Jesus said, “…every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful..” (John 15.2), The Bible
Zac laughed. He has a deep chuckle, but its not always an innocent laugh… On this occasion he was shutting his cousin Aedan out of the playhouse. When Euan and Zac come down for the weekend, we put up the plastic playhouse – outside if it’s nice, but there’s room in the living room to squeeze it inside if the weather’s normal. When we first bought it, Euan was of an age to enjoy it and Zac wasn’t interested. It took some firm intervention from Tom and Jen to help Euan develop a sense of mine – and Zac’s; everything was “mine”. Euan would take a toy from Zac, even if Euan wasn’t really playing with it; a small improvement was to swop a toy he didn’t want for one that Zac had; Zac got no choice in this, you understand. Before long, Zac was holding his own, but then the balance shifted; Zac is well built, and when Jen shouted ‘Get off your brother!’ she wasn’t speaking to Euan. Euan is much better at sharing, but is going through that phase where he thinks Mummy’s commands can be negotiated and finding out the hard way that they can’t.
For quite a while, when Zac was interested in the playhouse, his way was blocked by his brother, first overtly, and then more subtly. Now Zac has moved into Euan’s place, taking control of the playhouse and blocking Aedan. Aedan must be waiting for the next grandchild, so he can practice what he has learnt – although maybe not, as Nathan discovered at Mums & Toddlers; despite being 11 months older, he suddenly found the toy he was playing with purloined by Aedan and tried to find solace with his Mother. Parents – as opposed to those ‘experts’ who seem to have never lived with children – will recognise instantly everyday normality. We are hard-wired to live at the centre of our own little world, and our natural state is to be selfish and disobedient. Although a natural state, it is a state ultimately lived in opposition to God, and called sin.
Just as parents recognise this wilfulness present in the every day lives of their children, so an honest reflection on our own lives reveals that there is much about which we are not proud; although we are good at minimising and finding excuses for our less than noble behaviour, if we are honest, we know we are not the people we ought to be. In truth we have spent a lifetime honing and refining – and hiding – an inner ‘you’ that we’re not so proud to be. Which leads me to a question for this season; after a life time of making New Year resolutions, what makes you think that you will keep it any longer than, say, 23rd January? It’s so hard to change, because our nature is still rooted in that child.
The trouble is, we are trying to change ourselves, and we’re very resistant to that. Christian realism recognises that we just don’t change, but Jesus promises to change us from within by changing us through his strength and power. To a Samaritan woman with a very chequered history, he promised an internal ‘spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ (John 4.14), meaning that the Holy Spirit he gives is cleansing and purifying from within; elsewhere he uses the metaphor of fire for the same purpose. He declares to us all that ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10.10), rather than the distorted and crushed version we so often live. Allowing him to change and transform us is not cost-free, but nonetheless vital; he uses the image of a vine: ‘I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful.’ (John 15.1-2). Trimming clean means there will be cost and loss in following Christ; but also fruit.
A workable – and lasting – New Year’s resolution would be to find out more about Jesus and his life-transforming promises; enough people are able to give personal testimony to the difference it has made to them in coming to him to make it a worth while exercise for you to find out more. It’s not that they are better at keeping resolutions; they have been changed and are in many senses no longer the person they were, and now have a new horizon, a new destination, a new friend, and daily power to be different.It doesn’t happen all at once – but we can testify, it does happen.
Praying that you may find not just one but many NEW years in Christ as he transforms you into the person he – and you – want to be.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,