The gospel of John has always been difficult for me to read. Unlike the other three, John is written with more poetic flair, and since I do not have an artsy bone in my body, much of its beauty is lost on me. Nevertheless, this gospel is the inspired Word of God, the very breath of God, and like all of Scripture, I hear the living Word speak to me through the written word.
In John 15, Jesus is giving His “I am the vine” speech to His disciples. In this context, Jesus says to me,
Remain in me, and I will 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. (John 15.4)
What follows, is a short sermon where Jesus used the word “remain” no less than six times in 12 verses. He then finished the “remain in me” discourse by saying,
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. (John 15.16)
The context of John 15 is that Jesus is about to be arrested, and the events of the crucifixion will quickly follow. But before those events begin, He takes the time to encourage the apostles and to clarify their calling. They will become witnesses to Jesus since they have been with Him, and Jesus chose them so that they could bear fruit that will last, and the only way to bear that kind of fruit is to remain in Him.
Several years ago, I was shocked and encouraged to read of the private diary that Mother Teresa left behind when she died in 1997. For most of the world, she was a model of great faith, but her private thoughts revealed a woman who lived primarily in the dark night of the soul. She was encouraged by her superior to write out her thoughts, capturing the struggle of her soul. She wrote,
They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of loss of God. In my soul, I feel just the terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing….Jesus, please forgive the blasphemy — I have been told to write everything –that darkness that surrounds me on all sides. I can’t lift my soul to God: No light, no inspiration enters my soul.
One thing I have discovered about the calling of preaching and pastoring is that fighting off depression seems to be a common battle for those who are called to pastor. I am not implying that we are all in need of medication, but that a spiritual battle rages in our soul as we stake our very lives upon the claims of the gospel and seek to be used by God to herald the good news. I don’t know if what I experience as a pastor is any different for those who are not pastors, but I constantly struggle with the value and worth and veracity of the gospel. Not because I doubt it, but because the Enemy is constantly assailing my soul.
Which is why the words of Christ to me today are so meaningful. He has chosen me to go and bear fruit, but the only way that I can bear fruit is if I remain in Him. The most important thing I will do today is to remain in Him. The dark night of the soul is a call to remain and endure.
Fruit bearing is on the other side.