Abiding | STEADY as WE GO
Monday— I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
“What’s wrong with it!” shrieked Kala, running as fast as five-year-old legs could go. She held a twig from the cherry tree out in front of her. Her father intercepted her panicked dash toward the house. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked. She turned a tear-streaked face toward him. “It’s sick! I picked it for Mom because she loves cherries, but look at it!” She shoved the twig in her father’s face. Pale, wilted, blossoms clung to the broken branch. “Fix it!” she demanded. Her dad smiled. “I’m sorry, baby. I can’t. This branch can’t grow cherries if it’s not attached to the tree. Let’s go pick Mom some different flowers.”
We all know that a branch away from the tree is nothing but a dead stick. But we aren’t so savvy when it comes to ourselves. We assume we can thrive even when cut off from our Source. Jesus cautioned us to be on guard against one of Satan’s craftiest deceptions—that we don’t have to abide in Jesus to accomplish great things. Disconnection can derail even the most gifted and talented. The moment a branch stops abiding in the vine, it becomes unfruitful. All those beautiful flowers are empty promises. And as soon as we grow so self-assured that we drift away from Him, we become unfruitful. Activity may continue at impressive levels but accomplishes nothing. Unless we stay intimately connected with our Vine, we bear no fruit.
Final Thought: Religious activity without connection to the Source bears no lasting fruit. How fruitful are you?
Prayer: Jesus, I hear your warning. Am I remaining in you? Are you in me? Do my life and my priorities demonstrate that I’m staying connected? Forgive me for substituting religious activity for real fruit. Please come live your life through me. Amen.
Tuesday— Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and…receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Mark 4:16-17
Don’t you love fresh spring grass? It’s the first to push through the cold ground, soft, bright, and welcome. We assume it will stay all summer, but it doesn’t. Where does it go? When the sun gets serious, that first grass disappears, replaced by tough Bermuda or something that can withstand Oklahoma summers. Some people are like spring grass. They hear the gospel for the first time, maybe as children, and their hearts leap in response. Yes! I want that! So they respond in whatever way their particular religious association requires and feel happy for a while. But five…ten…twenty years later, where are they?
One glaring weakness in our presentation of Christianity is the idea that salvation is a momentary flash that seals us for eternity. If our hearts ever leaped, warmed, yearned, or understood a spiritual invitation, then we assume we are saved. Not so. Jesus never presented it like that. He said, “If you continue in my word, you are my disciples” (John 8:31). We don’t talk much about the necessity of continuing, but He did. Our initial response to the gospel is not necessarily salvation. The evidence of a real conversion is a changed life. Changed desires. Changed actions, attitudes, and priorities. Millions are like spring grass that presses eagerly through the ground, but at the first glare of searing heat, it withers away. Emotional response does not equal spiritual transaction. The evidence of real saving faith is that we stay rooted even when the heat turns up.
Final Thought: Does your history with God look like tender spring grass or resilient Bermuda?
Prayer: Lord God, examine my heart. I’ve responded to you several times, but was it real salvation or an emotional response? Does my life indicate a changed heart and changed desires? Show me whether I have roots. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Wednesday— Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Mark 4:18-19
“I used to go to church,” said Cal, “but you know how it is. Just got busy. Divorce made me bitter. Don’t think about God much.”
“I loved Bible stories when I was a kid,” said Jill. “But I’m swamped now with my career and women’s rights issues. Doesn’t fit.”
“I once thought I’d be a preacher,” said Jerry. “But then I discovered sex and I don’t wanna give that up to be a Christian.”
Can you outgrow God? Can a person walk away, live however they want, and still assume heaven one day? Yes and No. Everyone drifts at times. Following Jesus is not a straight uphill road. There are stumbling blocks, detours, and falls. But it’s a steady uphill direction. Real Christians don’t turn around and go the other way. But that’s what we’re seeing a lot of these days. The Bible calls it apostasy. Apostates are those who once professed truth but have turned and gone the other way. Worldly passions became more important and they chose to leave God behind. Those are not Christians. They never were.
Final Thought: If your response to Jesus did not result in a steady uphill direction, it wasn’t salvation (1 John 2:19).
Prayer: Lord, there is so much fakery and false presentations of your gospel that it can get confusing. People I thought were Christians are walking away. Confirm to my heart where I stand with you and may my life reflect that. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Thursday— Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. Mark 4:20
It shouldn’t have grown at all. Careless, inexperienced fingers had scattered apple seeds and then forgot about them. Rain came, heat came, storms came and washed most of them into the ditch. But a few weeks later, one stubborn sapling pushed its leaves through the dirt, sunk its roots deeper into the slope, and hung on. Five years later, kids found the first small apples hiding in the leaves and within ten years, the entire neighborhood flocked to the tree for its golden sweet fruit. From one seed.
Jesus compared God’s word to seed and people to soil. No matter how thoroughly gospel seeds are scattered, most will reject it. Some will respond initially, but then move on to the next thrill. Others will hang on for a while, but when storms come, they are washed into the ditch. It’s this last soil that counts. These are the people who, like that apple seed, fight through resistance, sin strongholds, and doubt. They sink their trust into God’s word and hang on. They may not look like much at first, but in a short time, fruit appears. Attitudes change. Behaviors change. Opinions change. As they continue to grow, they share life, wisdom, encouragement, truth, and hope with a hungry world. These are the ones Jesus called His friends (John 15:14).
Final Thought: Good soil produces good fruit. Which kind of soil are you?
Prayer: Father, I can identify with that apple seed. Even through all that has come against me, I have clung to you, your word, and your truth. May my life produce fruit that will last forever. I want to hear you say, “Well done.” In Jesus’ name, amen.
Friday— Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. Exodus 33:11
It felt as though all the air had been sucked from the room and replaced with a golden light that swept through him and around him at the same time. Waves of liquid love washed over him and power that sizzled like a thousand lightning bolts held him in place. Joshua couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move. How could he leave this moment, this event that still electrified the air like a tangible thing? He’d give everything he owned to stay in this moment, captivated by this Presence. The pursuits that so intrigued him a few hours ago were silliness now. He cared about none of it. Never would again. He’d been with God.
When was the last time you felt like Joshua felt? Have you ever? One reason we fail to abide in Jesus is because we’ve never experienced His presence. Spiritual things are abstract ideas. We’ve prayed the prayer, followed the instructions, read a Bible. But God has never become real to us. He’s just an idea, a little scary if we’re honest. We hope we’re doing it right. We’re envious of people who claim experiences like Joshua’s, but trying to connect with God is mostly duty. What’s the secret to staying connected? Refusing to disconnect. Those who abide in Christ pursue that sacred Presence like a starving man pursues food. They treat sin as an enemy that will squelch it. We can’t manufacture God’s presence. He isn’t a chill up our spine or an emotional song. Experiencing the presence of God is an event that leaves its mark on us. Joshua was ready when God showed up. We must be too, because when the Lord God Almighty lets us glimpse His glory, we won’t want to leave.
Final Thought: If we want to experience the tangible presence of God, we must come on His terms and live in readiness.
Prayer: Lord, this has been me. Sometimes you’re more of an idea to me than a real Person. But I’m tired of settling. I want to know you, experience you, abide in you whatever the cost. Strip away whatever prevents me from abiding in you. Amen.