A Prayer of Trust and Abiding in Christ

“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)

Teach me, Lord, how to abide in You,
to remain in You,
to rest in You.

When so many confusing words,
false words, and harsh words
come into my ears, my mind, my heart—
teach me to remain in Your words,
Your truth, Your commands
like a branch in the vine.

When egotism and self-doubt,
pride and insecurity
lead me to become self-focused—
teach me to refocus,
recenter, realign
myself in You
like a branch in the vine.

When lessons I have already learned
need to be learned again
and breakthroughs I have already had
need to break through in me again—
teach me to kneel, to be still and know,
to listen and see You afresh—
like a branch in the vine.

My life in You
and Your life in me,
resting, remaining,
abiding in You, Lord.

The Full Blessing of God [Psalm 1, part 4]

Psalm 1

Now look with me at Psalm 1, verse 3, we encounter the results of growth toward the full blessing of God. When our choose to walk into the way of God’s blessing, when we take steps with our environment for growth – our relationships and choices, and when we take in the essential food for growth – the Scripture, something beautiful happens. This is verse 3:

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

True blessing is a gift from God into our lives. True growth toward that blessing happens by the grace of God in our lives. We simply receive God’s gift and yield to God’s grace in our lives. As this happens, the psalmist points out three things that occur as part of the blessing of God on our lives.

Fruitful
First, we will become fruitful. That is, the result of our daily lives – both individually and together – will bring a crop of delicious fruit from our lives. Have you ever tried to do a project but felt like a lack of fruitfulness is there? There is nothing more frustrating. In our own lives, we cannot control blessing but we can yield to God’s to blessing. We cannot make ourselves grow, but we can surrender to the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing growth. Cultivating the right environment and then taking in the essential food for growth opens the doorways for fruitfulness. What sort of fruitfulness? From the New Testament perspective we can certainly turn to that wonderful passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church where he says: “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our lives become truly life-giving to others. Our words restore and build up. Our actions reflect the astounding love and joy of God to the world.

Enduring
Along with fruitfulness, true growth results in endurance. Psalm 1:3 says: “whose leaf does not wither.” The seasons of life in this world can certainly cause us to wither. Like the droughts of certain summers, the trials, tribulations, and difficulties of this world threaten to bend us and break us down. But the person who is truly ‘blessed’ bears up, like Jesus, in the face of difficulty. Why? Because there is a solid, trustworthy grace of God that enters into us to provide strength for what we face. This is reflected in what we read from the prophet Habakkuk 3:17-18:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Prospering
Thirdly, we read here that the results of growth are prosperity: “whatever they do prospers.” We are not talking about something as simple and passing as monetary or material blessing here. Psalm 1 is not the seedbed for the prosperity gospel. Rather, we are talking about God giving us what we most deeply need: a life truly blessed by the joy of God’s presence and lived in an enduring and prosperous world. We all clearly know that material abundance does not in and of itself bring us prosperity in life. Otherwise, wealthy athletes and pop culture stars would not ruin their lives in meaningless ways. True prosperity comes through a life well-lived before God; a blessed life. A life that others look at and say, “I wish I was a person like that.” Of course, we know that such things are only derived from the grace of God.

We are made to grow. When we take steps to grow we begin to experience the fullness of God’s blessing: fruitfulness, endurance, and prosperity.

In what ways are do you want to grow toward fruitfulness, endurance, and prosperity with God’s blessing in your life?

What do you think it might look like to step forward toward the fullness of God’s blessing in this season of your life?

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Psalm 1. You can read the other posts here:

Finding Encouragement within Suffering: a reflection on Hebrews 12

drought

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

Be encouraged: God disciplines His children because He loves them. Do not lose heart amidst your suffering. Instead, endure it sustained by the truth that God is lovingly at work even here.

We can fight against our suffering, and it may have some good effect, particularly if we face unjust suffering from external forces. However, fighting against our circumstances is different than fighting against God. We must internally and spiritually submit ourselves to God for training in righteousness, even if we legitimately wrestle with our circumstances.

We could give up in the face of our suffering, simply throwing in the towel by passively surrendering to what is happening. This most often happens when we feel we are powerless to change our circumstances. Still, this powerlessness to outside circumstances is different than our inner spiritual submission to God amidst our circumstances. Even if apparently powerless, we still have power to yield our lives to God so that He might grow us amidst our suffering. Although sometimes powerless to change our situation, God still releases His power in us as we surrender to Him, changing us to become more like Christ.

At other times, we are powerless to change our circumstances but do have power to remove ourselves from those circumstances. This takes great discernment because we must constantly yield to God so that He might have His way in us. Sometimes choosing to change our circumstances is best for our safety or our growth. At other times leaving our circumstances may actually circumvent what God wants to develop in our lives through challenging circumstances or suffering.

In our suffering-averse culture we do well to thoroughly consider whether we are listening more to God than we are listening to ourselves when considering leaving tough circumstances. We do not want to miss out on His best work in our lives. As James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

It isn’t easy to discern when we should choose fight or flight. However, amidst it all we should always choose spiritually to yield to God so that He might have His way in growing us to full maturity in Christ, even through suffering and trials. We will not grow in Christ without facing hardships and challenges. We will not gain wisdom apart from navigating tough and trying experiences which take us beyond what we already know and understand. Still, w will not make our way through these challenges well with Christ if we do not daily remember God’s love for us as a good father even in the midst of suffering.

Run with Discipline: insights on spiritual growth and suffering from Hebrews 12

image 1 - running

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

this is a radical reframing of the suffering that the believers are enduring. It is not making light of the suffering, but an invitation to see suffering in a different light. What is that light? It is to see suffering in light of belief in God’s trustworthy work as a good Father.

There are two aspects of this perspective on suffering. The first is this: the race of faith requires enduring hardship as discipline.

Now everyone knows that if you want to run well, you have to train. As much as I would love to think that I could simply wake up one morning and run a marathon by simply changing my shoes and outfit, I know that would not work at all. So, the writer says, similar to an athlete who enters into training, we can begin to see our life as not only a race of faith but a training in faith. “Endure hardship,” the writer says, “as discipline.” This is the discipline not only of a good trainer, but of a good Father who is helping to shape faith into our lives so that we can run the race well. It does not mean it is easy, but we all know that, as in athletics, so too in life: no pain – no gain.

“How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9)

When we have that perspective on suffering and know that our trainer is also our good Father, we can then, second of all, as it says in verse 9, submit to the goodness of God’s fatherly training.

Now there is a difference between submitting to suffering and submitting to God’s fatherly training amidst suffering. There is a difference between giving ourselves over to suffering—letting it have its way with us—and giving ourselves over to God amidst our suffering—letting Him have His way with us. We still want to name wrong as wrong, injustice as injustice, sin as sin. We are not equating God with suffering. However, there is a difference when we know we are dearly loved children of God. We can trust our Father to apply His goodness to our lives even amidst situations we would never choose.

This is the reality that Paul describes in Romans 8:28, which is never trite, but deeply true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And so, in light of who we are as God’s dearly loved children, let us run the race of faith with discipline!

Can We See and Change Our Blind Spots?: three possibilities for growth

blind spot

One of the greatest challenges for all of us is the reality that we have blind spots in our lives. The concept of the blind spot is probably best known from driving a vehicle. Those of us who took driving classes probably remember the explanation of that space between your peripheral vision and the reflected images of your mirrors that you cannot see. Driver’s education teachers remind everyone to always check their blind spot before changing lanes or merging into traffic. It is relatively easy to resolve blind spots with a quick glance over your shoulder when driving, but much harder to resolve in our lives.

In the larger context of life, blind spots are those aspects of our approach to living, character, or thinking that we simply do not see. Unlike with driving, it is much harder to deal with the blind spots in our larger life context. Why? Because we do not see what we do not see. At least part of the reason for this is that we are too close to our own lives and experiences to see patterns, behaviors, thinking, or speaking that has become second-nature to us.  Because of this, we often discover our blind spots in one of three ways: 1) we smash into them; 2) we have a friend who is close to enough to point them out to us and help us change; or 3) we encounter a different way of thinking or being that confronts us with the need for dramatic change.

The first way of discovering our blind spots is perhaps the most challenging because it causes pain to us and others around us. This painful discovery may sometimes be relatively small, such as the person who realizes their lack of time-consciousness hurts their friendships. At other times it is devastating, such as the person whose serious character flaw causes the end of their marriage, their career, or their friendships. The Apostle Paul had an experience like this. His blinding encounter with the glorified Christ on the road to Damascus ironically opened his eyes to his theological blind spot about the nature of the Christ (see Acts 9:1-19). He was never the same after that painful realization. Like a child who discovers heat is real by putting their hand on a burner, however, we rarely forget our blind spots after encountering pain. It forces us to change whether we want to or not.

Thankfully, this is not the only way to discover our blind spots. We can also learn to see our blind spots through the careful intervention of friends who know us well. When a true friend sees us veering into our blind spots again and again, they will lovingly address that blind spot with us. A friend who loves us does not gloss over difficult things. This is why Scripture tells us: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). This is, of course, different than a critic who forces their view of someone’s error upon them without the trust-filled context of friendship. That approach is more like another proverb that tells us “a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). To have a friend who gracefully brings a painful but good word about our blind spots paves the way to change. I still can point to various times when good friends—my wife, my roommates in college, an accountability partner, a ministry colleague—have spoken to my about blind spots. Their wisdom and grace helped me to see myself through their eyes; seeing what I could not see so I could grow.

Seeing through another’s eyes is a fitting description of a third way we can deal with our blind spots. We have all likely experienced the striking moment where a flash of insight came to us to about the way things are in the world. When that happens in relation to our own lives, it often shines light upon a blind spot in our lives that needs to be dealt with. This can happen when we hear a message or lecture, read a book, watch a movie, participate in an event, travel to another country, spend time with others unlike us, or participate in personality profiled or self-assessment. The flash of insight that comes through these experiences has the power to change us as our blind spots are illuminated. When I first traveled cross-culturally, I had a powerful revelation about how task-oriented I was in comparison with more relational cultures. While I still tend toward task-orientation, I am at least aware of that tendency, even if I struggle to operate in other ways. The Apostle Peter’s visionary encounter with God on the rooftop of Simon the Tanner is an example of this. This vision opened Peter to his blindness and prepared him for a radical new understanding of and approach to Gentile inclusion in the church (see Acts 10:9-48). The breakthrough brings insight of tendencies that provide the opportunity for change in relation to blind spots we have.

In my own experience, seeing and addressing my blind spots has often come through a combination of the three ways mentioned above. I have sometimes encountered an insight that quickly was paired with either the rebuke of a friend or the pain of smashing into my blind spots. Sometimes a friend’s gracious attempt to point out a blind spot was something I resisted until I read or experienced something that brought that to clarity. My own sense is that it is very difficult to see our blind spots. The moment we think we see them all is the moment we are probably most dangerously blind to something. I have found it sometimes shockingly easy to see others’ blind spots, but difficult to help them see it themselves. Sometimes, I have found that blind spots in others that I turn a critical eye toward often parallel a blind spot in my own life that I see later. Again and again, I return to the final verses of Psalm 139 as a helpful prayer for the revelation of blind spots in my own life:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24)