I became a Christian in 1970, and spent my first 5/6 years as an awakening believer just quietly reading my Bible and the occasional Christian book (didn’t really know where to get them!), going to a morning service at the parish church in Shoreham, Kent (there were no small groups or bible studies), praying as I best knew how, but without anyone to talk to about my faith or Kingdom things. It was a spiritually lonely time, and it won’t surprise you that I didn’t grow very much!
Then Jo and I, and by then, 3 children moved to Staplehurst in Kent, and after a few trial Sunday services with various local congregations, Kazy, Jamie and I decided to become part of Marden Parish Church. The vicar there was of the times when ‘first son inherits title or family business, second son joins the army, third son goes into the church’. Hugh was a third son! John Bickersteth was his 1st cousin once removed or something like that, and in the mid 70’s invited Hugh to Ashburnham Place, in the days when Colin Urquhart and Michael Harper were speaking on charismatic renewal, and holding meetings for Anglican clergy especially. As a result, our vicar found his career job became a relationship with Jesus instead, and at the time of our arrival, he started taking small groups of us to Ashburnham, prayed for me to be baptised in Holy Spirit, and started small Bible Studies in the vicarage, amongst other things.
One of the first of these bible studies was John 15 about Jesus being The Vine and us the branches, and suddenly all the lights came on for me; everything that had been in black and white became vividly noticeable in radiant Technicolor, everything that had been in mono became Dolby all-round sound, and everything flat became startlingly 3D. I was so excited I couldn’t understand why everyone was just quietly looking down at the bibles in their laps – didn’t they see that if we were branches joined to Jesus our main vine stem or trunk, then there was nothing to prevent His sap and ours mingling together – He in us, and us in Him, His very lifeforce flowing freely into us. That just had to make an astounding difference, incredible things just had to happen – they could never be the same again. I still get excited – and humbled by the empowering intimacy of it all.
In the Bible, God often refers to His people Israel as a vine or vineyard, and Jill Briscoe pointed out something the other week in Isaiah 5, and how, after fencing His vineyard with hedges and walls, God did everything necessary to ensure good fruit, including planting the fertile soil with “the choicest vine.” The word sorek, used to describe the plant, is the name of an especially fruitful species, and is not the common word normally used for a vine. Sadly as we know, God’s chosen ones became a wild vine (see Jer. 2:21), and because Israel would not listen to reason, the Lord took away “the hedge” around the vineyard, rained no rain upon them (Jer. 3:3), and the walls and land were trampled underfoot by the Babylonians. But God promised that He would preserve the few who believed, and that from the stock root that remained would eventually come the very choicest of vines – the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
So here we are, branches, not of just any old vine, but of the choicest Vine itself, chosen to bear the most luscious and delicious of grapes; “much choicest fruit, that will last” – but how can we help but be especially fruitful if we’re so completely connected and joined to Him?
Do you feel your sap rising? I do.
I like this prayer of Jill’s:
Lord, help me to remember that You are the choicest vine. All the best things in my life come from staying close to You. I want my life to produce wonderful fruit – not so that I will be well thought of, but so that the people around me will be drawn to You and fed by You. Let my goal be to be increasingly obedient, walking close to You.