On February 7, my pastor preached about making a commitment to Christ. I wasn't there that day. I ordered the tape and have finally gotten around to listening to it. As the text he used the passage from the 15th chapter of John in which Jesus talks about being the vine. This is not a new passage for me, and the concepts are not new. But there was something new. Perhaps the newness was in me. Perhaps it is just time I understand. There are several points from the passage that I want to discuss here in terms of how they apply to my life and how things Jim said shed new light on the concepts.
1. "Without me (Christ) you can't do anything."
This is a lesson I have had to learn time and time again. I tend to think that I must keep up with everyone else in every way, and because of this I take things into my own hands instead of allowing God to guide me. All the failures I have been mourning this year come down to one thing. None of them were things that God directed. They were things that I directed. It's time for me to learn to pay attention to the route that God has planned, and if I'm going to drive then I need to drive along that route. It's the only way He will bless me. I can't measure my worth against another person but only against whether or not I am living within the will of God. This means that when He opens doors He will send me through and when He doesn't open them I won't go through unless I choose to walk away and take things back into my own hands. There is a lot I could say about small decisions in daily life, but I'll leave this for now.
2. I am the vine; you are the branches.
I really don't understand the vine concept very well, but something struck me while I was listening to this part. Jim was talking about how the only way to be a part of the vine is to obey Christ. If we have to obey, then how is this really unconditional love? I dared to ask this question, and as the tape went on my thoughts left and I clearly heard the answer.
"I don't stop loving you if you choose not to be a part of me. I never stop loving you. I would still lay down my life for you. If you don't want to be a part of me, that is your choice. But there are natural consequences to making this choice. If you have chosen not to be a part of me, then you are separated from me. This is all that sin is, and what makes it sin is the fact that the sinner wishes to exercise his own will but still reap the benefits of being a part of my life. I am not a selfish God. I am willing, longing even, to share my riches; but I share them in order that they may be appreciated and will enhance life rather than that they may be squandered. Sin is simply any act which separates my creation from myself, and it is the preference for such separation which grieves me. I have provided my sacrifice so that you can know the depth of my love for you and perhaps in knowing this find the strength to trust him and therefore me with your life instead of seeking after your own will. Hell is not a lace where I desire to send anyone. My desire is that all be saved. But I have offered each one a choice between my will and his own so that none could say that I forced a way of life upon him."
So why do I have such a difficult time surrendering my will? It is nothing more than temptation, a deceitful voice which tells me that God does not care about my welfare or pain. It tells me that He is really a tyrant who will punish me if I am bad. But it isn't so. How many times have I wandered away, only to comerunning home to open arms and complete peace of mind? These are not lulls in a pattern of abuse such as is common among earthly parents and spouses. These are consistent displays of God's character. He certainly cares for His own and gives us life, and if there is anything I need or want as a part of His vine which will cause me to flourish, He will certainly not deny me but will hear and answer! Too often I still seek after my own will or want Him to answer for the wrong reasons, and I don't even realize it! I feel no condemnation as I write this. In fact, I feel a great release! Lord, free me from the bondage of my own will and let me cling only to Jesus Christ!
3. There is something to do.
Perhaps I should have discussed this before discussing the vine, but I didn't and it will go justas well here. This was a spin-off from "without me you can't do anything". Jim made two subpoints, both of which made deep impressions upon me.
First, God has a purpose for my life. When that purpose is fulfilled, I will be dead. Until I am dead, I have a purpose to fulfill. Specifically, I am to spread the good news of His gospel anywhere He sends me. And how can I spread news about something I do not know or understand myself? That is the purpose of study! It isn't that if I don't study I won't go to heaven!
God's purpose is not for me to have a job or my own apartment. If He grants me these things, it will be because they will allow me to flourish as a part of His vine. It is not my task to worry about such details. Whatever gifts He has given me, He will enable me to use. It is not my task to worry about how. It is simply my task to listen and obey. This is a somewhat bitter pill to swallow; for my own will is to be independent, to keep up with the rest of society. But if I want to be a part of His vine, I must swallow this pill and sacrifice my will in order that I may flourish as a part of His vine.
"Don't ever let the enemy convince you that you have no purpose in this life," Jim said quite emphatically. This struck me like a bolt of lightning. How often have I wandered in despair because I felt that I had no purpose or could not fulfill my purpose? Where has my mind been? Who have I been listening to???
The second point under this area concerns people who are constantly doing. I suppose it's really all the same point. We are constantly doing because we fear not having a purpose or because we fear that we might be idle and not accomplish our purpose. But if we are a part of God's vine, then we will be always guided in fulfilling His purpose, and there is no idle time within that plan but only time to rest and be refreshed in the vine!
I have long had a deep-seated fear of premature death. For a while it manifested in a fear of riding in cars and planes. At times it has manifested in a fear of being intentionally wounded by another person. More recently it has manifested as a fear of natural disasters.
Accompanying this fear of death has been a fear even stronger: the fear of losing or being unable to finish my writings. As I write tonight, I realize that there is another important aspect to being a part of the vine. I will be doing work which is purposed, guided, and protected by the Father! I think ofhow He has protected the content of His Word through all these years, and I realize that whatever is anointed of Him is something He will protect. There is no question about it! Details such as backing up my files are important because they are common sense measures, but I need not do this compulsively out of fear. If my hands are busy doing His work, He will bless me and any instrument I use, and when necessary He will also provide replacement instruments.
4. Ask whatever you desire and it will be done for you.
I've written this out before, and hearing it in the sermon was just confirmation. When I am a part of God's vine, the things that I desire will be the things that Christ himself desires. I will not be praying out of my own will but with the very heart of God's own son, the truly selfless one! I will be moved with compassion, not condescending pity or selfish desire for glory or fear or anxiety, as he was moved. I will be aware of what I truly need and will not desire anything for the purpose of giving myself status. How could such requests be denied?
As a side note, my mind strayed to the verses in Mark 16. "These signs shall follow those who believe..." Again what my heart has already told me was confirmed. No one who believed in Christ as the messiah would choose to be apart from him! This kind of belief could only come because one understands his need for a messiah and knows and understands the truth of who Jesus was, is, and is to come!
I want to make a commitment. I am so very tired of fits and starts in my spiritual life. I want to be a part of God's vine. I want to bear fruit that is good. I want to surrender to the will of God as revealed in Christ Jesus. I want to be delivered from every impure thought and action and to be empowered with understanding, wisdom, and compassion. I want to be anointed to heal the sick whether in body, mind or spirit; to encourage the faint; to release the captives and to lead the lost to the One who saves. Where I am timid, Lord, give me boldness. Where I doubt give me faith. Where I fear give me courage. When I cannot see my way, be a light unto my path so that I will not stumble over temptations. When I am weary, give me rest and energy. If I should start to lose my way, call to me and I will hear Your voice and return.
Thank You, Lord, for loving me, for never giving up on me. Thank You for the life that is in You and the riches You long to share. Thank You for revealing Yourself and Your will to me through Your son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for never condemning me but instead for revealing Your grace and mercy for me to receive. Thank You for giving wisdom so generously when I asked. Let me never fail You or displease You; for Yours is the only approval which can ever be gained or satisfy my soul.