How many rainbows do you see each year? I think it’s safe to say I’ve gone whole years without seeing one, or at least without seeing a colorful one that stood out. However, within the past few months I’ve seen at least four, all of which were very colorful and memorable! I’ve seen several more earlier this year as well.
I am thankful for this seemingly small grace. It’s been a tough year for our family in a number of ways. God has been pruning us. Sometimes during those times of pruning I need a reminder of God’s promises, and those rainbows have been a vivid reminder. We normally think of the rainbow as a reminder of a specific promise: that God will never again destroy all flesh by a flood (Gen. 9:15-17). That, of course, is an important promise to remember. Yet, that promise is associated with a number of other promises; for example, the promise of a new heavens and new earth (2 Pet. 3:13) and the covenant we now enjoy through our own baptism into Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:18-22). In that the rainbow is a statement of God’s faithfulness in one promise, it becomes a kind of testimony to his faithfulness in all. So for me, when I see a rainbow, I am reminded not purely of his primary promise regarding the flood, but also of his many promises which are just as true and sure. How thankful I am for his faithfulness! “For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” (Psalm 33:4)
As I have reflected on God’s promises this year, I’ve come to wonder if I trust his promises as much as I should, and one promise in particular from John 15. In this beautiful chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the “true vine” with the Father being the vinedresser. As any good vinedresser, God wants – expects! – his branches to produce fruit. If they don’t produce fruit, Jesus tells us the Father will cut those off and cast them into the fire to be burned (v.2, 6). Alternatively, if the branches are producing fruit, the Father cares for those branches so that they produce more, but not in the way we might anticipate. Rather than watering and feeding and careful protection, Jesus says “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). God prunes us, not as punishment, but so that we might produce more fruit. That’s a promise of Jesus himself.
There is another promise later in this chapter, however, that I have also been thinking about since late last year1. Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8). I have to admit – I haven’t taken this promise seriously. That’s probably in part a pendulum reaction to peddlers of the so-called prosperity gospel. This is a key verse for careless commentators who say we should expect health and wealth, and I don’t want to go down that path. Yet, as is often the case, there is a danger in the other direction as well. We can easily qualify this promise to death as we seek to avoid the mistakes of others.
Reading the text with fresh (and, I think more Biblical) eyes, I can’t help but come to two obvious conclusions: God wants his people to be fruitful, and he is eager to provide what we need for that purpose. That’s the context of this promise. The context is not about health and wealth, nor is the context purely about those who were with him at that very moment. The context is about his followers bearing fruit.
If we are his followers today, he still wants us to bear fruit, and he has promised to help us in doing that. The only thing we have to do is ask. Do we believe this? Ask. Ask! If I want to be fruitful, all I need to do is ask God to help me be fruitful. I should ask for what I need. I should pray to him for the resources and wisdom and encouragement needed to be fruitful. And if I do this, then Jesus himself has promised: it will be given.
There’s an important condition – that I am abiding in Jesus and in his words and that he and his words are abiding in me. But that condition is not some nebulous, legalistic standard that I can never reach. It’s a basic standard of Christian living that any faithful Christian should be able to lay claim to. If I’m being a faithful (if imperfect) servant of Jesus, sharing in his mind and his will2, then I am abiding in him and he is abiding in me (v.10), and this promise is thus for me from my Savior. Accordingly, my prayer won’t be selfish and materialistic, but Kingdom focused and spiritual.
I’ve been chewing on this passage here and there throughout the year, and I’ve been asking more for God to help our family to be fruitful. He has already been providing! Our connection with the La Grange Church of Christ has just been one example of his providential care. When I think about those who have already stepped up to partner with us as well, I’m simply amazed. We’re already at 50% of our bare-bones budget within just a few months of fundraising, and I trust God is going to continue to provide for us in that way. But it goes far beyond just money. I’ve been praying for God to provide us the right place to live, the right connections when we arrive, and so on. Please pray those prayers with us! Our family really desires to be fruitful in Japan, and we are trusting in God to provide what we need to do that. The more I have seen him providing already, the more excited I am to get back and see what fruit God has in store in the field.
I’m so thankful for the many rainbows this year that have been pulling me back to meditate on the promises of God. I would encourage everyone to reflect on this specific passage and promise, and ask yourself what you can do to be fruitful for the Kingdom of God. Remember that you can’t be fruitful apart from Jesus. Our spiritual life and our ability to produce fruit of any kind is completely dependent upon him; we must be connected to the vine in order to produce fruit. But also remember that the Vinedresser and the Vine want the branches to be fruitful. It is to God’s glory that we are fruitful. And so let us ask with boldness, trusting in him to provide what we need to do his will. Imagine what the church would look like if it was full of people praying like this!
Would you like to be a part of bearing Kingdom fruit in Japan? Find out how to partner with us by clicking here.
1: Much thanks to Craig Hazen for his work on this point, which has proven a blessing. See his book, “Fearless Prayer” here: https://www.amazon.com/Fearless-Prayer-Why-Dont-Should/dp/0736973796
2: Rodney Whitacre, IVP NT Commentary Series – John (Olive Tree Bible version)