Friday, July 09, 2010

The Semi-Circle : Living In Rhythm with Life

‘Lifeshapes’ are a series of tools for discipleship – for helping us to follow Jesus, and to help others to follow Jesus. Recognising that we live in an iconic culture, where brand logos both carry and unlock significant volumes of experience for us – try it: how much information and experience does the Disney logo, or the Apple logo, or the M&S logo recall to your mind? Choose a logo and write a list – they make use of simple iconic shapes to carry and unlock biblical teaching to live by, with a focus on the life and ministry of Jesus. The beauty of iconic symbols is this: that, just as with every new Disney (etc.) release, the reservoir of knowledge their logo carries and unlocks expands; so with every new thing we learn about living as disciples, the reservoir of knowledge the Lifeshapes carries and unlocks for us also expands.

On the night of his arrest, walking through Jerusalem from the Upper Room where he had celebrated the Last Supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, Jesus and his disciples look up at the Temple. There on the wall is the giant gold frieze of a vine, the symbol of God’s people planted by God himself in the Promised Land, lit by the firelight of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Passover. And Jesus declares that he is the true vine (John 15), and goes on to describe the experience of the life of his disciples:

they are the branches that grow out from the vine, bearing fruit;

once the fruit is harvested, the branches are pruned back: those branches that have not borne fruit are cut off and thrown in the fire; while those that have borne fruit are pruned right back to the vinestock;

the vinestock (as all trunks do) grows thicker year-on-year, surrounding the pruned-back branches, from which they will grow out again, themselves stronger, able to bear more fruit than the year before.

There is a rhythm: of remaining, or abiding, in the vine; growth; fruit; and pruning. And we should expect just such a rhythm in our lives; learn to recognise the points where abiding turns to growth, growth to bearing fruit, fruitfulness to pruning; and to go with the gardener, rather than resist him.

So, as we spend time with Jesus, in the hidden place where no-one sees, in time we will become aware that our faith for producing a particular fruit in our life – patience, perhaps, or exercising the gift of healing – is growing. And then we will experience a season of fruitfulness – we demonstrate a patience that we had not known before; we pray for those in need of healing, and see healing more often than in the past. And then, just as we are enjoying this new experience, something happens: we stop bearing fruit; we might even notice that the fruit we were bearing, we are no longer bearing – we seem to be more impatient again; we pray, and don’t see healing, again. If we don’t know to expect this – if we don’t see it as a gentle invitation to abiding again (the idea of retreat in order to go forward) – then we will worry that something has gone wrong: that God has let us down, or that we have let him down and he has abandoned us, for now at least. In fact, it is un-pruned branches that grow too thin to support the weight of fruit, too long for goodness to travel from the vine. The life that does not embrace this rhythm will see a law of diminishing returns, bearing increasingly less and increasingly bitter fruit. On the other hand, the life that embraces this rhythm will bear much fruit, in season.

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