I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
- John 15:5
Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, once wrote."How does the branch bear fruit? Not by incessant effort for sunshine and air; not by vain struggles...It simply abides in the vine, in silent and undisturbed union, and blossoms and fruit appear as of spontaneous growth."
This brief introduction below of missionary pioneer Hudson Taylor of China, tells us a lot about ourselves.
I have a lot of admiration for Hudson Taylor. His desire to see the Chinese people saved started when the Holy Spirit entered his life. In his missionary career which began in his early twenties, he studied three necessities needed to help the Chinese — medicine, mandarin, and midwifery.
He translated as many Bibles as he could. He was working and worrying so frantically about the salvation of souls in China and the need for tireless missionaries, that it affected his health. For a time, it appears he was working under his own power. Just when his friends feared he was near a breakdown, Taylor received a letter from fellow missionary John McCarthy who heard of his friend's issues. It told of a discovery McCarthy had made from John 15 — the joy of abiding in Christ.
McCarthy's letter said in part: "Abiding, not striving or struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power. This is not new, and yet 'tis new to me. Christ seems to me now the power, the only power for service; the only ground for unchanging joy."
How do you go when it comes to abiding in Christ?
Abiding is one of those harmless words. It's a word that seems to mean we are sitting in a waiting room or on a bus seat without any required actions; or like we're treading water in a swimming pool, neither swimming nor drowning, but just being there. It doesn't elicit from us strong or radical feelings.
Some words send us to emotional corners as in a boxing match and raise our blood pressure through an immediate opinion or thought, but the word abiding doesn't seem to do that for me. How about you? If anything, it sits neatly in the middle, unruffling the feathers of thought. I have to actually focus to think on the word, and yet it means so much to me.
We are called to abide in Jesus Christ, the Vine, but sometimes we find ourselves doing the opposite. We get flustered and anxious about things we shouldn't and put human effort into abiding.
We try to become a branch instead of just growing into one.
Don't get me wrong, the spiritual life needs action. Everything we do requires effort — except abiding. Do we want an answer to prayer? We first must pray. Do we want knowledge of God? We need to read. Do we desire fellowship with other believers? We first must engage with them. Do we want to be missionaries like Hudson Taylor? Then much preparation is to be done first.
Abiding is different. It requires the action of inaction. if I were to create an image for abiding, I would say it's like a patient lying in a hospital bed (and I have done that a few times lately) on a drip. We can still become anxious in patient-mode and yet just lying there is the precise thing we need to do. We must simply lay there in peace and let the serum drip in our bloodstream bringing balance to our body. When we truly rest in Christ, the serum flows from the Vine to the branch — from the drip to the body.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
As we see, part of that peace comes from removing anxiety. The two are at odds. We can be busy in Christ, yet are we at peace? Do we abide in the serenity that Christ is in charge of the work — that he is the Vine, not us?
It takes faith to abide
When we abide we need to have faith, not hope, that he is at work. We cannot hope that Jesus is at work. That's a compromise and a lack of faith. We must have faith that he is at work. Jesus is always at work just like his Father. Our anxieties come when we feel it is our job to do all the work. In thinking we are increasing the flow of serum from the Vine to the branch, we are actually clamping the drip through the thought that our human efforts hold power. They hold nothing. It is only Christ within that has the power to change us and other people, not we ourselves.
In our overwhelming desire for a closer walk with Jesus, we can make the mistake of thinking human effort can do that — bring us closer to the Vine. But it's the opposite.
It is the peace of God which passes all understanding, not human works. It is that peace alone that "keeps" our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. To obtain that peace and the keeping of those two receptacles so important to faith — our hearts and minds — we must abide in Christ his way. That is in resting our spirit and letting the power of his love flow through. Our effort will then be driven by that.
Hudson Taylor turned a corner and grew the China Inland Mission by learning to abide in Christ. With that inflowing of peace, he was able to overcome the emotional pain of the early death of his wife at 33 and the death of a number of children before they reached the age of 10. Abiding in Christ will also help you right now in your challenges.
Today's prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the principle of the vine and the branches. It's a simple illustration which I often forget and misuse. Please help me to abide in the peace and rest of that principle, and let the serum — the power behind the fruit of the spirit — flow abundantly within me.