Experiencing Joy That Truly Satisfies
John 15:1-11

Is there anyone here who does not want to be joyful? I suspect that there are not too many people who would actually choose to be miserable. We would much rather be joyful than miserable. Joy and fulfillment are basic desires of every human being, yet very few people experience true joy. Very few people experience joy that endures hardship.

For most of us, joy is fleeting--that is, as long as our circumstances remain favourable, we remain joyful, but the minute our circumstances change for the worse, we tend to lose our joy. While this is completely normal, it is not as the Christian life is intended to be. In John, chapter 15, Jesus provides a clear explanation as to how we can experience joy that transcends our circumstances, joy that truly satisfies our soul.

If true joy is something you long for, I encourage you to listen well this morning--you may even wish to follow along in the text.

Jesus begins this passage, as He has other passages, by utilizing a metaphor to describe Himself to His disciples. Previously, Jesus has described Himself as "the bread of life ", as "the door ", and as "the good shepherd ". On this occasion Jesus explains to His disciples, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser "(v.1).

When Jesus utilizes the metaphor of a vine, its branches, and the vinedresser, He is not introducing a new religious metaphor. In the Old Testament, in many instances, God's vine is said to be Israel. The longest of such passages--Isaiah, chapter 5, verses 1 through 7--describe God's disappointment in Israel as His vine. Isaiah describes how God planted "the choicest vine ", how He "built a tower in the middle of (the vineyard) ", and how God "expected (the vine) to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones "(Isa. 5:2). Israel was supposed to be a vine with fruit-bearing branches.

Leaving our metaphor for a moment, the covenant God made with Israel was God's ordained means for relating to Him. To enter into a relationship with God, one had to enter into the covenant made with Israel.

For Jesus to come along and say, "I am the true vine " then, was to say something quite profound. By claiming to be the "true vine ", Jesus was declaring that salvation comes, not from being a member of the covenant with Israel, but from Him. True spiritual sustenance does not come from belonging to Israel, but spiritual sustenance comes from belonging to Christ.

Even for Christians this is a vivid reminder of where we get our spiritual vitality from. We are not nourished by belonging to the institution of the church. We are nourished in the church only as much as the church is abiding in Christ.

Jesus, not only describes Himself as the "vine ", but He also describes us as the "branches ". Branches, of course, have no life within themselves, but depend completely on the vine to which they belong. Branches that are not properly connected to the vine, Jesus reminds us, will fail to bear fruit and will be subsequently discarded(v.6).

In terms of our relationship with God, this is definitely not something we view as desirable. We do not want to be discarded by God, we want to bear fruit in Him. But here is the dilemma. Many people, though they don't want to be discarded by God, fail to do what is necessary to bear fruit.

What is necessary in order to bear fruit in Christ? There are two things that are necessary. The first thing that is necessary in order to bear fruit is we must subject ourselves to the vinedresser's pruning knife (v.2).

This, of course, can be an uncomfortable exercise. Our heavenly Father may choose to prune us by allowing us to face onerous work conditions. Our heavenly vinedresser may prune us by exposing us to challenging personal relationships. Some of us may be pruned by having to endure financial setbacks. There are many ways in which God may prune us, but what is crucial to remember is WHY He is pruning us.

By pruning us, God is not attempting to harm us. Any gardener or farmer knows that pruning promotes growth . God is pruning us for our own good. The author of Hebrews hits the nail on the head when he observes that, "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness "(Heb. 12:11).

How does this relate to experiencing joy? Pruning relates to joy, because pruning, though it be good for us, can often rob us of our joy. This is because the pruning we endure, the trials we endure, are not pleasant. Yet, in view of the fact that God is molding us into the image of Christ, we should maintain a measure of joy in all circumstances. We don't rejoice in the trial itself, we rejoice in what God is doing behind the scenes.

Does this describe you? When you experience trials, do you rejoice in the hidden work that our loving God is doing or do you lapse into self-pity, complaining, and brooding?

Patiently enduring the vinedresser's knife is one thing that is necessary in order to bear spiritual fruit, but there is also one other: In order to bear spiritual fruit we must constantly abide in Christ, the true vine . Abiding in the vine goes hand in hand with subjecting oneself to pruning. Only the branches that are abiding in the vine get pruned. So by virtue of abiding in the vine, we subject ourselves to the vinedresser's knife. What this means is that the key to bearing spiritual fruit, and the key to experiencing true joy, hinges on this one thing: Abiding in Christ .

Jesus says in verse 5 that "he who abides in Me . . . bears much fruit ". Conversely, those who don't abide in Christ are "thrown away "(v.6). Clearly, abiding in Christ is our best option. Jesus spells this out for us in verse 11, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full ".

The key to experiencing joy that is complete and full is faithfully abiding in Jesus Christ. So then, what precisely does it mean to abide in Christ? Practically speaking, how do we abide in Christ?

Quite simply, we abide in Christ by depending on Christ . That is, rather than depending on ourselves, we lean on Christ for help. The degree to which you are failing in your Christian walk corresponds to the degree you are failing to depend on Christ. For Jesus says in verse 5 that, "apart from Me you can do nothing ".

How do we depend on Christ? We depend on Christ, first of all, by refusing to depend on ourselves . No Christian should depend their bank account, no Christian should depend on their education, and no Christian should depend on their personal skills--none of these things can bear fruit. We are to depend on Christ alone, and we do this by keeping His commandments . Jesus says in verse 10 that, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love ".

I fear that too many people equate obedience to the commands of Christ with monastic deprivation and drudgery. The opposite, in fact, is true. God has designed His commandments to benefit us. God has designed His commandments to bring us joy. Jesus explains to the disciples that obedience and whole-hearted devotion to Him is the key to true joy(v.10, 11).

A familiar passage in Proverbs communicates this very truth. Perhaps many of you have memorized Proverbs 3:5, 6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight ".

Do you wish to travel the straight path that leads to abundant life? Then place your trust in Jesus Christ and obey His commands. Do you wish to avoid a life of chaos caused by poor decisions? Then stop trusting in your ability to govern your life; stop trusting in the security of your material resources.

To illustrate our need to trust Christ rather than ourselves, let me refer you to an article called "178 Seconds To Live". This article is about 20 pilots who were capable pilots in clear weather but who had never taken instrument training. Each pilot was put in a flight simulator and instructed to do whatever he could to keep the airplane under control as he flew into thick, dark, clouds, and stormy weather.

The article stated that all 20 pilots "crashed" and "killed themselves" within an average of 178 seconds. It took these seasoned pilots with skilled intuition less than 3 minutes to destroy themselves once they lost their visual reference points!

I read another account from a pilot who consciously decided to ignore the drastic correction that his instruments called for. The experienced pilot explained that he was confident in his sense of intuition about an airplane's motion.

Fortunately, a few moments later, the other pilot--who was busy entering data into the computer--looked up, saw that the instruments called for a drastic correction, grabbed the controls and made the necessary correction. He then looked with disbelief at the pilot who ignored the instruments and said, "Trust those things--we'll both live longer"(Hybels, Making Life Work , 201-202).

When the writer of Proverbs tells us not to lean on our own understanding, when Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing, they are making the point that no matter how smart we are or how much life experience we have, we still need to realize that human judgment is always limited and sometimes destructive.

What we desperately need is God's guidance for every aspect of our life. That guidance is available through the teaching of the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our job is not to question this guidance or assume that we know better. When we trust our judgment over God's we are like a pilot who second-guesses the instructions of his instruments.

If you want a life riddled with anxiety and confusion, then trust in your own judgment. But if you prefer to live a life filled with joy that transcends your external circumstances, then trust in Christ and follow His commands. The ability to experience true joy is before you. Choose to follow Christ in all things and you will know what it is to have abundant life. Amen.