joy that you’re missing now, and so much more… You have a good amount of fruit. You are not being ‘lifted up’ in discipline. And you are not being pruned. Yet you feel caught between two opposing tensions – an increasing desire to produce an even better yield and decreasing fulfillment in the fruit you are already producing. You are ready for that fourth basket, the one so full of luscious grapes that it is overflowing. Yet you feel frustrated, defeated, and in danger of losing the harvest of a lifetime… God didn’t want ‘you’ to do more for Him. He wanted ‘you’ to be more with Him.’ In John 15 ‘Jesus tells what should happen next – after discipline to remove sin, after pruning to change priorities. ‘Abide in Me”… Third secret of the Vine…
If your life bears a lot of fruit, God will invite you to abide more deeply in Him. Only by abiding can you enjoy the most rewarding friendship with God and experience the greatest abundance for His glory. To abide means to remain, to stay closely connected, to settle in for the long term… Don’t miss the command; Abide is an imperative – not a suggestion or request… You command…something because it’s not going to come naturally… In the seasons of chastening and pruning, the Vine dresser is proactive. He pursued. He initiates. Our role is to respond. But when abiding, we see a 180-degree shift in who initiates the movement towards fruitfulness at the highest level. To abide, we must act.
So even though abiding is not about doing more, if we want to experience it, we must do something – and the effort won’t come easily. In abiding, it’s always our move…however we are hopeless to bear much fruit alone,’ John 15:4-5. ‘Imagine a grape branch, severed from the trunk and lying in the dust. For that severed branch to produce one new leaf, flower, or grape would be impossible.’ Read verse 6. ‘There words sound catastrophic… Jesus is making a dramatic point. If we are not abiding, we wither and die and become of no spiritual use… Unless you’re/my friendship with God became your/my first priority… I (you) would never fulfill your/my true destiny as a Christian or a leader. ‘You’ll feel God tugging on you for so long… Your crisis of unhappiness is very important. If you don’t break through now, you might never do so’ “(We can become an expert at serving God, but only be a novice at being his friend.)
Living in the Presence:
The great majority of God’s people today live ignorant of the promise and practice of abiding. As a result, they fail to reach the level of ‘much fruit’ represented by that fourth, overflowing basket… you might be asking, ‘How could merely abiding possibly propel me to the highest levels of fruitfulness?’…Abiding is all about the most important friendship of your life. Abiding doesn’t measure how much you know about your faith or your Bible. In abiding, you seek, long for, thirst for, wait for, see, know, love, hear, and respond to…a person. More abiding means more of God in your life, more of Him in your activities, thoughts, and desires.
In our Western-style rush to do and perform for God, we often falter at the task of simply enjoying His company. Yet we were created to be dissatisfied and incomplete with less.’ Psalms 42:1. …’why do so few of us fervently pursue it? One of the primary reasons… is that we don’t really believe God likes us. Sure…God loves us in a theological sense” (God loves everybody right?) ‘but we don’t feel particularly liked by Him… He remembers all the bad things we’ve done in the past and is quick to judge how we’re doing now… Why would you want to spend time with a person who felt that way about you?… What you appreciate ‘about’ in a best friend is precisely what God offers you. He is trustworthy and patient. When He looks at you He does not call to mind the sins you’ve asked Him to forgive. He sees only a beloved child, a worthy heir. And this God – your Friend – wants to abide with you even more than you want to abide with Him. (John 15:9) ‘Stay, luxuriate, find real love ‘in My love’! If we really abide in His love, we would come away feeling so nourished, so cherished, so liked, that we should rush back to Him whenever we could.
And Jabez called on God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’ So God granted him what he requested. (4:10)… Jabez prayer invites God to use you to bear fruit; the secrets of the vine reveal how God changes you so that you will become even more useful (fruitful) for His glory… We unlock change in our lives and in our world when we choose to do God’s will in God’s way… and it all begins with asking.
If you are in the season of discipline, the Vine dresser is kneeling beside you in the cool of the morning. He is reaching down to intervene in your life, to lift you up and bring you back to fruitfulness. The look on His face conveys concern and sadness – not disgust, not irritation, not even anger. He doesn’t see a chronic loser in your, but a chosen carefully tended branch that is one choice away from an altogether better existence.
If you are in the season of pruning, the Vine-dresser is standing beside you in the sun of midday… He’s not unhappy. He’s wielding some rather serious – looking shears… the look on His face conveys delight and expectation. As He thoughtfully snips away unwanted shoots, He’s impressed with your energy and promise. He can foresee the time when you will respond in faith to the test. He has put before you today.
If you are in the season of abiding, I see the Vine dresser leaning against a nearby trellis as the sun goes down, His hat pushed back. He’s looking at your branch with pleasure, satisfaction, and joy. Just being here near you, enjoying your beauty is His favorite moment of the day. The huge clusters of grapes crowding your branch are exactly what He’s had in mind for you since your branch first sprouted. Beware of the Grape Robber!… Through his devices of doubt, distrust, discouragement, and deception, Satan tries at every turn to prevent or steal your harvest and keep you from reaching greater fruitfulness…
…consider these important reminders:
*God can use you no matter what season you are in. The enemy wants to discourage and confuse you. He tells you that until you’re at the next level, God certainly won’t choose to use you… But… Jesus used His disciples to preach the kingdom and even perform miracles while they were still immature in their faith.
*God’s plans for you are unique and especially suited for your success… Don’t compare your progress to anything or anyone but God’s gracious will for you.
*It’s never too late to begin bearing fruit. The grape robber tries to convince Christians that we’ve missed our chance to respond to the Vine dresser. Yet while God wants each of us to respond now, He’ll continue to pursue us our entire lives.
*You can rest in God’s sovereign timing… the enemy may try to discourage you about your small yields. Stand firm in knowing God has already prepared a significant life for you that He will faithfully bring into being (Philippians 1:6).
*Remember the gift of joy. Your enemy will point to the pain of discipline, the losses that come with pruning, and the frustration and effort associated with abiding, and he’ll try to convince you that God’s plan for you is a prescription for misery. But remember, Jesus’s wonderful promise to His disciples that night in the vineyard: ‘These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.’ (John 15:11).
*Do you have abundance? You were created for a life mission of abundance for God. But you can’t accomplish the work of your Father’s kingdom on your own.
*Do you want more abundance? More is always possible, but you’ll have to do something opposite of what you’re currently doing. You’ll have to cooperate with God’s ways and respond in obedience and trust.
No matter what season of fruit bearing you are in, when you look at your Father’s face, I hope you see… a breakfast of mercies waiting and a future as big as God’s love.’ ” Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson
As ever, Heather