Here is a charge for us as we team up together in the work God has given us to do for his glory in 2015. The health of the team starts with the health of each individual member on the team. I am convinced more than ever that success in ministry rises and falls with our personal commitment to one thing: abiding in Christ. A genuine relationship with Christ is the spring from which everything flows. To put it another way, it is the vine from which all the fruit grows.
Jesus was about to pass the baton of his ministry to the twelve men that he had been raising up to carry on. He gathered them together for the passover meal and some very important conversation. He did most of the talking, telling them, “Love one another. Believe in me. Keep my commandments. Don’t be afraid. Abide in my love. Ask me.” Right in the middle of what we call the Upper Room Discourse, he delivers the central imperative that makes all the others possible.
“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. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5 ESV)
Success (fruit) is more about God’s work than my work. My main responsibility is to abide in Christ. This permeates everything that I do. Everything that I am! Fruit flows out of my life only as I remain connected to the Vine. Abiding in Christ is my life-calling. My roles at home and work are all sub-callings. Daily frustrations, anger, strife, stress and sin all originate from letting these other callings slip into first place. As soon as I think it’s about my strength, my ability, and my giftedness to fulfill these roles, I cut off the life-source; I am no longer abiding in the vine.
Practically speaking, how do I abide in Christ? I need to be with him. Relationships are characterized by two people knowing, trusting and loving each other. I do that with Christ through conversation, speaking and listening to him through prayer and reading his Word, learning, growing, obeying and worshiping him. It’s so simple, yet I can make it so hard and unattainable. I think it’s because I see the gap between where I am and where I ought to be. I feel ashamed. But our Father sees his beloved child whom he saved by grace, through faith, and he reminds me that he knows and loves me; he is with me and he is for me! He is not ashamed!
Relationships grow one step at a time, one day at a time. Our relationship with Christ begins with grace and grows by grace no matter how far along we are in the journey. Need an example? Go to the psalms! The psalms demonstrate what a relationship between God and man looks like over the long haul. Therein is honest dialogue with God from the heart, remembering, lamenting, questioning, revealing and confessing sins, pouring out troubles, fears, anger, requests, praise, thanksgiving and adoration.
I have a tendency to place my calling to be a pastor ahead of my calling to abide in Christ. In other words, I tend to emphasize my work over God’s work. It is a subtle but potentially fatal shift of focus. Jesus reminds me that I cannot bear fruit by myself! Apart from him I can do nothing! God is calling me back to this foundational practice of abiding in Christ. He’s calling us back. We need decisive, courageous, zealous leadership at Trinity, but this leadership needs to be characterized first and foremost by abiding in Christ. I am committed to that in 2015 and I’m asking you to join me and hold me accountable. As we press on to the unique callings God has placed on our lives as disciples of Jesus, let us not forget that we all have one primary calling: to abide in him. Let’s encourage each other in that pursuit and rejoice in the harvest of fruit that comes as a result.
Next week: PART II – Asking