For six months, he agonized over the state of his soul. Each day, he would resolve to not take his eyes off the Lord, but inevitably, daily pressures and the daily mail would vex his heart and he’d forget God. The more he wanted to be holy and happy, the more elusive those qualities became. He began to wonder if the blessings he longed for were purposely withheld from this life and reserved only for the next.
During this period of turmoil, he wrote to his sister and told her how his spirit assured him that Christ was all he needed. He knew he was poor and weak, and Jesus was rich and strong. The question wasn’t where to go, but how to access the resources that were his by faith. He purposed to try harder, fast more frequently, strive harder against sin, and rise earlier to spend more time in the Word. All these he did and more, to no effect.
Then one day he received a letter from his friend who had struggled with a similar sense of failure. A line in his letter changed his life, and he later committed it to memory. His friend said, “But how do we get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.”
When Hudson Taylor read that sentence, a lightbulb turned on in his soul. At last, he understood his relationship with the Lord as a branch to the vine. Branches don’t strive to produce fruit but naturally do so by remaining connected to their life source. For Taylor, this truth lifted the constant weight of striving off his shoulders, and a happy change of countenance was noticed by all who knew him. The great pioneering missionary to China, who accomplished so much for the Kingdom of God, finally understood how to abide in Christ.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
When Jesus gave this last “I am” statement to his disciples, their world was turning upside down. Judas had left to betray the Lord, and the horrors of the cross were only hours away. Soon each of the disciples would have their own crisis of faith and would run, hide, and deny the Lord in his greatest hour of need. But while the air in the upper room was heavy with sorrow, Jesus told them what it would take to remain a disciple for the long haul. He said,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”John 15:1-2
Jesus had a way of simplifying things. His relationship with his disciples wasn’t complicated. He was the Shepherd, they were the sheep; he was the vine, and they were the branches. To not be a Judas branch, that appears to belong only to be cut off, thrown into the fire, and destroyed (John 15:6), true disciples do the opposite and remain.
Four sweet benefits of abiding in Christ
Even when painful pruning occurs, we hold fast to the vine. As we abide in the vine, we prove we belong and we increasingly bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit (John 15:2,5,8).
However, we can often see fruit as the prize itself. We can seek the fruit, without acknowledging the vine, or desire the gift apart from the giver. The problem with only seeking the results that come from abiding is that we detach the rewards he offers from the sweetness of the Vine himself.
What are the benefits of abiding in Christ? Jesus gives us four sweet byproducts of remaining in his love.
1. Answered prayer
The branch that has God’s Word coursing through it, prays in accordance with God’s will, and therefore, experiences answered prayer.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”John 15:7
Fruitfulness is a sign of genuine faith. As we bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), we prove that we’re his and bring the Father glory.
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:8John 15:8
3. Full Joy
As we remain connected to the vine, we experience the love the Father has for the Son, and the Son has for us. This brings us the fullest experience of joy.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”John 15:9-11
By abiding in fellowship with Christ, we grow in intimacy with him. We experience the joy of true friendship with the Son!
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
John 15:10 &14
Abide instead of strive
Perhaps, like Taylor, you know a similar anguish in your soul. You’re trying to do all the things you know you’re supposed to do to prove you’re a fruitful Christian. You go through the motions of devotion, but deep inside you lack spiritual power and victory over sin. Stressed and joyless, the only way you know how to “fix” it, is to try harder.
Friend, if this sounds like you, it’s time to stop striving and start abiding.
Are you striving after faith, instead of resting in your relationship with the vine? Abiding is an act of trust whereby we stay, trusting that our connection to the vine will provide all that we need to remain faithful and fruitful. While the fruit of the vine is sweet, it’s not sweeter than the vine himself.
After Taylor’s spiritual breakthrough, he concluded that,
“Christ was not just the vine, he was the root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruit. He was also the soil and sunshine, air and showers, and then a thousand times more than we have ever dreamed wished for, or needed.”
Do you know this vine? Abiding in Christ is the key to getting your prayers answered, your fruit growing, and your joy-filled. It’s both simple and profound: he’s the vine, and you are a branch. The victories and joys of abiding are for the here and now, not the sweet by and by. So strengthen your faith, weary one. Stop striving after faith, and rest on the Faithful One. This is the abiding life.
P.S. Did you enjoy this series on the Great I Am? As always, I’m the first learner as I write, and the 7 “I am” statements of Jesus are no exception. If you want to get caught up, here they are in order.
- I am the bread of life.
- I am the light of the world.
- I am the door.
- I am the good shepherd.
- I am the resurrection and the life.
- I am the way, the truth, and the life.
- I am the true vine.
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