“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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
– John 15:1-4
“What good is all our busy religion if God isn’t in it? What good is it if we’ve lost majesty, reverence, worship – an awareness of the divine? What good is it if we’ve lost a sense of the Presence and the ability to retreat within our own hearts and meet God in the garden? If we’ve lost that, why build another church? Why make more converts to an effete Christianity? Why bring people to follow after a Savior so far off that He doesn’t own them?”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God
“Think of the things that take you out of the position of abiding in Christ. You say, ‘Yes, Lord, just a minute— I still have this to do. Yes, I will abide as soon as this is finished, or as soon as this week is over. It will be all right, Lord. I will abide then.’ Get moving— begin to abide now. In the initial stages it will be a continual effort to abide, but as you continue, it will become so much a part of your life that you will abide in Him without any conscious effort. Make the determination to abide in Jesus wherever you are now or wherever you may be placed in the future.”
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
One note on the title and Chambers’ exhortation. The NIV states “Remain in Me” instead of the King James Version for John 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you.”
I mentioned a few days ago that I cut down a cedar tree at a church once, helping – not being destructive. I took some pieces of the tree home, because cedar smells good. Our younger son was into anything artistic. So, I let him carve the wood that I brought home, except for one piece. I would not let him start immediately. The wood had to dry.
You see, we sometimes need to read the verses in a particular passage of the Bible backwards. I’m not suggesting demonic messages in playing rock ‘n roll records backwards. But when we read about Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, we focus on ‘remaining on the vine’. But what if we thought, just for a second, about what has been pruned away. The Father is the gardener (v. 1). The Father prunes the branch so that it can bear fruit (v. 2). We focus on the stub of the branch that is left, but the part that is pruned eventually dries out. It gets no more nourishment from the vine.
In looking at the big picture. Jesus is the vine. If we do not abide in Him, we will dry up and wither away. Someone will gather us up and throw us into the fire (the lake of fire?). But if we abide in Jesus, He will provide nourishment. The pruning may be painful, but we really didn’t need the excess branch. We needed to bear fruit.
Notice in Tozer’s rant (and oh, how I loved it), he says ‘an effete Christianity’. Effete means to be incapable of effective action. Tozer would not dare say ‘an effete Christ’, for Jesus is all-powerful whether we believe it or not. But our ‘religion’ can become ineffective when we lose sight of the true person of Jesus Christ.
While Tozer is focusing on the church, Chambers is focusing on each individual person. If he were preaching instead of his usual teaching, he could claim that we, as individuals, were effete Christians.
I drove my wife to the grocery store today. She has been feeling very tired lately. We had discussed postponing the trip until after the weekend, but when she studied the weather forecast, she changed her mind. The temperature is predicted to climb by 10 degrees this weekend. It will simply be too hot, and we aren’t used to that extreme yet. Because of her weakness, I did not want her to go alone.
While she pushes the cart, she’s fine, so I went to the deli and sat. She does not want me to shop with her. I both rush her (because I don’t like shopping) and delay her (by interrupting her train of thought). She has a set menu for the week to cut down on impulse buying, and I am an impulse guy when it comes to shopping. I read a little in my latest book, but mostly I pondered what Chambers and Tozer were saying in my most recent devotions. Tozer is blunt in that busy church activities could distract us from worshiping the true God. Chambers is less blunt, but he suggests that being busy doing anything, not just church work, might distract us from abiding in Jesus.
It is like a rescue worker that is placing everyone on a lifeboat. The dam is about to burst due to the flood, and they all must leave now. He rushes one person to the boat, then another, then another. He finally taps the boat ‘captain’ on the shoulder and says, “Go!” The boat takes off, just in time to reach safety before the dam breaks. Only one problem, the rescuer never got on board. He was too busy helping others to save himself.
Are we like that? Have we, in our zeal to help other people, left Jesus on the flooded shore, and ran off to continue our busy work of helping others? Are we in danger of saving others, and losing salvation ourselves? I believe that once truly saved, always saved. But, I have known loving Christians who give from the heart, but they became Christians on an adult church mission trip, as ‘leaders’ of the mission team. Their story goes that for the first time in a long time, the mission team took a break, went into a local church, and that is where it became quiet enough, and less busy, for them to hear the voice of God saying, “You cannot save yourself by being busy doing good works. I want a personal relationship with you.”
Jesus is the vine. If we don’t abide in Him, we wither and die, regardless of our busy schedule, including helping others. We need to stay intimately connected. As Chambers says above, when we make it a habit, we can abide in Jesus without any effort, because we gain our strength through Him on a daily basis. When we abide in Jesus all the time, He is in us all the time. “Abide in Me, and I in you.” It’s a promise from Jesus.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
– Henry Francis Lyte, Abide with Me (verse 1)
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.