A Prayer for Abiding in Christ

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

Life-sustaining Lord,
keep me connected to You
as I live in the activities
and relationships of this day.

May the life in me
be Your life,
and the fruit from my life
be Your fruit.

May I be transformed
from within by You,
so that, growing in You,
I might become more like You.

Take me with my strengths
and my weaknesses,
my areas of brokenness and sin,
as well as my wholeness and victories.

In all things, have Your way
in me for Your greatest glory.
Let Your kingdom come
and let Your will be done.
Amen.

What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ?: two essentials for bearing fruit

vine and branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

The theme of this passage is God’s people bearing fruit as living “branches” within Jesus the “vine” as tended by the “gardener,” who is Father God.  At various places in the Hebrew Bible, Israel is referred to as a vine: a vine transplanted from Egypt (Psalm 80:8), God’s vineyard intended to develop a harvest of justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:1-7), and a once living vine now shriveled in exile (Ezekiel 19:10-14). Here in John 15, amidst the upper room discourse, Jesus describes the new community formed around Him as branches sustained by a vine, which is still called to bear fruit.

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….This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

Again the theme returns: a calling upon God’s people to bear much fruit for the Father’s glory. The key to such fruit-bearing is remaining, or abiding, in the vine, who is Jesus. There can be no fruit-bearing apart from Jesus. To not remain in Him is equivalent to becoming lifeless, and this lifelessness leads to a fiery end. Remaining in Jesus is the key to fruit-bearing, as well as to having effective prayer-communication with God. The question, of course, is what does it mean to remain or abide or continue in Jesus? the first clue comes in verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” To remain i Jesus is linked to His words remaining—or abiding or continuing—in us. There is a parallel here: remaining in Jesus means letting His words remain in us. Perhaps it is easier to understand this if we use the word “continue.” If we want to continue in Jesus, we will need for His words to continue in us; not just informationally but transformationally in our lives. This parallel between remaining in Jesus and His words remaining in us is followed by another parallel in the next verse: bearing much fruit is linked with showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command….This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-17)

In verse 9, the metaphor switches from gardening to relationships. Along with that the concept of “remaining” switches contexts from branches remaining in a vine to friends remaining in the love of the ultimate friend. Jesus is the ultimate friend because He loves to the ultimate extent: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Jesus does this because He keeps the Father’s commands and remains in the Father’s love (15:10). The connection between remaining through keeping commands and remaining in love is tied so tightly that it is difficult to see how one could exist without the other. Like the individual strands of a braided rope, it is hard to know whether to call it “rope” if they are not all there braided together as one.

So, Jesus says, if we want to remain in Him and bear fruit to the Father’s glory, it will involve obedience to His commands/word while also abiding in His love. His command ultimately is “Love each other as I have loved you” (15:12, 17). While there is certainly a sort of experiential mysticism of remaining in Christ’s love here, it is vacuous of true remaining if it does not simultaneously translate into remaining in Jesus’ commands through practical obedience. Or, as the Apostle James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Teach me, Lord, to truly remain in You,
like a branch in the vine that bears fruit,
like a friend sustained in love to a Friend
through overflowing love.

The Beloved and Doomsayers

brennanWhile having a conversation today with a colleague, he shared these marvelous words from Brennan Manning with me. In the midst of our current angst-ridden ethos, I found Manning’s words particularly poignant.

Certainly this is not the only answer to how we address the apparent chaos of these days and times, but it is still a vitally important response that keeps us abiding in Christ and centered on God’s reign.

As we listen to the heartbeat of the Rabbi, we will hear words of reassurance: “I’ve told you all this beforehand. Shh! Be still. I am here. All is well.” In place of end-time agitation and thoughts of doom, Jesus tells us to be alert and watchful. We are to avoid the doomsayer and the talk-show crank when they conduct their solemn televised meeting in the green room of the apocalypse. We are to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God. We are to claim our belovedness each day and live as servants in the awareness of present risenness. We pay no heed to the quacks and self-proclaimed seers who manipulate the loyalty of others for their self-serving purposes.

[Excerpt from Abba’s Child in the collection Dear Abba: Morning and Evening Prayer.]

Overcome (discussion questions)

Chosen Words Series Gfx_4x3 TitleHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Overcome,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This continues the series, “Chosen Words,” where we will journey through John 13-17 over the next number of weeks. This week specifically looks at two separate passages, John 15:18-25 and John 16:16-33.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the simple things that give you joy in the midst of the challenges of life?
  2. This week we continue our series, “Chosen Words,” looking at John 15:18-25 and 16:16-33. Before you read these two portions of Scripture aloud, take a moment to ask God to speak to you as you read His word.
  3. In John 15:18-25, Jesus directly addresses the tension – even hatred – that will exist between the world and Jesus’ followers. The ‘world’ in John’s writings represents, as one scholar says, “the godless world…organized in opposition to God, and therefore opposed to His people.” What reasons does Jesus offer for why the world will hate Jesus’ followers in verses 18-25?
  4. How have you experienced hatred or tension in your own life because of your allegiance to Jesus? How did you respond?
  5. Moving forward to John 16:16-18, what is troubling the disciples? Look back over chapters 13-16 and consider how many times Jesus hints at His pending departure from the disciples. Why do you think Jesus is saying this?
  6. In verse 4, Jesus says: “neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” If bearing fruit is directly tied to ‘remaining’ – or ‘abiding’ or ‘staying put’ – in Jesus, what does Jesus specifically mean by remaining in Him from this passage?
  7. While some different interpretations of this passage exist, it is most likely that Jesus is talking about His departure for arrest and crucifixion (John 18-19), and His return to the disciples by resurrection (John 20). How does Jesus explain this happening in 16:19-22?
  8. Jesus further explains the change of relationship with His Father that will occur for Him and for His disciples in verses 23-28. What new characteristics of relationship exist for His followers because of the Cross and resurrection?
  9. What do you think is the significance of Jesus concluding this entire segment of teaching found in chapters 13-16 with the words about overcoming and peace found in verse 33?
  10. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study? How will that shape your life in the coming week? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

[Next week we continue our series, “Chosen Words,” by exploring Jesus’ prayer from John 17. Read that portion of Scripture ahead of time.]

Overcome

Chosen Words Series Gfx_ThumbWhat sort of a Messiah would promise trouble and difficulty?

That’s exactly what I set out to address as I continued our series,”Chosen Words,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. I explored two separate passages, John 15:18-25 and John 16:16-33, both of which address these more difficult words of Jesus.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here. You can join in with the “Chosen Words” devotional online.

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