“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 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. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11, ESV)

I grew up in an old farm house with a small orchard of apple, pear, and cherry trees. There were only about a dozen of them altogether. Neither of my parents were farmers and they never pruned the trees, allowing them to grow wild. As a result, much of the trees’ energy went into growing new branches, and the fruit the trees produced tended to be small. By contrast, there was a nearby apple orchard that was properly cared for. The farmer pruned the tree branches late each winter and though the trees were smaller than ours, they bore much big, delicious looking fruit. They were “fruitful,” as the farmer intended.

God intends that our ministries will be fruitful for His purposes. Like a good vinedresser, He checks the vine and prunes the sections that are not fruitful so that the energy of the vine can go to the fruit-producing areas. Dead vines must go, and growing vines must be pruned back so the energy can go into producing fruit, not just growing long vines. We once had a grape vine on a trellis that grew up the trellis, and along the gutters of the house, extending long distances across the top of the house. It was decorative, pretty to look at, but these long sections never bore any fruit. They needed to be trimmed back so the grapes could grow.

Like you, I want my teaching ministry to be fruitful for God’s purposes. I want to study God’s Word with people in ways the Holy Spirit can use to grow them, so their lives will bear the fruit of the Spirit, and they will be fruitful in sharing the gospel with others. For this to happen, I need to be abiding in Christ, abiding in His love for me, obedient to what He teaches me. I need to stay connected with Christ through prayer, studying the Scriptures, and obedient to His commandments. When I do this, I abide in His love, just like how Jesus obeys the Father and abides in His love. This is how Jesus glorifies the Father, and how you and I can glorify Him as well.

Don’t fool yourself. No ministry role or set of responsibilities is a substitute for our own intimate relationship with God, for our own obedience to God, for resting and abiding in His love for us. Studying the Bible with others in itself does not bear fruit, for only when we are connected to the vine are we able to bear the fruit God seeks. Over time, if we lose this connection, Jesus says that the vinedresser cuts away the dead vines and burns them. They have lost their ability to be fruitful, for they have no life within them.

On the other hand, when we keep His commandments and abide in Christ, God’s life-giving power is available to strengthen and guide us to be fruitful for God, including in our teaching ministries. Pruning still takes place, trimming away what does not contribute to fruit-bearing. This kind of pruning brings about good results—we can see the fruit that grows and we can rejoice, glorifying God for His work within us. In this way, we experience something of Jesus’ own joy in being connected to the Father and being fruitful in His own ministry. By having His joy in us, our joy becomes full. Jesus wants us to understand this and is why He tells us this parable.

How is your vine doing? Are you staying connected with God, abiding well so that He can bring about fruit in your life and through your teaching? Has God been pruning some areas of your life that are not fruitful? Not an enjoyable experience, but the end result can increase our joy as we see how God works in and through us. Continue to walk closely with God, abiding in Him and in His love for you. May this encourage you in the challenging times of life and ministry!

Jesus, please help me to continually abide in you, obedient to your teaching, resting in your love for me, so that your love can flow through me and bear good fruit. When pruning takes place, despite the pain, help me to see the good you are producing through it, the fruit that grows, so that I may glorify you and be joyful. May my teaching bear good fruit because of your life and love at work in me. When it does, I will thank you and praise you for your goodness and grace Amen.

This devotional is one of fifty-two from a collection, “Feeding the Soul of the Bible Study Leader.” If you would like to read more or share them with a friend, you can access them online at www.biblestudyleader.com and they are also available in book form through Amazon.com.