John 15:5–6 (NIV)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you [abide] in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not [abide] in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”
They called them chunks. Anybody know what I’m talking about?
It’s not often on the farm you get to be part of creating a field.1 It happened for me only once. It involves the task known as clear-cutting. The fields of our farm all began as forests. The trees are harvested by loggers and sold to lumber mills. Next come the Cats (aka Caterpillar Bulldozers) and the pushing, pulling, and piling of all the stumps with their entangled roots. Then comes the burning with the fires that blaze and then smolder for days on end. After what seems like forever the ground is broken by discs and plows and finally we get to the chunks. The chunks are the seemingly endless pieces of wood, mostly roots, pulled up to the surface by the discing and plowing. They have to be removed from the field because they would tear up the planters in the sowing season.
This is another one of those mindless, monotonous jobs where Peepaw always delighted to include my cousin, Lee, and me. These were the jobs nobody wanted but everyone had to do. These were the glorious winter jobs when we would all have rather been home by the fireplace.
Here’s how it went. We would hitch a tractor to a long narrow flatbed trailer. The tractor driver would then pull the trailer, driving between one and two miles an hour, from one end of the field to the other and then back again and again and again. Lee and I and all of the field hands, including our dads (the Walt brothers of Walt Brothers Farms) and Peepaw would walk behind and beside the trailer, repeatedly bending down to the ground, picking up the “chunks” and “chunking” them on the trailer. I still don’t know if we called them chunks because they were chunks of wood or because we were chunking them on the trailer. Did I mention there was like an infinity of chunks in the field? And did I mention it was winter, which meant we did all this in heavy coats, skull caps, gloves, and insulated boots? After a few rounds, the chunks would pile up four or five feet high on the trailer at which time we would go to an area off the corner of the field where the fires from all those stumps still burned and push the chunks off the trailer into the fire.
After a brief break in front of the fire, we would get back into the field and repeat the process. Multiply that by twenty and ten hours later we would call it a day. Multiply that by three or four days and we would cover the field. And then they would drag the discs and the plows back through the field, exposing a whole new crop of chunks and we would do it all again. And then another time. Who knew a forest had seemingly as much wood beneath the ground as above it? And as any farmer knows, those “chunks” keep appearing decades later in those fields.
Why do I go into such detail with this story? What is the payoff? The great enemy of our souls is not so much the devil (whose abilities we often overestimate) as it is distraction. The great impediment to growing in our awareness of and attention to Jesus’s awareness and attention to us is our distractedness. While it is not a perfect analogy, I want us to consider this story in light of the text.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you [abide] in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not [abide] in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
Wake up, sleeper! Jesus would slow-walk with us across the field of our life, picking up the chunks and chunking them onto the fire; identifying the distractions and restoring our attention. This is the way to much good fruit.2
Farmer Father God, thank you for Jesus, who walks with us across the fields of our lives. Thank you for the way he walks slowly, patiently, and attentively, showing us the impediments to abiding, identifying our distractions, and picking them up like chunks, and throwing them on the fire. Forgive me for accepting all the distractions, claiming a kind of spiritual attention deficit condition. I want to participate more with what Jesus is doing in my life, honing my attention to his attentiveness to me. I want my life to bear much fruit for your glory and others’ good. Praying in the name of Jesus, amen.
What kind of “chunks” litter the field of your life? How would you describe your distractedness? Does it relieve you to realize Jesus will help you with this; that he doesn’t just tell you to “pay attention”?
For the Awakening,
NOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
1. This whole notion of creating a field brought to mind the celebrated text from Isaiah 5:1–2. It is known as, “The Song of the Vineyard.” It is a beautiful picture of our Farmer Father God and his care for the field of his people. In this instance, the stones are the “chunks.” Notice the tragic outcome.
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isaiah 5:1–2)
2. There is a way of becoming focused on trying to remove our distractions that actually increases our distractedness. Remember, Jesus is the farmer; not us. We don’t want to get caught in the trap of paying attention to our distractions. This is the seductive strategy of distraction—the more we attend to what distracts us the more distracted we become. We actually want to increase our attention to Jesus; inviting and allowing him to identify and then displace our distractions with himself. Jesus doesn’t work by replacement, as in, “I’ll bring my presence when you get rid of your distraction.” No, Jesus works by displacement, as in, “Open your life to my abiding presence and I will displace your distractedness with my attentiveness in you.”
This is the real essence of repentance. We tend to think of repentance as stopping sinning. In reality, stopping sinning is the effect of repentance. Repentance is turning toward and running (or crawling toward as the case may be) to Jesus. Our sin ends up getting displaced by his presence in us. The Holy Spirit stands ever ready to empower this turning and running.