John 15:1–4 (NIVjd)1
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me.”
PREVIOUSLY ON THE WAKE-UP CALL—The transformational journey of awakening leads along a path moving from awareness to attention to attunement to attachment to abiding to abandonment. What begins in being asleep ends in becoming fully awakened.
Nowhere is this path made more clear than by Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Back in the late 1900s, Jesus brought me into this text. I thought it was a short course. Little did I know I would still be repeating the class twenty-five years later. It turned out to be the entire curriculum. At first I loved the inspirational sentiment of the text and all its emphasis on abiding. However, I quickly made a subtle shift away from the text by importing my own sense of what I thought abiding meant. I assumed it meant to rev up my devotional engines.
From there I made a quick leap to adopt as many spiritual practices as I could muster and in ever increasing measure. Read more. Pray harder. Fast faster. Keep Sabbath. Practice solitude. Join small groups. This led me to turn my attention to spiritual masters. I tried to learn everything I could learn about the spiritual life and spiritual practices. I read Richard Foster and Dallas Williard and Thomas Merton and Hannah Whital Smith and Hannah Hurnard and Brother Lawrence and Madam Guyon and Andrew Murray and A.W. Tozer and Oswald Chambers and on we could go. Maybe Jesus led me to all those witnesses and certainly they had many profound things to say.2
Around the turn of the century, it hit me. I was trying to master a subject when the goal was to be mastered by God. I was amassing more and more knowledge about faith when the point was to know God. Meanwhile, Jesus patiently waited on me. In the early days of the new century I began to wake up. The “awkward age of religious busyness”3 was finally giving way to Jesus’s school of abiding. It was as though he were saying to me, “Now that you have read all those books about me and this and that and the other, would you come to me? Can we just get back to what I have to say about abiding? Can we delve together into the depths of my Word and it be about me and you?”
I had finally begun to awaken into an actual awareness of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. I found myself aware and amazed, finally standing in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. And he had been there the whole time. I would discover abiding was not my active initiative but my response to the abiding One.
Wake up, sleeper! Rise from the dead! The Son of God beckons us to come to him, to abide in him to become aware of him, not as a distant figure of history or even as a God somewhere out there, but as infinitely near and unfathomably present.
Farmer Father God, thank you for speaking to us in these last days by your Son through whom you make real life so profoundly clear. Jesus, teach me to abide in you as you abide in me. Holy Spirit, increase my awareness of the right here, right now presence of Jesus. Strip away all the clutter of so many distractions and the ways I substitute the goodness of others’ words for the greatness of your Word. Bring me into this divine simplicity. Thank you for joy of even the promise. Praying in the name of Jesus, amen.
Where are you in your knowledge about Jesus as compared to your actual knowing of Jesus? Are you becoming more aware of his right here, right now presence or does he still remain more of a distant, albeit divine, figure of history?
For the Awakening,
NOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
1. I add the “jd” to NIV tongue in cheek. The only change I make to the text is the use of the term “abide” in place of the modern translations which tend to use words like “remain.” I love the vintage arcaneness of the term. I appreciate how the ESV translators chose the term and commend this translation to you; however, I “rememberized” the text in the 1984 NIV translation which remains my text of choice. This explains the anomalous NIVjd reference.
2. I do not mean to eschew the reading of books on the spiritual life, and especially those written by such witnesses as these. They are no substitute for the pure Word of God. One word of Scripture is worth more than all the books in the world. It took me too long to recognize and appreciate this fact. Though I have become a publisher of many books (and several of my own) I cannot overstate the importance of becoming, in the words of John Wesley, “a [person] of one book.”
3. This phrase, “the awkward age of religious busyness” comes from the late Thomas R. Kelly, another of the masters I read and continue to read. A bit of a one hit wonder, his book, A Testament of Devotion (1941) is a masterpiece. Kelly, a Quaker, died at forty-eight on the same day he learned of Harper Brothers interest in publishing his work. It was later published posthumously. It is one of my very favorite books ever, a work of concrete mysticism and practical divinity. Here’s the quote I referenced.
“The last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity which lies beyond complexity. It is the naiveté which is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busy-ness for the Kingdom of God—yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul’s growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy. It lives in the Fellowship of the Transfigured Face. Knowing sorrow to the depths it does not agonize and fret and strain, but in serene, unhurried calm it walks in time with the joy and assurance of Eternity. Knowing fully the complexity of men’s problems it cuts through to the Love of God and ever cleaves to Him. Like the mercy of Shakespeare, “’tis mightiest in the mightiest.” But it binds all obedient souls together in the fellowship of humility and simple adoration of Him who is all in all.”