John 15:1–5 (NIV)
“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. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Now we come to the grace-filled harvest of abiding. I should point out on this journey of awakening each stage incorporates and carries forward all the other stages. Abiding now carries all the essences of awareness, attention, attunement, attachment, and affection. It’s what makes abiding such a richly loaded word and dimension of life. Abiding is nothing more or less than sharing life with others in the kingdom of heaven.
Notice how Jesus begins this teaching on abiding by reminding us of the most important relationship in the universe: His own relationship with the Father.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”
Abiding is the process by which the Spirit seals our attachment to Jesus with whom we share in relationship with the Father and through which we flourish in the bearing of fruit.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
It reminds me of a story I have told here before but cries out for a retelling now.
It comes from one of my heroes and mentors, Fr. Hule Goddard. At the time of the happening he served as a professor at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He was preaching in their chapel. His text was John 15:1–17. He camped out on the early part of the passage and Jesus word, “I am the vine. You are the branches. If you abide in me as I abide in you, you will bear much fruit.” Hule went on to make the predictable application, equating abiding with spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible, prayer, and fasting. The more we do these things, the more we will bear much fruit. In other words, our work is to suck the sap out of the vine.
After the message Hule was approached by a student. Turns out she was a PhD Botany student. She offered the obligatory, “Good sermon,” and then remarked he had gotten the part about the vine and the branches backwards. She said it was more like the vine pushes its sap into the branches. The branches don’t strive to suck the sap out of the vine. They merely stay attached and receive the sap as it flows from the vine. This is how fruit is born.
This is playing the game in “the zone.” It is living life in “flow state.” The vine pushes its sap into the vine. This sounds kind of like yesterday’s text doesn’t it?1
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt. 11:28–30 MSG)
Wake up, sleeper!
Father Farmer God, how I long to live from this abiding place in Jesus. Jesus, I want you to go over this with me line by line, per your offer. I want to recover my life. I want to walk with you and work with you; to watch and learn how you do it. I want to abide in you; filled by your Spirit, full of the Father’s love. Yes, Jesus, I want more than anything else to abide in you. You are the secret. Holy Spirit, train me in this way of staying in the present moment with Jesus, of living in the flow of your love and power. This is where fruit comes from; not my striving but your gifted life in me. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.
Do you tend to get it backward believing you have to do the work in order to abide in Jesus? Is this flipping the script for you? What do you think this will mean for you—this move from striving to receiving?
THE HYMN (We sing on the Recording)
Today we will sing one of the favorite hymns of many, “My Jesus, I Love Thee” on page #117 of our newly released Seedbed hymnal Our Great Redeemer’s Praise.
For the Awakening,
NOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
- In my judgment and experience, abiding is akin to being in what great athletes call “the zone.” Another way of talking about it is “flow state.” It is a place of effortless movement and extraordinary outcomes. Professional athletes almost universally speak of the zone as being connected to themselves in a way that transcends self consciousness and staying in the present moment. It is a way of playing that is free of anxiety and filled with confidence. I believe this is what abiding looks like in the kingdom of Jesus. And certainly, Jesus is the pure and perfect picture of what this looks like. For most it is at best a fleeting experience. It can take a lifetime to learn to live in this way. It is not a result of achieved competencies or mastery of skills but rather of the kind of surrender becoming abandonment to Jesus. Though there is a sense in which we are all saints in ordinary, people who learn to live in this rarefied air of abiding become the extraordinary Saints whose memory endures for centuries.