Not long ago I decided to take a poll of a number of branches in a certain vineyard to find out how they were managing to take the strain of bearing fruit. After interviewing as many as possible, I came to some interesting conclusions. Not one had an ulcer, was on tranquilizers, was uptight or apprehensive, physically worn out or mentally fatigues. And finally, not one was contemplating giving up on the vineyard.
“What is your secret?” I asked. They said, “We’ve just learned to abide. Have you ever seen a branch struggle and strain and worry and get uptight? We don’t do that, because we understand that the responsibility for production − for results − is on the vine.”
Did you know that is exactly the kind of life Jesus Christ wants you to live? He wants you to live the life of a branch who has learned to rest in the true vine, which is Jesus Himself.
“Abide in Me, and I in you,” He told His disciples in the Gospel of John, chapter 15. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing…”
Abide in Me. What an invitation to a deeper and more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus! And He gives that invitation to every Christian.
Now, abiding is not simply a matter of coming to Jesus for companionship. Jesus is saying, “Live in Me.” For instance, in Colossians 2:6 Paul tells us, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him…”
But whoever heard of walking in somebody? You can walk with somebody, over somebody, around somebody. But how can you walk in somebody? Jesus is saying, “I want you to find in Me everything you need and everything you are. As a fish lives in water, I want you to live in Me. As an astronaut lives off a support system, I want you to draw your life from Me.”
But somehow we have gotten the idea that we come to the Lord Jesus in the same way that we drive into a filling station and say, “Fill it up,” or “Give me a dollar’s worth,” depending on the magnitude of the task that we are facing. And then we say, “Okay, Lord, thank You for that new charge. And here I go out to serve You. When I run out, I’ll be back.”
That is not the kind of life Jesus has for us. Our relationship with Him is not just to be the means for getting an injection of new strength so we can go out and serve Him in some way.
Jesus Christ is not like a stick of dynamite that gives you a charge once in awhile and does a little blasting here and there. He is a dynamo − and that is a continual source of energy. That’s why He says to you and me, “I want you to abide in Me. I want you to live the life of a branch.”
At this point, some of you may be saying, “Ron, you are talking about passivity − just sitting down and doing nothing and saying, ‘The Lord is going to do it all; I am abiding.’” But this is not what I am speaking of. I’m talking about abiding in the Lord − not idling in Him.
For example, Jesus Himself said, “…The Father abiding in Me does His works,” and “I do nothing on My own initiative…” And yet, I don’t know of a man who was busier that Jesus. The apostle Paul understood the concept of abiding, but he was extremely busy, too. Abiding, then, is not inactivity or idleness. It is, however, a rest of mind and heart.
If you will check out the Greek meaning of the word rest as it occurs in the New Testament (referring to the rest that the Lord gives us) you will find that it means “the releasing of tension.” The same word is used in reference to the releasing of a tight bow string.
And so, a Christian man or woman can work hard and actually wear out physically, but still be at rest. Why? Because there is no tension and no tightness. He is set free from fear and frustration. When something goes wrong, he doesn’t panic because the responsibility for production is not on him; it is on the vine. This means he is even free to fail!
If we are going to learn to abide in Jesus, I believe that we need to know the essential qualifications of being a branch.
First, there must be a confession of our own inadequacy − our own weakness. Remember that in John 15:5 Jesus says, “…Apart from Me you can do nothing.” You may say, “Oh, I have done something.” You may have been involved in much Christian activity and it may look impressive. But please do not mistake work for fruit.
You see, work is something that man produces; only God can produce fruit. Galatians, chapter 5, speaks of work as a product of the flesh (our own energy), but fruit as a result of the Spirit of God.
We can define fruit as the outward expression of an inward nature. The inner nature of a Christian is Jesus; if Jesus is living within a person, there is going to be some visible manifestation that He is there. If someone says he is a Christian and yet there is absolutely no evidence of the character, the gentleness, the compassion of Jesus in his life − that person does not know Jesus. The fruit of the Christian is the Christian life, and the fruit of the Christian life is other Christians − that is, other people will come to know Him through the life and words of the Christian.
This fruit, produced as God works through individuals available to Him, is the only product that God considers of lasting value. There can be much work and activity, but no fruit. And do you know what God wants His branches to do? Bear fruit.
We just need to remember that we are branches, incapable of producing fruit apart from the vine.
Second, there must be communion. It is necessary for that branch to stay in constant contact with the vine. The lines of communication must be kept open. Can you imagine a branch that is too busy bearing fruit to have time to spend with the vine? It is this intimate communion with our Lord in secret that determines what happens outwardly in our lives day by day.
Most of us would like to be that man in Psalms 1, verse 3, who is described as “a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” But you can’t start at verse 3; you have to back up to verse 2 to find out why this man was so successful: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”
You see, I observe this strong, beautiful tree and ask, “Where does it get its strength?” And I find that it gets its strength in secret, from its union with the roots.
In other words, you are no closer to the Lord Jesus Christ in public than you are in prayer. It is that “hidden life” that you have alone with the Lord that is going to determine your vitality, your strength, your freedom from anxiety, your freedom from pressure. Make certain there is a time every day that you can get alone with God. Make it the time when you are most alert.
The third qualification the branch must have is commitment − availability. I have already mentioned that the responsibility of the vine is to do the producing. The sole responsibility of the branch is to simply be available − to place itself at the disposal of that vine and say, “I have no other reason to live except to let you bear your fruit through me.”
If you and I will learn how to communicate with the Lord Jesus and daily make ourselves available to Him, He will see to it that we are fruitful.
Until a few years ago I worried a great deal about whether or not I as a pastor was doing enough for the Lord. If I had one of those days of just answering letters and administrating, I would lie in bed at night saying, “Lord, I haven’t even witnessed to a single person today; I was so busy doing these little things.” There was always too much work to do, and I lived in a constant rush, giving hardly any time to my family.
But one day as I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that the water faucet was looking a bit discouraged. When I asked what the problem was, the water faucet said, “Well, I am really down because I know I have failed you today, master. I haven’t washed your hands once, I haven’t quenched your thirst once, I tried to turn myself on, but only squeezed out a few drops. I know that you are displeased with me.”
“Water faucet,” I said, “I have passed by you a hundred times today. If I had wanted you to quench my thirst or wash my hands, I would have turned you on. I don’t want you turning yourself on − you’ll just waste water and make a mess. You have been a pleasure to me today because you have been available. I don’t measure your faithfulness by how much water you pour out in a day. I measure your faithfulness by your availability.”
You know what? I can come to the end of a day now and say, “Lord, I didn’t do such and such today, but I was available, and if You had wanted to use me in that way, You could have.” It is such a peace, such a relief. I’ve come to that great discovery that no matter how hard I work, I will always be behind, so why worry? God is not my responsibility. I am His responsibility. My relationship with Him comes first, my family comes second, my ministry third.
Now I just tell Him, “Lord, I am Yours. I am available. Whatever You want to do with me today, You can. I am just a branch abiding in the vine.”