(September 9, 2021) Geri B encourages remaining in Jesus the vine…
Continuing along my earlier article on the theme of the grape vine (Abiding in the Vine)…
Jesus makes it clear that the Father wants his children to be fruitful and tells us that… ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful… Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing‘ (John 15:1-5).
Remaining… to bear much fruit
- If we remain (abide) in him, we will do just that – bear fruit.
- And if we bear fruit, the Father will prune us so that we will be even more fruitful.
- But the warning comes to us twice in this short passage… remain in him, otherwise you cannot bear fruit, you can do nothing!
Not only is it the Father’s desire that we bear much fruit by abiding in him, but there is that oft-missed warning that unless we remain in him, we cannot bear fruit, nor can we do anything of true value!
With all the gifts we have been endowed with there can often be a tendency to take ownership and believe that we can use them whenever and however we so choose… but the truth of it is, we are simply stewards of the manifold gifts of God and to really see lasting fruit from what has been entrusted to us, we must take our direction from the Lord – we must abide in him.
If we are to abide in the vine, it will be to do the will of God, and not whatever we want to do, hoping the Lord will accept it, even bless it.
And if he chooses for us to take time out and sit on the sidelines while everyone else is powering on in the things of God, so be it! In this connection, let’s consider Paul…
Cut back for resilience
Paul’s sufferings for the gospel were inferred in Acts 9:15-16: ‘The Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”’
As happened Paul would be three years in the wilderness while the other apostles and believers were spreading the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Paul had things to learn from the Lord before he moved further in ministry and one of those lessons was to wait on the Lord.
If we too are to move on in God, we also need something from the Lord for the future and need to wisely accept times of seeming inactivity wisely as we do not know what’s ahead.
Little did Paul know of what was ahead for him… Five times he would receive from the Jews the forty lashes minus one; beaten three times with rods; pelted with stones one time; shipwrecked three times; spend a night and a day in the open sea; be constantly on the move. He would be in danger from rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, Gentiles; in danger in the city, the country, at sea; and from false believers. He would labour and toil, often going without sleep; know hunger and thirst and often be without food; and even be cold and naked (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)!
How can we build ourselves up in the things of God and prepare for situations of suffering or persecution, if we do not take the time out to regularly draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit? How do we learn to persevere and endure through the tough times? How do we guard ourselves against spiritual attacks and backsliding?
Let’s learn how others fared…
David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge and later in life Senior Pastor at Times Square Church, New York, was a man of prayer. He learned the necessity of spending time with the Lord daily and often went to quiet places to dig into the word of God and seek strength from him. You often hear about the miracles of his ministry – Nicky Cruz was one of his converts to the Lord and has been effective as an evangelist for more than 40 years. Times Square Church has reached many in the heart of New York.
But, you don’t often hear of the suffering that he and his family experienced throughout the years of his ministry. His wife had cancer five times and endured over 30 surgeries. His two daughters also had battles with cancer. His son went through three years of intense constant pain due to an accident that injured his back. His granddaughter died of brain cancer at the age of 13. The list goes on.
Why did he not give up? Why did he not become bitter? Why did he not turn away from serving the Lord on the front lines? Because he had learned to abide in the vine! Jesus was his source of strength; the word was his anchor and he knew that without Jesus he could do nothing. He trusted that God would bring them through all these troubles and the fruit would glorify Christ – and it did.
David’s wife Gwen lived until she was eighty-one, surpassing her husband’s life by a year. His daughters and son received their healing and went on in dedicated service for the Lord. Times Square Church is still serving the people of New York under dedicated leadership.
Rest or separation
Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30). Part of the abiding in the vine is recognising that there will be times of rest and discerning when those times are on you.
In the 1990’s it became popular for pastors, missionaries and itinerant ministers to take a sabbatical which usually meant taking an extended period of time away from the pulpit or field of service. The period could be anywhere from three months to one year. This was not a time to do extra study, get another job, go travelling overseas and such; but to spend extended time waiting on the Lord, praying, seeking him for refreshing and restoring of the soul (Psalm 23). A time of rest. In the reference to the vine, it would be after pruning and now waiting, drawing on the sap (the much-needed Holy Spirit refreshing), getting ready for the next season of fruiting.
We can become so busy with life and success that we can fail to draw aside and spend time with the Lord to replenish what has been given out, and to increase our effectiveness in our work for the Lord. Note Peter’s encouragement to possess and increase… ‘For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Today pastors, leaders and church members get so preoccupied with growing the church, or ministry involvement that their own souls suffer. The pressure to perform and the lie that the church or their ministry will fail without them, or they won’t be missed, causes a paralysis of decision making and they would rather burn out than take the time to refresh.
Rejection of a time of rest can lead to being separated from the vine, feeling disconnected from the Lord, but being unable to either admit to it, or do anything to restore that relationship with the one who gives us the ability to do all things well. Jesus warned, ‘If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers’ (John 15:6).
So sadly today we learn of pastors, leaders and ministry oversight falling into adultery, helping themselves to offerings, preaching false doctrines and even denying the faith they once professed to hold. It is becoming increasingly prevalent as the pressure to perform and ‘to be‘ grows greater. Why would we choose to be separated, cast off, when the alternative is so much better?
- We need to develop the wisdom and understanding that we are never ‘too busy’ to spend time with the Lord because he is the source of everything of which we have need.
- If we acknowledge our weaknesses, he is able to provide the strength.
- If we acknowledge our sin, his blood cleanses us and enables us to resist the enemy more effectively.
- If we don’t avail ourselves of the strength gained from abiding in the vine, we need to recognise we are no longer attached, and the consequences will follow.
Billy Graham, Derek Prince, Reinhart Bonnke all recognised the need for periods of rest – after times of fruitfulness in their ministries, they would draw aside and spend time with family, in the word, and drawing on the Holy Spirit for the season of fruitfulness ahead.
How you rest is up to you – it can be by choice, or it can be forced. The Lord is gracious to us, often more than we deserve, and if we miss the offer he sometimes orchestrates it for us! I have heard people thanking the Lord for a particular illness, or a job loss, or some difficulty which has resulted in a much-needed period of ‘rest.’
100-fold, 60-fold, 30-fold
The parable of the sower concludes with the levels of fruitfulness that can be attained by the planting of the good seed… ‘But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown’ (Matthew 13:23).
When we take the time to wait on the Lord, diligently seeking him and his will, the times of fruitfulness are actually far greater. We don’t need length of time so much, to produce an abundant harvest, we actually need enough of the Holy Spirit direction in our lives to achieve the greatest outcome. A well pruned, fertilised and rested vine will produce a higher yield come the growing/harvesting season.
Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, felt the Lord nudging her to write about her experiences on the field and with her ministry. She felt she would do it one day but was too busy. Amy was not rebellious, just busy and burdened with the needs around her. However in 1936, she had a terrible fall and spent the next 20 years bedridden. Yet she continued to lead the Dohnavur Fellowship from her bed, to write, to pray. She eventually stated that her most productive/fruitful time of service was during that last 20 years.
Amy went into the presence of the Lord in 1951, yet today 70 years later, the Dohnavur Fellowship continues, run by descendants of the fellowship who grew up and chose to dedicate their lives to sharing the love of Christ with others in need. Much fruit was produced and is ongoing from this servant, who learned to abide in the vine.
Paul had seasons in prison where he spent them in the presence of the Lord and writing letters to the many churches he had planted or spent time with. He used these imprisonments wisely, to pray for himself, the churches under his care and the prisoners around him; to draw nearer to the Lord and to write. We often think his missionary journeys were the fruitful times, but perhaps in God’s economy were also the times well spent in prison!
It is interesting that Paul also had about 20 years of ministry before he was beheaded for the sake of Christ. It seemed that he did so much in such a short space of time – but when you abide in the vine you produce much fruit for the Lord, and time is not the measure of fruitfulness as much as the willingness to abide, remain, rest in Christ who does everything through you. ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me’ (1 Corinthians 15:10-11).
Are you abiding?
How fruitful is your ministry, your walk with the Lord?
- Are you able to say that you are truly abiding in the vine?
- Or are you weary, burdened, at the point of giving up?
- Have you been feeling dry and in need of a good soaking of Holy Spirit rain?
More than ever today we need to return to the individual reading of God’s word, gleaning for ourselves the treasures that can be found within it; taking the time to pray and worship the Lord on our own and seek his face thus building into our lives total dependence on the Holy Spirit and his leading.
The times ahead are not going to be easy – they are going to get harder. Deception is going to become more subtle and we are going to need the discipline of abiding in Christ to be able to overcome what is coming. We will need to emulate the five wise virgins who had their lamps filled with oil, so they were not ashamed at his arrival (Matthew 25:1-13).
Which reminds me of a chorus I remember singing when I first came to the Lord… about keeping on forever burning with the oil of the Spirit, sharing with love, singing with joy and praying with faith. Remembering that oil symbolises the Holy Spirit,it came back to me the other day and refreshed my spirit….
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.
Keep me burning till the break of day.
Give me love in my heart, keep me sharing…
Give me joy in my heart, keep me singing…
Give me faith in my heart, keep me praying…
Let me encourage you today, take the time to abide, rest and trust in Jesus, the true vine, and may he grant you a fruitfulness you have never before experienced – for his glory!
Geri B strongly believes in God’s word and is a faithful, insightful intercessor and encourager. Links: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com / Abiding in the Vine