By Michael Cooper
My wife said I needed a hobby to take my mind off the day-to-day grind of being a pastor. So I planted a garden.
I’ve been determined to work hard, till the soil, and labor faithfully over this small Eden in my back yard. Every day I’ve gone out to pull weeds, water, and wait for the results.
To my surprise I’ve begun to see the results of my labors in the form of cucumbers, tomatoes, and jalapeños. But this experience has taught me some important truths relating to personal discipleship as I read John 15:1-8.
Jesus Is the Vine
In John 15:1-8, Jesus says He’s the vine—the source of life. We’re the branches or shoots. Jesus also says repeatedly, “remain in me.” The point is clear: as we remain in Jesus, we’ll experience growth.
Jesus is the true vine, meaning He’s the healthy vine. Personal discipleship begins as we remain in Him. We experience fruit, growth, and overwhelming grace as we live in Jesus. This union with Christ is the key to discipleship.
Furthermore, Jesus promises if we abide in Him, we’ll experience this personal growth in discipleship. At no point will the vine rot, wither, or die.
The Father is the Gardener
As I work my actual garden, I realize the importance of pruning. Pruning is different than simply ripping out the dead stuff. Pruning involves care, caution, and correction to remove the bad shoots so that the good shoots can grow.
Recently, I had to remove a cucumber vine that was growing rapidly. I noticed it wasn’t producing anything and was hindering the other vines. So, through careful pruning, I got rid of it.
The good news is that in personal discipleship in Christ, the Father lovingly prunes us so we can grow. He corrects our direction, leads us to repentance, and graciously cleanses us from sin.
The truth of the matter is God wants us to grow and flourish. And the only way to achieve that result is through the careful pruning of the Father.
The Water of the Word
Jesus makes two direct statements about His Word. First, He says we’re already clean because of the Word, and second, if the Word remains in us, we can ask the Father anything.
The living water of the Word flows through the vine of Christ to us, the shoots. This Word produces the fruit that grow in us. As we abide in the Vine, His Word abides in us.
But this Word in us is coupled with prayer. As the Word works within, prayer works it out. These two crucial spiritual disciplines are the bedrock of personal discipleship.
As we soak in the Word, it saturates our lives. And prayer is how the living water of the Word works it all out in our lives. As we prayerfully read the Word, Jesus is then able to grow us, resulting in fruitfulness.
The Glorified Growth of Fruitfulness
Every morning, my five-year-old daughter and I walk through the garden. We see the fruit and vegetables growing after much labor. There’s a sense of joy as we identity the ripe results, to the extent that my daughter’s face lights up as she picks them.
In a small way, I think this gives a picture of what Jesus means when He claims, “My Father is glorified by this: that you produce must fruit.”
As we live in the vine, soak in water activated through prayer in the Spirit, and experience the loving pruning process, the Father is glorified in the fruit springing forth from His children. It gives the Father pleasure to see His little shoots grow and produce fruit.
How Does This Relate to the Pastor’s Personal Discipleship?
As pastors, we desire to see the church we serve grow in personal discipleship with Christ. But we must not forget Jesus wants us to grow as well.
He’s laboring, cultivating, and keeping us as the New Adam. He wants His garden to grow faithfully—He wants you to grow!
If you desire to see the little shoots of Christ’s garden grow, you must focus on your personal growth. Here are four practical steps for personal discipleship:
1. Abide in Christ.
We must abide in Christ. Your union with Christ is the source of everything in your life. But an equally important truth must be stated as well.
You’re not the vine for your people. You’re not the fruit-producer–only Jesus is. We must always point people to Christ, the true vine, calling His shoots to abide in Him.
2. Repent of revealed sin.
As the Father loving prunes you, be quick to repent, knowing it’s part of the discipleship process. As the Father reveals the wild branches, yield to the Spirit. Let Him do His work. The Father is a gracious gardener.
3. Soak in the Word and pray.
Soak in the Word, which is activated by prayer. If you want to grow more in love with Christ, live in His Word and pray that it takes root in your heart. We must carefully guard personal time with the Lord. We must walk with Him, hear His voice, and talk with Him in prayer.
4. Bear fruit for God’s glory.
Realize God is glorified when you produce the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is the intended result of the Father. He desires for you and me to abide in His Son because He wants to grow us. He wants our lives to be fruitful.
The discipleship process isn’t very complicated. It’s a simple process. But we throw off the process if we try to cultivate the garden of our lives.
We’ll only grow frustrated as we try to circumvent the growing process, make our own decisions apart from the Word, and attempt to produce the fruit on our own.
Because Jesus really means it when He says, “you can do nothing without me.”