No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. John 15:4b

If you find yourself grunting and groaning, trying to bear fruit, you’re trying to reproduce on your own. Fruit can’t make itself grow. It only grows because it is connected to the nourishment of the vine.*

The truth of the speaker’s words blared through my mind as if from a bullhorn.

A few years ago my mind would have gone a completely different direction at the admonition. I would have beat myself up for not working harder to stay attached to the vine. I would have assumed my grunting and groaning meant I wasn’t trying hard enough to be close to Jesus. I should pray, read my Bible, and evangelize more—then the Christian life wouldn’t be so hard.

There was even a time that I thought bearing fruit meant a tally list of how many people had come to Jesus because of me, how many church committees I’d served on, and how many jobs I’d done well for God. (Somehow I had missed the verses that tell me the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.)

That was all BEFORE.

Before I understood grace. Before I grasped God’s commitment to me.

I don’t have to work to stay hooked up to the vine. My Lord, the vine, is holding onto me. I try to hold onto God, but He’s so big I can’t! He holds me in his own special way, not with iron tongs that snap me into a straight jacket of obedient, fruitful living.

Instead, God showers me with His love, putting His own nature within me, and then walks with me through the daily struggles of my life. The Lord puts within me the desire to talk to Him, get to know Him, and be like Him. He tells me to rest my head upon His shoulder for He is gentle.

He assures me that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30 NIV), or as it is stated in The Message, Jesus says: “Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.”

When I become a grunting, groaning piece of fruit it is often because I’ve taken upon myself the job of the Holy Spirit. I’m working really hard to bear fruit. Usually, that means I focus upon my failures and try to remake myself so I can be righteous. The only problem is the more I focus on my faults the more I seem to live them! Life becomes a burden and I feel beaten down by the yoke of righteous living.

That isn’t the Lord’s plan. He wants me to walk in the freedom of His grace. I did nothing to earn my salvation and I can do nothing to sustain it. He is the one that takes this faulty vessel and refashions it in His image. And how does He do that? By teaching me to lean hard on Him. As I abide in Him, I get to know Him. As I focus on Who He is, I become like Him.

A while back we went through a season of great financial difficulty. I wanted to trust God to provide for our family, but found it much easier to take my credit card to the grocery store than to sit home and pray for food.

I began to live in a continuous cycle of failure, guilt, and confession. I’d want to have more self-control in my spending, but the more I focused on my inability to trust God’s provision, the more I desperate I felt to buy the things we needed. Over a period of a few months I finally told the Lord, “I just can’t do this. All I know to do is to fling myself upon your mercy, not because I deserve it, but because mercy is part of your character.” 

As I felt the full impact of a sin I couldn’t control, I discovered the truth that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:21-23). I learned to abide in that grace instead of walking in my guilty failures, accepting His mercy in my inadequacies. Gradually, peace replaced my desperation and God revealed His heart to me as He refined the fruits of mercy and forgiveness in my life.

“Father, I don’t ever want to work at bearing fruit again. I want to rest in you and let you produce the righteousness you promise. Please give me the beautiful, luscious fruits I see in you. Keep me aware of my thirst for you so I can daily drink of your nourishment.”

**This is a very rough quote taken from a talk I heard by Eric Ludy, author of When God Writes Your Love Story.

A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents.us.