Abide Until The Power Falls
In John chapter 15, Jesus tells us of both the necessity and the central requirement of bearing fruit:
Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. – Jn 15:2,4
We are given a very stark choice. Either we’re going to bear fruit or we’re going to be taken away. And whether we bear fruit or not is a question of whether we abide.
The Twofold Purpose Of Abiding
Abiding has two purposes. First, that we share in the power of Christ. Consider this promise of Jesus.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. – Jn 15:7
Norman Crabb points out in his amazing biography of Rees Howells that the promise we are given here is unlimited. We can ask whatever we wish and it will be done for us! Hallelujah!
But the promise has a qualification, that we abide. Branches draw life-giving sap as long as they are attached to the vine. In the same way, when we abide in Christ, His power flows to us.
According to the verse, it’s not just our abiding in Christ that is needed – His words also must abide in us. That points to abiding’s second purpose – that we share in God’s character.
When we cooperate with the working of God’s Word and Spirit within us, we are transformed into Christ’s image by the renewal of our minds. The vine and the branch, while retaining distinctness, are essentially one, and work together for the good of the whole plant. And because of our one-flesh marital union with the Lamb, though our persons are distinct we take on His character and work alongside Him just as intimately. Through the working of this union we grow in Christlikeness.
This is essential, because unsanctified flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1Cr 15:50). We cannot be trusted with Kingdom power until we have died to self and are at one with God and His purposes.
Thus, pruning. Pruning is not a fun operation. Anyone who has pruned vegetation knows that the mother plant is wounded and bleeds when lopped. Excessive pruning can even send a tree into shock. It takes time for the wound to heal. The tree might look barren and uneven until new growth starts.
The master gardener has his reasons for pruning. Typically, a tree will send out a lot of easy low growth to get started. That’s ok because it gets the sap running and strengthens the trunk. But at some point the gardener might see that the tree needs to begin its upward ascent or it won’t reach its full potential. Or the gardener might see unbalanced growth that not only can be limiting and unsightly, but also can put the tree at risk of being uprooted in a storm. The master gardener has a wise, long-term perspective and does what is needed to preserve the tree and make it flourish.
Jesus assures us that if we continue to abide, we too are going to be pruned. But if you are going through a painful, humbling pruning process, take another look at that verse above and be encouraged.
People who do not bear fruit are not pruned, they’re cast away. The very fact that you’re being pruned is evidence that you are bearing fruit! Pruning therefore is a “hostile witness” that God has taken pleasure in your faithfulness!
Enter, the devil
There’s a third party in the abiding process, our old nemesis the devil. It should come as no surprise, knowing the importance of abiding, that it’s high on the devil’s list to knock us out of the box. He wants to isolate us from our source of purity and power, because if we remain in place we are going to do him major damage.
When we’re going through tough, painful times we can count on the devil to accuse us of failure and to discourage us with rejection and condemnation.
But this is nothing but an opportunity to grow in faith! Never forget that all authority has been given to Christ, and that He has delegated it to us! When we are attacked we need to put on the full armor of God and take our stand. We need to declare that we are accepted in the Beloved; that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And God’s armor is offensive as well as defensive. After we have stood fast we use our armaments to recover the plunder the devil has illegally taken. We are always led to victory in Christ Jesus!
Abiding Is Not Passive!
This is the challenge of faith, and if we accept it, the devil will rue the day he ever stirred the pot. Better from his point of view that we were left alone than our spirits awoken! Make up your mind right now that you will accept the challenge of 30-, 60- and 100-fold increase!
It won’t be easy. Abiding is not for spectators, it is for the committed. It is not passive. We must strive to enter God’s rest and we must exert ourselves to lay hold of the promises.
I’m going to make a suggestion that at first will sound impertinent. I assure you it is not, and I’ll prove it. When you find yourself being tested by God, you test Him right back.
I don’t mean cheekiness. You’re in the presence of the Holy One, never forget. But I do mean to accept the challenges God wants you to accept. Run to them the way David ran to Goliath. Match wits with God the way the Syro-Phoenician woman with the demonized daughter did in Matthew 15. Just as was the case with Jesus and her, God wants us to win!
When tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus replied, “Thou shalt not put God to the test.” But that was in regard to the use of power outside of God’s will, in what would have been a challenge to God’s sovereignty.
Over in Malachi, God exhorts us to test Him!
Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. – Mal 3:10
What is God really saying there? He is challenging us to stretch our faith. Not frivolously, not from self-will, but in His will. When we accept faith challenges that are pleasing to God, we do His Kingdom work.
Nothing will be accomplished by a passive attitude! Nothing! It is essential that we rise to whatever challenges God has allowed in our lives if we are to ever bear the kind of fruit that will remain.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Rom 12:21
After all, the ultimate goal of abiding is that we bear fruit.
So if you are going through a season of pruning from God, and if the devil has been severely on your case, do not despair. Do not believe that God has abandoned you. Consider the words of biblical commentator Matthew Henry:
The God of Israel is sometimes a God who hides Himself, but never a God who absents Himself; sometimes in the dark, but never at a distance.
Your pruning is a sign of God’s approval! God is with you regardless of how you feel. Make your decision to believe and to abide and to accept the faith challenge. He will meet you eagerly, for this is exactly the thing that gives Him pleasure. Remember that it is in the trenches that spiritual promotion is earned!
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, – 1Pe 5:6
And once the test is over you will say with Job:
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. – Job 23:10
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