Saying Goodbye to a Life of Striving
There’s a steady heartbeat that pulses through the I AM statements of Jesus. If you listen close enough, you can hear this constant rhythm echoed in each of Jesus’ declarations:
Depend on me.
Lean on me.
Rely on me.
Come to me.
Be nourished by me.
In a world that woos us to rely on self and strive to be enough, Christ shows us that utter dependence on His strength, enoughness, and power is the better way. It’s in this place of clinging to His strength and leaning into it that we find the fullest life—a life functioning from an overflowing spring rather than a ever-emptying well.
This call to dependence is richly described in Jesus’ last I AM statement he issues to His disciples. Just chapters before Jesus is arrested and crucified, He gives the disciples a powerful picture of what their lives should look like, especially after He would no longer be with them in bodily form. He says,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener… 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. “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. John 15:1-5 (NIV)
Frankly, I am not a gardener AND I have a brown thumb, so this metaphor somewhat makes sense. Yet, when we look at the nature and anatomy of vines and their branches, His parting words come alive in a whole new way.
The Nature of the Vine
The vine is intended to be the ultimate supplier of nourishment. Vines carry nutrients to the branches, provide nourishment for those who eat its fruit, and give shade to the weary worker in the heat of the day. The vine supports the whole plant, carrying the weight of the branches and the fruit it bears. Whatever is connected to the vine shares the same nature as the vine and receives from the vine.
If Christ is the vine, that means He is the mere source, supplier and giver of all things. When Christ makes us new, He gives us a new nature– His nature. He supplies us with all we need for living a life of godliness. Just as the vine holds fast to its branches, so Christ holds fast to us. He gives us strength when we can’t hold on ourselves and nourishment when our hearts are weak. If the vine and the branch share the same nature, what makes them different?
The Nature of a Branch
In Andrew Murray’s description of a branch, he says, “A branch is simply a bit of wood, brought forth by the vine for the one purpose of serving it in bearing its fruit. It is of the very same nature as the vine, and has one life and one spirit with it.” In other words, the branch has the same make up as the vine except the vine is the source of strength and the branch is the recipient of it. The sole purpose of the branch is to bring forth the fruit that the vine produces.
As followers of Christ, we are inseparably one with Christ. We are connected to Him in such a way where we simply cannot function without Him. Just as the vine houses nutrients to supply to the branches, Christ is our ultimate source of all things. That is why apart from Him, we can do nothing. GOSH that can really rub me the wrong way– can you relate? As a recovering “work-for-grace girl”, I struggle to accept that I’m really not able to “contribute” to my salvation, identity, or worth by my works. Not one iota.
However, I know that conforming to this life of dependence brings freedom. Freedom from the pressure to perform, do enough and “bear” enough. When we begin to live a life of abiding instead of striving, we’ll find that “the branch has no care ; the vine provides all; it has but to yield itself and receive. This truth leads to the blessed rest of faith, the true secret of growth and strength.” (Andrew Murray). There’s a rest and freedom that comes when we abide instead of strive.
Giving Into the Gardener
I’m not going to lie– everything in me wants to refuse this message. My whole being says, “No! I have to work for something; I must play a part in this. It CANNOT be this easy.” But that’s the beauty of the Gospel– it isn’t as complicated as we make it. Jesus is sufficient and we really do have all that we need in Him.
The truth is– we are the branch and we are not called to be any more than that. We do not bear the responsibility of the vine nor are we asked to pick it up. As Andrew Murray puts it, “The purpose is His, He will carry it out; the fruit is His, He will bring it forth; the abiding is His, He will maintain it.” Our call is to stay in a place of complete dependence and confidence in the One who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
As we take a hard look at the basis of our identities, can we honestly say dependence on Christ is the driving force behind them? Have we relinquished the desire to do all and be all and given into the Great Gardener who simply asks that we surrender all? The constant call to depend through the I AM statements of Jesus is something we simply cannot ignore. If dependence is in fact God’s design, we can trust that we’ll have the full and abundant life that comes from abiding in Him.
Giving into the simplicity of abiding and depending on Christ may be the answer to the fullness we’ve been craving and the purpose we’ve been desperately looking for. Friend, we have permission to lay down our lives of striving, and learn the art of abiding.