by Kristen Narara
An old friend of the family recently told me about a conversation she had with her son when he was small.
It was early spring in Sweden and the cherry trees were starting to grow their fresh green branches outside their window. As the winter snow melted outside, she would clip some fresh branches and put them in vases of water on their windowsill. The family enjoyed watching the cherry blossoms bloom as they filled the room with the sweet smell of spring.
One day her little boy asked, “Mummy, when will we get to eat the cherries?”
Laughing at his innocence, she answered, “There won’t be any cherries, darling. This branch isn’t connected to the tree.”
“But look at all the flowers!” her son exclaimed. “You told me that when the flowers bloom on the trees that means we would soon have cherries to eat.”
My friend stood there, struck by the simple yet profound lesson that was unfolding before them. While this branch looked like it would be fruitful, its looks were deceiving. The branch’s life-source had been cut off and very soon the flowers would wilt and the whole branch would shrivel and die.
Jesus said: “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 15:4-6).
Our family recently moved to a new city, leaving a well-established church and great Christian community, in order to secure a new job for my husband. I struggled a great deal with why God would desire to move us from such a secure and fruitful situation to one of such uncertainty. I began to understand that God was pruning us for his purposes, that we might cling more closely to Jesus. While I maintain my confidence in God’s sovereign goodness in bringing (read: dragging) me to Abu Dhabi, I am continuing to learn why this process of pruning was necessary. God’s grace sustains me through the challenge to keep walking by faith, pursue holiness, and rest in Christ my Vine.
In our old home we were blessed to be part of a community of believers who passionately lived out the Great Commission to make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands (Matt. 28:18-20). We were fed gospel truth from the pulpit weekly, discipled by seasoned believers during the week, bolstered by our homegroup, and given opportunities to disciple and serve others. I felt full and satisfied, challenged and prepared for the Christian life because of the community that I was part of. The branches that grew beside me were flourishing and I loved it.
Then we left. And so did the full feeling.
Where being surrounded by believers and friends had been comfortable and pleasantly busy, being alone with God has been awkward and uncomfortable, quiet and even lonely. Where worship was something I joyfully participated in at different gatherings, solitary prayer has been painfully unfocused and Bible study never more mechanical and dry. I could blame it on homesickness or a new environment and make all kinds of excuses for this dry spell. After all, Christian community is good for me! But I know there’s more to my feelings of emptiness than that.
While my God-centered, God-glorifying church community had served me so well, I saw with clarity how I had become lazy in my own personal pursuit of God. Church activities and the work of ministry had become my primary spiritual life-source. By clinging to the foliage instead of to Jesus the Vine I was just like the branch of cherry blossoms in my friend’s living room in Sweden and I was starting to fade fast.
Jesus said: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me” (John 15:4).
It baffles me how easily I managed to turn even one of God’s greatest blessings – Jesus’ bride, the Church – into an idol. Our God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5) and he will not share his glory with another (Isa. 42:8) – not even the Church. And I know that God is pruning me to show me that without him I am weak and that his grace is sufficient for me (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
So now I am at a cross-roads. As we get more and more involved in serving in our new church, I have the choice to take the more comfortable and familiar route of dependence on others for my spiritual vitality. Or I can choose to cling to the Vine, drink deep from his life-giving sap and bear fruit that will last. Teach me, Lord, that Christ is sufficient for me.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Kristen was born in Papua New Guinea and grew up in Australia. Kristen is a member of ECC Off-Island Church in Abu Dhabi along with her husband, Nigel (aka Captain Nigel), who is an airline pilot. They have one son, Kingston. Kristen is well known for her outstanding baking skills and hospitality, and can turn any stranger into her friend for life.