Monday, March 06, 2006

Abiding in Jesus

A Meditation on John 15:4-6
Friends sent us flowers when Mary Kate was born. Two weeks later, while our little girl grows and thrives, the once bright floral arrangements are brown and lifeless. For a little while, with their stems submerged in water, they could live. But no matter how beautiful a flower or branch may be, cut from its plant it lives only a short time.

Jesus used the analogy of plants to help us understand spiritual life. Today in my devotions I read John 15:1-8. In this passage Jesus describes himself as the “true vine”— the source of life and sustenance for those who believe in Him. He explaines that to benefit from his life we must keep this vital connection to him. John 15:4-6 says,

“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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (ESV)

To "abide" is to stay with or to continue on with something. The NIV uses the word “remain.” A branch that is connected to a life-giving vine is abiding. It’s staying put—it is in union with the vine, and thus sustained by it.

To have true spiritual life, Christians must maintain constant union with Jesus. We must abide in him. We do this by reading his word, communing with him in prayer, and pursuing fellowship and worship centered on Christ with other saints.

Abiding doesn't come naturally to me. As I read this passage I was struck by how often I try to accomplish and achieve without abiding in Christ. I attempt to grow, to parent, to be a husband, to preach or lead, apart from the constant discipline of abiding in Jesus. It doesn’t work. Actually, it works for a while. But then it withers. Like a vase of cut flowers, self-sustaining effort can be beautiful, even impressive. But it never lasts. Without vital connection to and reliance on the Savior our best efforts die.

What is the opposite of abiding? I guess it’s moving on. Not remaining, pulling up the stakes and heading out. So often, my inclination is toward independence and self-sufficiency. This is never in the form of outright rejection. It is subtle. It’s self-confidence. It’s believing that I know how to handle what’s coming next.

It’s not that I think I don’t need Jesus, because I know I do. But I start thinking, “I need Jesus to get saved and to forgive my sins, and I will definitely be checking in frequently, but I can’t sit around and abide all day. Good grief, I have places to go and people to see and kingdom work to accomplish!”

To all this Jesus simply says, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Nothing is not a whole lot.

Do I believe that? I need to. It’s true. Apart from his words feeding me, apart from daily communion, apart from constant prayer and reliance, apart from the sustaining grace of gathering with those who call on his name, apart from the discipline of fighting anything and everything that draws me away from him, I will dry up and die spiritually.

Jesus is not just the Savior who died to save me from sin 2,000 years ago. He’s not just the Savior who gave me life on the day when I first repented and believed in him.

He is my life today.

He is the vine and I am the branch. All that I have and all the good fruit I hope to bear—in my marriage, family, and church—is the direct result to my connection to him.

I cannot bear fruit by myself. I must abide in him.

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