I guess we have all had a parcel delivered to our home marked ‘fragile’; meaning that care must be taken because, if the item contained within is broken, it will be in a worse state. But what is the opposite of fragile? Some would say ‘robust’, but the meaning is more along the lines of ‘being difficult to break’. Nassim Taleb points out, in his fascinating book ‘Antifragile’,that there seems to be no word in English to describe the opposite of fragile: i.e. that when broken, the item is improved or gets stronger.
However, this seems to be the experience of every true follower of Jesus. The path of discipleship is one of death and resurrection, valleys and mountain tops, pruning and fruitfulness. It really does help if we are aware of the season that we are in, so that we can respond appropriately.
I am the vine
“Come now, let us leave.” is how John 14 ends. Jesus and his disciples had just eaten the last supper together. They walked down the steps from the upper room and out into the bustling streets of Jerusalem. It was Passover and the population of the city would be significantly swelled with visitors for the festival – the smell of roast lamb and the sound of psalms being sung was in the air.
To get to the Mount of Olives, which is where they were heading, they would have walked through the Kidron valley, passing Temple Mount on the way. The Temple was embossed in gold and silver and proudly displayed a symbol of Israel, ‘The Vine’. Could it be that we have recorded for us the words of Jesus at this point in the journey, in John 15:1, “I am the true vine”?
In John 15, Jesus gives us an insight into the various seasons which we will live through as His followers. These are Abide – Grow – Bear Fruit – Prune – Abide – Grow – Bear even more Fruit – etc. Mike Breen, in his very helpful book ‘Building a Discipling Culture’ uses the shape of a semi-circle to depict this. He points out that, as a pendulum swings back and forth, so we move back and forth through these seasons as we develop as followers of Jesus. Paul Maconohie helpfully points out that responding to the seasons of life as a follower of Jesus involves investing in relationships and wisely deploying resources.
Abiding and Pruning
It seems that these seasons can be grouped together. These are times when we feel cut back, times of ‘dying’ or ‘valley’ experiences. What should we do, as followers of Jesus, in these seasons? How are we to respond? I would suggest that, in these times, we should focus on relationship. These are often seasons of reduced resource – so less physical, emotional, spiritual capacity or energy. Therefore, it would be best to decrease activity in these times and to focus on relationship. We should focus on our relationship with God, our relationship with other followers of Jesus that we are close to and our relationship with those that we are trying to reach with the Good News. You feel like you are down in the valley, so drink from the river. This is not a time for taking on new spiritual disciplines but for doing what comes easiest for you to keep walking with Jesus.
Growth and Fruitfulness
In these seasons we feel like it is a time of ‘resurrection’ or ‘a mountain top season’. In these times, there is an increase in resources. You have more energy, more people around, maybe more financial resources; there are more ideas and opportunities etc.
There is no fast flowing river on the mountain top, so we need to excavate to get to ‘water’. This is a season for engaging with spiritual disciplines that may stretch us: maybe a season of fasting or increased levels of prayer etc. If the previous season was about investing in relationships, this new season is about deploying resources. The growth and fruitfulness can tempt us to think that we can make this all happen now, so the focus on spiritual disciplines help to remind us that we are dependent on God. This is a season to be active in reaping, trying new things and equipping the new disciples.
Seasons come and go
Which season do you find yourself in at the moment? Is it a season to abide and respond to pruning – a time to focus on relationship and to sow good seed as you weep, knowing that the seasons will move on and the harvest will come?
Is it a season of growth and fruitfulness – a time to be active in reaping and to wisely deploy resources? Can you see where the fields ready for harvest all around you?
As a follower of Jesus, it is vital to remember that seasons come and go but His love for us is consistent throughout. Whatever season you are in at the moment, may you know how to respond wisely so that you will increasingly be the person that Jesus invites you to be.