Facilitating Mission through Prayerful Attention to God's Presence and Action
Jesus' metaphor of the Vine
and the branches goes to the heart of this truth.
The branch has no life other than the Vine. The Vine's purpose is to give
life; the branch's task is to abide (to stay, continue, dwell, endure, be
present, remain, stand, tarry) in the Vine.
The branch has no ability to bear fruit other than the Vine. The fruit
we bear, whether it is the fruit of the Spirit in our own character or the fruit
of others' transformation in Christ, is the result of the life of the Vine
flowing through us, the branches. As long as the branch is abiding in the Vine,
the Vine keeps the branch busy bearing fruit in its season. For a minister to
worry about performance and production is as odd as a branch straining to bear
fruit when all it has to do is abide in the Vine. This is not a passive abiding;
it is participating in a relationship and partnership with the Divine.
recently came across a story by Evelyn Underhill that poignantly
illustrates the metaphor of the Vine and branches.
"Now those sheep-dogs that afternoon gave me a much better address on the
way in which pastoral work among souls should be done than I shall be able to
give you. They were helping the shepherd to deal with a lot of very active sheep
and lambs, to persuade them into the right pastures, to keep them from rushing
down the wrong paths. And how did the successful dog do it? Not by barking,
fuss, ostentatious authority, or any kind of busy behavior. The best dog that I
saw never barked once, and he spent an astonishing amount of his time sitting
perfectly still, looking at the shepherd. The communion of spirit between them
was perfect. They worked as a unit. Neither of them seemed anxious or in a
hurry. Neither was committed to a rigid plan; they were always content to wait.
That dog was the docile and faithful agent of another mind. He used his whole
intelligence and initiative, but always in obedience to his master's directive
will; and was ever prompt at self-effacement. The little mountain sheep he had
to deal with were amazingly tiresome, as expert in doubling and twisting and
going the wrong way as any naughty little boy. The dog went steadily on with it;
his tail never ceased to wag.
"What did that mean? It meant that his relation to the shepherd was the center
of his life; and because of that, he enjoyed doing his job with the sheep, he
did not bother about the trouble, nor get discouraged with the apparent results.
The dog had transcended mere dogginess. His actions were dictated by something
right beyond himself. He was the agent of the shepherd, working for a scheme
which was not his own and the whole of which he could not grasp, and it was just
that which was the source of the delightedness, the eagerness and also the
discipline with which he worked. But he would not have kept that peculiar and
intimate relation unless he had sat down and looked at the shepherd a good
* "The Teacher's Vocation" chapter in Evelyn Underhill's,
The Mount of Purification: (The Inner Life Series), Longmans, 1960.
Abide in Me,
and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides
in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you
are the branches;... for apart from Me you can do nothing.
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Photography by Larry Glover-Wetherington, Copyright� 2001.
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