Grapes at Cave Ridge Vineyard photographed by Rod Shepherd and used with permission
For years, we had lush and lovely grapevines growing along a wood-and-wire fence behind our country home. We pruned, watered, and fertilized them, enjoying the sweet, luscious grapes and turning them into juice, jam, jelly, conserve, and even pie.
Having lived with grapes and grapevines up close, I’ve been fascinated by the many mentions of grapes and grapevines in the Bible. Some sources say the grape vine is mentioned more than any other plant in the Bible. Certainly, it would have been very familiar to ancient Israelites. In the Old Testament, the Promised Land, or Canaan, was reported by spies to have grapes that grew in large clusters… so large, they were carried on a stick between two men. Elsewhere, a fruitful vine represented obedient Israel while wild grapes or an empty vine conveyed Israel’s disobedience to God.
Perhaps one of the most well-known sayings of Jesus also called on His listeners’ understanding of grapes and their cultivation. “Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.’” (John 15:1-5 NET)
There was a wonderful book first published over 20 years ago called Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Through to Abundance (Breakthrough Series Book 2) by Bruce Wilkinson. It delivered some powerful lessons that deepened and strengthened my relationship with God. Here is my own take today on important spiritual growth lessons I’ve learned from my own grapevines.
- We Christians are influenced greatly by our environment, just as the grape harvest depends on many elements in the vineyard to thrive: sunshine, rain, good soil and good drainage. Some circumstances and people contribute more to our spiritual growth than others. It’s important to be careful where we plant ourselves and where we take root. It’s so much easier to grow to spiritual maturity and bear much fruit if we’re planted where the conditions and nutrients are ideal.
- We all need support. Grapevines are healthier when they're supported by a trellis or fence to let in more light and air. Time and again, when we Christians falter and fall, it is the effort of a fellow pilgrim who lends a helping hand to lift us up until we're strong enough to stand on our own. This support network is often the most important thing a church can offer its members and its community, and joining with others to help those less fortunate is critical in obeying the Great Commission.
- A weakness or dysfunction inside our families and churches affects everyone in it. When one part of the vine is unhealthy, the rest of the vine—and the resulting fruit harvest—can suffer. It’s why we must support and love each other so we stay strong in the body of Christ.
We should spend more time abiding in God—drawing near to Him and His teachings—than we spend striving to gain approval. Grapes don’t have to strive to become full and sweet. They just stay closely attached to the vine, from which they derive their nourishment. This is the lesson I most vividly remember from Wilkinson’s book, and it’s one I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog (See “Abide In Me:” Christ’s Hard Command).
- Pruning is critical to both humans and grapes. Grapevines must be severely pruned each year to grow stronger instead of weaker. God’s pruning in our lives can be painful, but it allows God to get closer to the essence of who we really are and to make space for Him in our lives. I don’t think the analogy means we are necessarily being punished when we are being “pruned.” The process is more like deadheading, clearing, or decluttering—getting rid of what’s unnecessary so our available energy and resources are focused on what’s really important. Unlike grapevines, we can actually do some effective self-pruning.
- We are vulnerable to sin, weakness, and fear, just as grapes are vulnerable to birds, deer, and disease. A grapevine might need to be fenced or covered with netting, and we sometimes need to protect ourselves from predators, such as soul-sucking people and bad influences.
- We must always hope for a better harvest and never despair if we have a poor season. One bad harvest doesn’t mean the vines won’t produce next year. The natural cycles of birth, death, and renewal create a theme of hope and renewal we see over and over again in nature and in Holy Scripture. A poor harvest might just be a wake-up call to move closer to God, pay more attention to our environment, and make sure we are abiding in His light and love.
The lessons learned from my grapevines are like many lessons I learn from connecting with nature. They nourish me spiritually and strengthen my connection with God, the creator of all nature.
Have you found being outside and observing nature has nurtured your spiritual life? Your experience may help someone else, so I hope you'll share in the comments below or on Heartspoken's Facebook page. Hop on over there and click the LIKE button while you're there!