Recently in my discipleship group we had a lesson that was paired with John 15:5-7. While this is a favored verse for many, I was not the only one in the group who expressed disfavor for this verse. However, I had by far the strongest feelings about it. After being confronted with this verse four separate times in the same week it showed up in discipleship group, I decided that I needed to delve into my disfavor toward it. This also inspired me to decide to have an on-going blog series called Delve into the Disfavor, which will focus on verses that I or many Christians struggle with and my thinking through of what shaped my feelings toward those verses. I hope this helps others delve into the reasoning behind their own discomfort with certain verses. So here we go!
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
John 15:5-7 (ESV)
There are a couple parts of this passage that rubbed me the wrong way for many years. First, I believe “apart from me you can do nothing” is difficult for anyone who isn’t firm in their faith to hear in a largely post-Christian society that promotes the idea that we all have control over the direction of our lives. Especially during my time separated from the church, I fully believed that it was I (and possibly the people I knew) who controlled the route my life would follow. Even once returning to church and rediscovering my faith, I think fully giving in to the belief that God has full control over our lives was one of the hardest parts because as humans we crave control. While we can try to control our paths, ultimately we are most fulfilled when we give ourselves to God to be used for the purpose he has intended for us.
Second, I have struggled with being able to believe the last verse of the passage, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Some of the life events that surrounded me separating myself from the church included my parents’ bitter divorce, my grandmother dying of cancer, and my dad being diagnosed with cancer. It felt like no matter how much I prayed, no matter how many times I asked God to heal a situation I was affected by, it fell on deaf ears. This ended up having quite the effect on my life views. It was after I returned to church as an adult that I took a new approach to prayer. I had spent my whole life praying that God would change how things affected me, but I never prayed that his plan would be played out. I never prayed for the best interest of the other person/people. Shortly after I returned to church, I began praying for others instead of myself. Instead of asking God to help someone see that I was good for them, I prayed that God help someone work through whatever struggles they were facing in the way that best served that. If I started to think “I wish God would make ______ situation with so-and-so work out in _______ way,” I would stop myself and instead pray that the situation worked out in the way God knew was best.
So when I was confronted by this passage in discipleship group after having not paid it much attention since returning to church, I had a reaction of disfavor because it brought up a lot of baggage I still carried from past life experiences. Delving into this disfavor helped me see this passage for the positive, encouraging word of God that it is.