My tomato plants are filling up with green tomatoes. Hooray! It’s been fascinating to watch their day by day progress. Side shoots (I’m told they are called trusses) appear with lots of little yellow flowers on them, and these are where the tomatoes grow. The plant matures from the base, upwards and outwards. Lower down the plant, close to the stem, there are big tomatoes, and they shrink the further up and out you go. It’s like you can actually see the impact of the water being drawn up and outwards, and each fruit receiving it, then growing in their allotted turn. Of the many green tomatoes, a couple have now turned yellow. I’m assuming they will turn red soon, but having discarded the packet, I’m wondering if maybe they are yellow plum tomatoes? I guess only time will tell.
I was watering these much-loved plants a few days ago, and I noticed that one of the flower trusses had snapped and was now hanging by a thread. It had been full of potential, with lots of little flowers just waiting for their turn to grow. But now, there was no way that little thread could take up enough water and nutrients to feed and grow six or more juicy tomatoes. And so, after a moment’s grief, I snapped it off completely. Goodbye flowers, goodbye tomatoes that could have been.
The next morning my devotional Bible reading took me to John 15, where Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches. I love how God does that.
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.John 15: 4-5
I got what he was saying. I’d seen it right before my eyes, how there’s no way a branch can produce fruit unless it remains fully connected to the vine. As I sat and pondered, it occurred to me how accustomed we have become to portable devices. As a teenager, I spent a good deal of my evenings on the phone with friends. I had to sit in one place for however long the conversation lasted. I was like a dog tied to a lamp post – I could only move within a two-meter radius of where the phone was plugged in. If I needed to get something, I would see how far the wire would stretch, but if it didn’t reach, I’d have to choose whether to put the phone down for a second or go without. In my determination to get whatever I was after, I’d often stretch the wire just an inch too far and pull it out of the wall, bringing an abrupt end to the conversation.
I remember when cordless phones became popular. My Mum’s friend had one, and she once dropped it in the freezer while on the phone to my Mum. They both thought it was hilarious that a phone could fall in the freezer mid-conversation. Nowadays, we think nothing of having a phone in our pocket all day long. We just charge it up overnight, and away we go.
I got to wondering, do we treat our quiet times like a charging station? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if we are in the habit of regularly spending time reading our Bibles and connecting with God. But are we sitting with him in those times thinking that we’re filling ourselves up with enough charge before we head off alone into the rest of our day?
These verses reminded me that we are meant to stay in Jesus. He didn’t say, “come to me for half an hour or so in the morning, and I’ll fill you up for the day.” He said, “You’re in me, and I’m in you. Stay in me. Dwell in me. Remain in me.” Why? Because he’s made us to bear fruit and we can’t bear fruit when we’re cut off from the vine. If we are phones and he is the source of power, we are not mobiles to use and recharge, we are chorded phones who have to stay plugged in to work. If we disconnect from Jesus as we head out into our days, we’ll wither. Nothing we do can bear fruit if we are not abiding in Jesus. But the Father’s desire is for us to be fruitful.
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: 7-8
How many things have we invested our time, resources and energy in without being plugged in? I can think of many moments and activities where I’ve given myself in the service of Jesus that haven’t been fruitful. Reflecting on them through this lens, I can see that I’ve acted like a corded phone that’s not plugged in. The phone looks functional and fit for purpose, but there’s no life in it, no connection. I might have looked and sounded like a Christ-follower, but I’d not been operating from a place of abiding. My work was fruitless, and so didn’t bring glory to the Father.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
We have been made to bring glory to God and enjoy him forever. When God draws us to himself and pours his love into our hearts, worship is a natural overflow. Inwardly, we love to praise him, celebrate who he is, and delight ourselves in his character. Outwardly, we want our lives to point to his goodness, power, kindness, holiness, mercy, and generosity. Our lives bear the best witness to him when we are fruitful, and we’re only fruitful when we abide in Jesus. So tomorrow, when we put our Bible on the shelf until the next day, let’s not unplug and wander off into our day. Instead, let’s stay close to Jesus all day long, listening to his voice, noticing what he might want to do in a situation and enjoying his presence. Let’s be abiding, fruit-bearing branches.