What Does Jesus Say When Nothing Seems to Be Working?

Kyle Idleman: What Does Jesus Say When Nothing Seems to Be Working?By Kyle Idleman

“How’s that working for ya?” is the question I ask people who need to make a change. My executive coach therapist asked it more gently and a little less passive-aggressively than I would have, but I’ve asked the question enough to know it’s a rhetorical question. The answer was so obvious that it didn’t need to be said out loud. We both knew my way wasn’t working.

I will somewhat begrudgingly share more of my situation with you in my book When Your Way Isn’t Working. But for now, would you start by asking yourself that same question: How is your way working for you?

The Final Words of Jesus to His Followers

After my first meeting with my executive coach therapist, I was getting ready to start a new sermon series that would expound on John 14–17. Recorded in these chapters of John are the final words of Jesus to his closest followers before his crucifixion.

This passage of Scripture is often referred to as the “Farewell Discourse.” Four different discourses of Jesus are identified in the Gospels, but this is the longest and certainly the most personal. Jesus knows he doesn’t have much time left on earth—his time with the disciples is coming to an end—so he has some things he wants to make sure to say to them.

If you’ve ever spent time with someone in the final moments of their lives, you know that the conversations are especially personal and intentional. The disciples don’t realize that this is the end of their time with Jesus, but he knows full well what is coming.

He knows the uncertainty they will experience in the days ahead. He knows the challenges they’ll face and the insecurity they’ll feel. He knows how overwhelmed they will feel regarding the mission he will give them. He knows how people will misunderstand them and falsely accuse them. He knows they will soon feel worn-out and weak. And Jesus knows that if his disciples try to do things their way, it won’t work.

Doing things their way will create division and cause them to turn on each other. Doing things their way will cause them to feel discouraged with the lack of progress.

It will make them feel like quitting because of their own inadequacies. It will leave them feeling overwhelmed by everything that is out of their control. Doing things their way will leave them angry with God and with each other, but especially with themselves.

The Key Metaphor

Here I want to highlight one verse from the Farewell Discourse—John 15:5:

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.

The phrase can do nothing captures the exasperation of your way that isn’t working. You feel like you’ve put in the work but you’re not getting the results. Despite your good intentions and maybe even your disciplined routines, you’re not seeing the gains.

There are other ways to translate “can do nothing.” You might say:

  • “Nothing seems to be working” or
  • “I can’t catch a break” or
  • “The deck’s stacked against me” or
  • “What’s the point?” or
  • “I’ve tried everything.”

When nothing you do is working, Jesus gives a metaphor to help you know what to focus on, and it all comes down to one word: connection. Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches, and as long as we stay connected with him, we will bear much fruit, but apart from him nothing works the way it should.

The word that keeps showing up as Jesus unpacks this metaphor is remain. The English Standard Version translates the Greek word meno here as “abide.” It shows up eleven times in John 15:1–15. In his final moments, Jesus tells his followers again and again to stay connected with him.

No matter what happens in the future, no matter how discouraged you become, no matter how disappointed you are, no matter how frustrating the situation is, no matter how tired you feel, no matter what trouble you experience, here’s the one thing you must never forget to do: stay connected.

When your way isn’t working, check your connection with the Vine. You are the branch, and the branch’s most important job is to stay connected with the Vine.


When Your Way Isn't Working by Kyle IdlemanAdapted from When Your Way Isn’t Working: Finding Purpose and Contentment through Deep Connection with Jesus by Kyle Idleman. Click here to learn more about this book.

When you are worn-out, when you feel discouraged, when you think you don’t have what it takes, what is the one thing that Jesus wants you to never forget? When Your Way Isn’t Working equips you to discover authentic connection to God and others so you are free to live the life you long for.

In some of his final words to his closest friends, Jesus didn’t suggest a five-year plan for success or a checklist of things to do. Instead, he offered a metaphor about what the good life really looks like: I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me. In other words, No matter what happens next, the most important thing is to stay connected to me.

In When Your Way Isn’t Working, pastor and bestselling author Kyle Idleman offers a unique exploration of John 15 for all of us who are going through the motions and feel frustrated. Idleman reminds us that it’s connection, not production, that leads to a fruitful life—relationships, not circumstances, that bring joy. He offers his distinctive, biblical perspective on how to:

  • Find greater rest, depth, and connection in your life
  • Embrace freedom from the pressures of performance and production
  • Recognize what you can’t do makes room for what God can do
  • Step out of isolation even when it feels scary
  • Discover the top distractions that keep you from connecting to God—and how to counter them

In the end, the fruit of your life won’t have to do with what you accomplished but with whom you stayed connected. Because no matter what happens next in this uncertain world, what matters most, lasts the longest, and brings the greatest joy is staying connected to the God who never leaves you.

Kyle Idleman is the senior pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the largest churches in America. On a normal weekend, he speaks to more than twenty-five thousand people spread across eleven campuses.

More than anything else, Kyle enjoys unearthing the teachings of Jesus and making them relevant in people’s lives. He is a frequent speaker for national conventions and influential churches across the country.

Kyle and his wife, DesiRae, have been married for over twenty-five years. They have four children, two sons-in-law, and recently welcomed their first grandchild. They live on a farm in Kentucky.

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