John 15:5-8 (NIV) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
We’re beginning a new series at my church in Franklin. For the past year or so, my pastor (I have a hard time just saying “Dad”) has been praying the same prayer at 8:30, “Lord, make the Vineyard fruitful.” So this sermon series is talking about discovering our placement in Christ. This discovery enables us to understand our God-given identity, and this identity propels us to be the people God created us to be. It’s an on-going process of discovery and rediscovery, of constantly going back to the promises of God, and seeing that the God who made us is also the God who sends us to be his people in the world.
We may have heard it said, maybe in a sermon or a graduation speech, that it is our role as Christ followers to do great things for God, or at least attempt to. But this kind of thinking has it all wrong. We can do no great things for God. God already has all the glory and honor, so we can do nothing that will add to his kingdom. God has already done the great thing in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and we witness to him (cf. John 5:19). Finding our purpose is not in doing; it is in being. Our identity is rooted in Christ.
Each of us have an inner fire, a divine spark in our hearts, where we sense our abilities, passions, and our life spent before God is lining up with each other, and it just feels right. Some might call this the “sweet spot.” This is the intersection of three spheres in the Christian life: self-discovery (inward), proper orientation (upward), and mission (outward).
Self-discovery is the foundation of our Christian identity. This is where we take a moment to remember who we are and who God is. 1st Corinthians 12:7 (MSG) says, “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.” It is not selfish to think that God’s plan involves us and that God created us for a specific purpose. Dr. Seuss said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” When come to realize that our personality is God’s specific wiring for us, when we realize how special we are, and that we are God’s workmanship (cf. Eph 2:10), we begin to see God as the God who cares for us. He made us. He loves us. We are children of God, and our identity is not from the world but from God. He made us unique. This process of discovering that we are created in the image of God is a freeing one. When we know who we are and whose we are, we will be able to see that our ability unveils our destiny. The things that we are passionate about are God-given. That is why they are called gifts.
And we orient ourselves completely towards God. The giftings, the wirings, and the personalities. We are created in God’s image in order to present ourselves for him (cf. Rom 12:1). Everything here on earth is from God and for God. We have been created to worship and to praise God. We exist to proclaim God’s beauty and to give God glory. John Wimber once said, “Our heart’s desire should be to worship God; we have been designed by God for this purpose. If we don’t worship God, we’ll worship something or someone else.” It’s because of God’s goodness that we direct ourselves towards him. He created us, and he also sustains us. We are drawn into relationship with God because he made us and because he loves us. With these two spheres, we find beauty in creation and the Creator.
But when we add in another sphere, in the proclamation to the world about these two truths, we get into the sweet spot. God sends Jesus, and he sends us out into the world (cf. John 17:18). You are called to a certain place to proclaim the message of God. The workplace is a missionary opportunity just as much as another country. The question we must ask is, “Where has God called me to?” God is a big God, and he gives us big dreams to reach his people. The philosopher William James famously said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
We discover our identity as God-given, orient ourselves towards God, and then go. At this intersection, we are in the sweet spot where we can be propelled anywhere. There is a lot of talk about fruit as being a good indicator of someone’s ministry, but what is especially true in this passage is that the fruit is for God’s glory and not for us. God is the ultimate judge of what is fruitful or not. But we know that if we abide in him, he will be faithful to us, and if we are fruitful to him, he will be fruitful to us. All we have is from him, and all we need is him. This is the message we proclaim to the world.