“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:1, 4-5
I recently read a biography on the lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor. To be honest I didn't much care for the book, but nearly 100 pages into it, one little sentence grabbed me. It was exactly what I needed to hear from the Lord in that moment. It spoke into the last ten years of my life spent in ministry, all the heartache and anxiety. It spoke into all the times I have felt like a failure and decided to work harder in an attempt to grow my ministry. Here's what it said.
"...the fruit of the vine comes from abiding, not striving."*
It may not seem that earth shattering to you. In fact, it's almost a direct quote from John 15. Yet I had never considered that passage in quite this context before. Could it really be that simple? Is being used by God more about our relationship with Him than having the right strategy? Could how near I am to God really be more important than using the best and newest methods in my ministry? More and more I am convinced that it is. That doesn't mean there isn't room for some serious consideration of ministry strategies, but lack of strategy isn't what is causing the church in America to shrink. It's a downright lack of pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, men, women and teens who are truly near to God. It's a lack of abiding in Him or of "remaining" in Him as several Bible versions translate it.
Jesus makes us fruitful. The power of the Spirit's presence in our lives working in us and through us makes us fruitful. God brings the harvest. I also believe He gives us the strategies, funds and means to that harvest in His time. But first, you must have men and women of God who abide in Him.
Abiding/Remaining is about staying connected to that life-giving source so that you can bear fruit. The branches must continually receive the sap from the vine (the trunk) of the grape plant. This idea of a constant flow of spiritual life from the Spirit to us and through us to the world reminds me of something else Jesus said:
Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Our churches need more faithful workers it's true. But what we need more than anything else are believers who are filled with the power of God. Men, women, teens and children who rise early in the morning to spend time alone with God in prayer, Bible study and Scripture meditation. We need Christians who practice the spiritual disciplines of fasting, Scripture memory, evangelism, and worship. We don't need more people, we need deeper people. I need to go deeper.
Spend more time with God this week. Quit striving. Start abiding and see what He will do with your life.
*Piper, John. A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor. p. 98