You are a Branch

Posted: September 27, 2010 in dealing with discouragement, soul care

Dryness. This is the best word I can think of to describe my spiritual state last week. All of my attempts to create spiritual growth in my life and our students’ lives felt like they were coming up short. Combine that with the sad news of the budget cuts at Vanguard Church and the pink eye I contracted from a roommate of mine, and it was a rough week. I knew I needed a mini-retreat.

When Friday rolled around, I removed myself from all my responsibilities and all people to dedicate the day to God. It all started with reading half of A.W. Tozer’s book God’s Pursuit of Man. It doesn’t matter what Tozer book I read; I always come away with a fresh insight about who God is and what my relationship with Him looks like. I highly recommend his books to anyone looking to be challenged with some classic Christian writing. Something in particular he said really stuck with me:

“He must count no time wasted which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance.”

Immediately I was struck by the amount of time I spend pastoring students in comparison to the amount of time I spend cultivating His presence in my own life. I wasn’t neglecting my own spiritual walk by any means, but I’m not sure if I was seeking Him with the fervor that is necessary for daily ministry with middle school students. But God continued to teach me more…

As I spent the afternoon praying and reading through scripture, God directed my attention to John 15, which incidentally was a passage I taught in the middle school group a couple weeks ago. Rather than summarizing the passage, I want to write it out for you so you can grasp the absolute importance of what Jesus is saying here:

 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

    5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Jesus is saying clearly and simply that any fruit we produce is because the Father produced it first. A branch alone cannot produce fruit; it is dependent on the vine. Similarly, we cannot presume to produce fruit (i.e. spiritual growth, character, Spirit-filled life, kids that love the Lord, etc.) without abandoning all our efforts to the Lord in order to allow HIM to make the fruit.

When I’m working with middle school students, occasionally I catch myself becoming over-confident in my abilities. It is hard to admit, but I know there are times when I believe my relational and teaching skills will make me an effective youth pastor. I wouldn’t ever vocally admit this, but it’s amazing how those lies will creep in and set up camp if we don’t address them. Satan will tempt us into worshiping the gifts instead of the Giver of the gifts.

As I was reading the John 15 passage, I felt God speaking clearly to my spirit, “Remember that you are a branch; you are not the vine. You cannot produce fruit in your ministry or your life if you do not remain in me.” I almost feel silly talking about this “new” revelation I received from God, as if I didn’t know it before. But for me it was one of those “AHA” moments that I won’t quickly forget. I must be completely dependent on the Father if I ever want to see fruit in the Hive Middle School Ministry of Vanguard Church. I can’t make it happen. Our leaders can’t make it happen. Our parents can’t make it happen. It is the ability of Jesus alone.

After coming to this re-realization on Friday, I was excited to give up control to the Father. Yesterday’s middle school service was one of the most encouraging and exciting services I have ever been a part of in youth ministry. I stopped worrying about what I could do to create fruit and started praising God for what He was doing. Students were lifting their hands praising God in worship, learning what it means to live their lives as a living sacrifice for God, discussing the need for justice and involvement in Swaziland, and talking in the 8th grade small group about what it means to be a leader and influence the younger students in the youth group. I left Sunday morning with so much joy and excitement for the fruit that God is growing in our students.

Now, in the influence you have with middle school students as a parent, volunteer, pastor, teacher, or otherwise, can you genuinely say that you completely depend on the Vine to bring fruit in the lives of your students?

Do you feel as if your attempts to create spiritual growth in your student(s) are coming up short?

Do you consistently lift up your student(s) in prayer to the Father?

Are you trying to be the Vine in your students’ lives?

Are you content with being a branch?

 My prayer is that we all (pastors, volunteers, parents, etc.) begin to recognize our ever-present dependence on God to bring fruit in the lives of our students before we exhaust ourselves with man-made attempts to transform. Our lives and ministries will only wither and die without the Vine.

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Comments
  1. Christy Selvig says:

    David,

    Thank you for your sacrifice and willingness to serve the Lord and our students. You are a gift! Your words spoke to me today. Thanks.

  2. laura schwarz says:

    This was a great encouragement to me, both in ministry AND as a parent! Thanks for your honest words, David. I so needed this reminder right now.

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