You Don't Have to Try So Hard

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit If it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” - John 15:1-4

Twenty years of serving Jesus, and I always read these words through the lens of fruit production.

“If I am a disciple, I’ll produce. The proof will be the fruit. I need to keep growing. I need to bear the fruit. It needs to always be evident. I can’t ever stop producing!”

Though the branches are representative of believers and disciples of Christ, I truly struggle to wrap my mind around the description of the grapevine. Maybe this would be easier if I grew up in a place like, say, California where vineyards are a normal view in some areas.

Louisiana isn’t prone to grow vineyards. No, the scenery along the highways from South to North Louisiana remains to be a simple greenish brown to brown transition from cypress trees to pine trees. I’ll helpfully imply which ones I grew up around. The street I grew up on was called Tall Pine Dr. 

Forgive me, but I just can’t see Jesus’ talking in John 15 without seeing a pine tree. I think it’s OK for this discussion though.

When I read this, I imagine a branch in North Louisiana that fell off a pine tree. More specifically, it would be the kind of branch that you would get rid of when picking up and cleaning out the yard. 

It’s flaky. It’s dirty. It’s brittle and grayish brown. There’s no green on it, which means there’s no life. 

Now imagine yourself as that branch. 

You look similarly on the outside to the branches on the tree, so you’re trying with all your might to grow fruit, to produce at a certain level, to thrive and be a beautiful creation, to prove that you are a worthy branch to the tree.

But no matter with all the trying, striving, pushing and focusing, that branch will not be able to produce what the connected ones can. 

On the other hand, the branch that is connected and remains doesn’t have to worry about when it will produce. It just will. It will produce so naturally in fact! It has to produce because it is connected to life. What’s most remarkable in fact is that when winds and rains come, the branch may crack or be broken, but as long as it remains, the branch will heal because it’s connected to life.

No wonder most Christians are tired. No wonder many burn out. No wonder several are frustrated because they aren’t seeing the divine results they so seek. It’s because our focus is on the fruit and not on what really matters – which is to just remain.

So here’s to the perfectionist, to the overachiever, to the smiling on the outside but broken on the inside believer. Here’s to the one who does good things but it’s out of guilt, who tries to catch up, who tries to stay ahead, and tries to keep it together. Here’s to you who worries about the small things and what others think.

I’ll tell you today like modern day memes say: You have one job. That job is not to do better, get better, push harder, work longer, prove more, do more or be stronger.

Your job is to remain with Jesus. It’s to learn to simply be with Him and stay with Him. 

For the type A’s and type B’s, that can be difficult. For example, I know personally I’ll have a set time length or way that I see my prayer times and Bible studies going, and when they go differently or shorter, shame sets in. All of a sudden, I’m a “bad Christian.” I should have done better. I should have gotten up earlier. I should have focused sooner.

If I believe what the Good News tells me though, it’s that I can’t do better all on my own. In fact, I’m incapable of doing anything without Jesus’ help, and that includes spending time with Him. I can’t pray enough, worship enough, serve enough, or give enough because that would mean my salvation is built on what I do.

The Good News is that I don’t have to have faith in my abilities that fail but rather put my faith in His that never do.

So, it’s OK if you feel like you aren’t put together today. It’s OK if you feel weak and like it’s all going to fall apart.  

You focus on remaining, on resting, and on living your life in Jesus. Focus on Him, not standards you set for yourself that no one else knows about. Focus on our Hope that has a name and the love He has for you. 

Find purpose in just knowing Him through His Word, whether that be in one book or one verse. Seek personal value in just existing because of Him, through simply sitting in His presence. Allow yourself to be carried. Figure out what it means to be strong in grace as you wrestle to not strive in works but strive in love.

Don’t worry about hitting spiritual landmarks and new levels of fruit production. You weren’t the one who started this work anyway. You only responded to the work He started.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day that Christ Jesus returns.” - Philippians 1:6

Don’t worry. Fruit will come. Proof of His work will come. It will flow into your everyday life without you striving. It has to, for you are connected to Life. It has to because you have remained.  

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing.” - John 15:5