Blackberry Bushes and a Messy House
by Dave Martin
Due to physical factors, I chose to do a media fast during our church’s week of fasting a couple weeks ago. Although it wasn’t as physically uncomfortable as a food fast, I believe it had a bigger impact on my use of time than a food fast would have, and I’m glad for that.
I chose to abstain from social media, news media, entertainment media, opinion media, podcasts—basically, any audio/video/print media that didn’t pertain to my life with Jesus. For an information glutton like me, that left gaping holes in my usual daily routine. One of the surprises was how little I missed most of that.
Meanwhile, God directed my attention to two very appropriate Bible passages, John 15:1–8 and Revelation 3:20. The John 15 passage is Jesus’ famous analogy of the vine and the branches. Because of the cultural setting, we usually assume he is picturing a grapevine, though the text doesn’t say that. I’m reading a book in which the author, Curtis Sergeant, uses a blackberry plant as the analogy—one that we in east Multnomah County are quite familiar with.
Blackberry farming is very labor-intensive. You have to set up a trellis system, and then train the main canes to climb the poles and then grow along the wires. But throughout the growing season you must also ruthlessly cut back many additional canes that emerge—up to 90% of the growth—that will suck up nutrients and never bear fruit. The resulting berries are large, sweet, and readily accessible.
We’ve all seen big patches of wild blackberries growing along roads or in fields. These also produce fruit, but the berries are much smaller and widely scattered. To pick them, you have to fight your way through thorny canes and endure scratched skin and perhaps torn clothes.
Says Sergeant: “You can pick as many carefully cultivated blackberries in five minutes as you can pick wild blackberries in two hours.”
Looking at my life this past week through the lens of this metaphor, I see a lot of useless canes in the form of media streams that need to be pruned back so that more of my time and resources can be directed toward fruit-bearing activity.
The second Bible verse, Revelation 3:20, is one that my disciple group memorized recently: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Though this verse has commonly been used as a salvation invitation, Jesus is actually speaking to the church at Laodicea. He’s just rebuked them for their smug, self-satisfied lukewarmness. Though he knows full well that they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17), he waits for them to open the door and give him access to their inner life.
I picture myself hearing Jesus knocking as I survey the messy, cluttered state of my inner “home.” Unread books on the shelves, half-read books lying open on tables. Newspapers open to the editorial pages strewn about. Video screens on several walls—a documentary playing on one, a golf tournament on another, a YouTube video on a third. A stack of audio books in one corner and a list of 20 podcast subscriptions on my phone. Oh yeah, my Bible is there too. Over the fireplace hangs an embroidered “FOMO”—“Fear Of Missing Out.”
I want to open the door and let him in, but what then? What will he do if I give him complete run of the place—If I allow him to open every closet and cupboard, to say what stays and what goes? Why does that scare me? Do I really think that he will take away anything that’s as good as “eating with him”?
It’s not the first time Jesus declared his desire to live in close, daily fellowship with his followers. In John 14:21, 23 he says:
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him…. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
I want to be a well-trimmed, fruitful vine. I want Jesus to make his home with me. Yet I know all too well how easily I can let unproductive canes proliferate in my life, impeding the production of healthy, abundant fruit. I know how my appetite for information and my fear of missing out can cloud my focus and keep me from single-minded pursuit of God’s will for me.
I’m thankful for what our week of fasting and prayer revealed about my need to repent and to invite God to get on with his work of pruning and house cleaning in my life.