Let’s start by looking together at John 15:1-11.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;[a] and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
A friend of mine was studying to be an architect. For one of his courses he made a little model of the building he had designed. No doubt about it! His model was beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful! His friends showed their admiration of the model by shouting, “Great job! Looks terrific! You are talented!”
He turned in his model to his teacher, and about a week later he was asked, “What grade did you get on your model”? He replied that his teacher gave him a failing grade.
A few weeks passed, and he made another model. It also was eye popping. Once again his friends gathered around and saluted him for his hard work and inspiring design.
Once again he turned in his model to his teacher. Once again a week passed, and he announced that that design was a failure.
What could possibly be the problem?
His teacher would certainly agree that the style of his buildings was awesome. But when the teacher subjected the models to a stress test, it was clear that the designs would crumble in the face of earthquakes, tornados, or severe storms.
Who wants a building like that?
Well, what about my spiritual life? What kind of Christian life am I building? Am I building a Christian life that will be able to withstand the blasts of the devil? Or will my Christian life crumble into pieces at the first gust of wind?
And I building a Christian life that looks really nice but in reality is hollow, empty, weak?
Let’s let “A” represent the amount of time I spend on ministry.
Ministry gives me a rush. I love it. And the positive feedback I get encourages me to pour even more energy into it. It is heartwarming to hear such comments as “Thank you for visiting me in the hospital”, “your Bible study was really encouraging”, “your words of encouragement really helped”, etc etc etc)
But what does my ministry rest on? Let’s let “B” represent the time I spend developing my character and “C” represent what I spend on my roots (spiritual disciplines). Will that kind of Christian life survive a spiritual stress test?
Thank about it. Who gives me positive feedback on how much time I spend developing my character or working on my spiritual roots? Those are done in private, so no one knows whether I do them or not. The fact is I never get any feedback on them.
There is a song with the words: “I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy, I certainly have no time for you.” It would be unthinkable for us to sing that song to God, but a person living this kind of spiritual life (Diagram one) is saying those words loud and clear with his conduct.
I’ve tried this approach to the Christian life. (Diagram one)
When storms hit, it crumbles.
And when I hear pastors in Asia say that they are so busy with ministry they have no time for Bible reading, I know they are also on the wrong path.
I need a new model for my life. John 15 pushes me in the right direction.
John 15:5 ends with a sober warning. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Oh, I can be incredibly busy running from morning to night – but if I am not abiding in Christ moment by moment, in God’s eyes I get a zero. At the end of your life, who wants to have nothing to show for all his efforts? That is a terrifying thought!
Look again at John 15:1-11. If I had turned in something like that to my teachers I would have been rebuked. Eleven times Jesus uses the same word in eleven verses. My teachers would have said, “that is monotonous. Why are you beating us over the head with the same word over and over? Rewrite it!”
But since Jesus is the author here, instead of criticizing, we should be alert to the point He is trying to make.
If Jesus tells me something once, I had better listen. If He tells me the same thing eleven times, I’ve got to realize this must be extremely important. Extremely!
Jesus is talking to the graduates of the most successful discipleship school in the history of the world. Eleven times they needed to be told to remain in Him. If they needed that message, be sure we need it, also.
Depending on your translation the word is “abide” or “remain”.
Question: what does this word mean?
Look at John 1:38.
38 Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”
Some men are meeting Jesus for the first time, and they ask a logical question: Where do you live? What is your physical address? And the word they use is this word “remain” or “abide” repeated eleven times in John 15. It is a word of permanence.
Question: how does a Christ follower abide?
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”
We abide by living in His Word, by making the Bible our spiritual address. It’s where we look for guidance on all key issues of life.
So – is the Bible really our spiritual address?
Once I saw a picture of an open Bible with people growing out of it. Their lives were solidly rooted in God’s book. What a beautiful picture. That is what John 8:31 is describing.
Notice all the luscious spiritual fruit on this tree – the Christ-like character and the souls won to Christ.
But – and this is key – the way up to a fruitful Christian life is down through solid abiding in Christ via regular work on the roots of daily Bible reading, worship, Scripture memory, prayer/fasting and other valuable spiritual disciplines.
Diagram two is what John 15 is pushing me to do. To be a solid Christian who won’t be blown over by the blasts of the devil, basic Spiritual root structure is mandatory.
Each of us needs to spend time in God’s gym daily having a good spiritual workout developing each root.
Once in a while I hear believers almost hysterical over the lack of fruit in the lives. “Where’s the fruit?”, they ask. “WHERE IS THE
FRUIT?” Look at John 15 again. There is no command here to produce fruit. The command is to abide. As we abide, fruit will emerge.
Question: Why is Jesus using “abide” or “remain” so often in John
My answer is – ministry can contain within itself the seeds of its own destruction.
Diagram one is a trap that each of us can easily fall into.
“A” (our ministry) gets the attention, the praise, the positive feedback. So we are tempted to put all our efforts into our ministry and neglect “B” (our character) and “C” (our roots) that are foundational to our ministry and success.
Diagram one is not sustainable. Eventually our ministry will come crashing down because it has no support.
If I am feeling drained & exhausted – this is the first place I look (Diagram one) to see if I have mistakenly gone down this path. Neglecting my spiritual roots is a disaster waiting to happen.
It concerns me when I hear people say that discipleship is just another Christian program. NO! It is a lifestyle to be lived until God takes us home.
It is possible that in your bookcase at home are various Christian courses you’ve completed successfully in the past but never looked at again. Let’s not treat discipleship the same way.
Jesus wants us to be a servant leader, not a dictator. The John 13 foot washing incident made that very clear. Only much needed spiritual root structure in our lives will make us the leader God wants us to be.
I need to work out in God’s gym with a daily routine of Bible study, prayer, Scripture memory, etc. if I want to be unstoppable for God, if I want to be a servant leader & not Lord it over others.
In a prominent place on my desk are a pile of little cards with Bible verses written on them. Why? Because Scripture memory is my weakest root, and those cards in such a prominent place are a reminder I must intentionally strengthen that root.
When I take my roots seriously and thereby abide in Christ, my life is not perfect. But there is a strength in me that isn’t man made. The difference is obvious.
If I want to be unstoppable for God strong roots are mandatory.
Over the years I have received passionate letters from friends in Asia telling me of the stability and ballast that daily Bible reading gives their lives. They are learning the power of regular root work. How about you?
Diagram two is my vision for my life.
It is the vision for my church.
It is most valuable thing I can build into the lives of others.