Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches…and apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15. 5).
He is talking about growth, life, connection. The visible strength of the branches comes from a source, the vine. “Apart from me”, Jesus says, “you can do nothing”. At the core of Christianity is the assumption that we have a spiritual need. To be a Christian is to trust that God overcomes our weaknesses, forgives our failures, heals our brokenness. We can live in connection with the God who wants to give us grace, help, forgiveness, salvation. There is a human temptation to keep God at a distance. And yet, to be a Christian is to admit that we need a Savior; it is to say, “I can’t do this on my own”.
Here is the good news: when we ask for help, we discover that God’s grace is present in our weakness and this grace is sufficient. The Twelve Steps movement says it this way: When we confess that we are powerless, we are connected with an incredible power. Apart from me, you can do nothing, Jesus says. But if you live in me, as I live in you, there is an incredible power, an amazing grace.
If we read ahead in the story, we discover something equally astonishing. Jesus says, "I no longer call you servants, but I have called you friends" (John 15. 5). To be a Christian is to be a friend of Jesus, to be at home in his presence, to live in him, and to know that he is alive.
I’ll say this as simply as I know how: you are invited into a friendship with Jesus Christ, to experience this connection. If we live long enough, we discover the importance of friendships, because in friendships we become aware that we matter to some other person, and so we try to stay connected. How do friends stay connected? Again, simply, we stay in touch. Friends talk, listen, ask questions. Friends are genuinely interested; they want to learn about what is going on in each other’s lives.
What does a friendship with Jesus look like? There is time to talk and listen. This is prayer. A friendship with Jesus is all about prayer. The late Henri Nouwen met a seeker who seemed to be uncomfortable they happened to be seated next to each other at a charity function. Finally their conversation turned toward the real issue “I’m having trouble believing in God, in all of this”, she said. He looked into the eyes of the woman, and with intensity he said to her, “Give me five minutes a day, five minutes a day to be silent and in the presence of Jesus…five minutes”.
We pay attention to our friends. We talk and listen. Could you give five minutes a day to spend in the presence of Jesus? Beyond talking and listening, we ask questions and learn about the lives of our friends.
One evening recently I traveled with a couple of friends to an event that was out of town. Since we had time in the car together we were able to learn about each other, our hobbies, our children, our work. We laughed. We talked about serious issues. There were silences in the midst of the conversation. A friendship takes that kind of time.
How do we ask questions, how do we learn in the spiritual life? We turn to the scriptures. We open the Bible and we dive into it with our questions, and we begin to learn about this Jesus who is simple and yet also so mysterious!
Can a friendship lose its meaning? Yes. We can become disconnected. Sadly, I have friends whom I would not be able to find if I wanted to. We have lost touch. I regret that. And it’s true in the spiritual life. And so a friendship with Jesus is a relationship that we are called to invest in, to give time to. It is a gift, but we access the gift through the simple acts of prayer and scripture. To do these simple acts is to stay connected to him, even as the branches are connected to the vine.