Hang on to the Vine (and do not let go!)

It was an epic battle.

I still even bear the scars all the way down both of my arms and it’s been a week since the fighting ceased.

Vines!

Vines, I tell you!

My husband and I have been cleaning out the overgrown hedges beside our home and tangled in these branches beyond our wildest expectation were these pesky, stubborn, unbelievable vines.

Some of them were spindly and fairly easy to yank out.  Others had grown into monstrous, tree-trunk-sized plants that had to be sawed out of there.

We had to untwist each of the branches where they wound around the bushes.  Then we had to yank out the roots wherever they had clamped down into the earth.  They splayed off into every direction and created one gigantic tangled mess.

I started calling them demon vines.  They certainly felt possessed with evil.

But they have given me an entirely different perspective on Jesus’s teachings to abide in Him like branches attached to a vine.

He said:

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. 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).

Whenever I’ve heard people talk about “abiding in Christ,” it sounded so easy.

Worrying?

Just abide in Him.

Stressed out?

Just rest and abide in Him.

Struggling through a tough season?

Keep abiding and it’ll be fine.

It sounds like a fairly passive spiritual state.  Just hold on to Jesus and you’ll be just fine.

And I try to “abide,” I do.

But life has a way of stepping all  over peace and trampling over our joy.

There are these annoying stresses.  These unexpected pits that trip us up.  There are conflicts that derail our focus on Jesus and His love for us.

What if I re-consider what it takes to “abide?”

It’s not some relaxed, ideal state of non-worry and general passivity.

It’s active and full of effort.

After all, the branches on these vines in my yard are tenacious and unyielding.  They can endure fierce opposition without budging.

In order for me to get rid of these things, I’m having to hack at them with a machete and I’m digging down into the dirt and pulling them out by their roots.

So if I’m going to be like the branches on the Vine, I need to cling to Jesus for dear life, refusing to let go, making every effort to stick as closely to Him as possible.

I’ll put down shoots into the dirt to keep a solid foundation, so I can be fruitful and filled with life.

This is what Jesus said abiding looked like:

“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 (John 15:10 NASB).

The abiding life means obeying what God says, following Him wholeheartedly and recognizing that He is my Strength and my Source.

Oh, how my heart so easily slips into  anxious fretting.

Oh, how easily I get caught up into wanting to defend myself or in efforts to do things my own way, to fix problems in my own strength, to provide, to make the good happen and fend off the bad.

So as soon as I start making plans for my own salvation, I need to stop and hang onto the Vine.

I can’t do this–all of this and any of this–apart from Him.

As soon as I find myself  turning circles of worry, I need to get hold of the Vine!  Meditate on Scripture.  Turn up the praise music.  Anything to keep from getting my focus yanked off Jesus.

This is what keeps me alive.

This is when He gives me abundant life and fruitfulness.

Abide.

Garden Devotions–It’s Crowded In Here

Originally published April 27, 2012

My daughters and I reached a compromise.

I announced that I didn’t want to grow a vegetable garden this year.  It was too much work for too little result.  It didn’t save money.  It started out fun in April and ended up a horrible, rotten, ugly chore by the middle of July.  Various ravenous insects destroyed and devoured my plants.

Their response was unanimous.  “But Ma—awm.  We like to grow our own food.”

So we narrowed down the lists of vegetables we would grow and planted a container garden on our deck.

We filled large wooden crates with garden soil, vegetable food and the tiny plants of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers we had chosen.  Then we dropped the carrot seeds into the dirt, following exact directions on how far down to push them and how far apart they needed to be spaced.

After a while my daughters disappeared to work on their own project. They held out the result to me with pride.  It was a small planter with dirt in it.

“We planted radishes,” they announced, “all by ourselves.”

I shrugged.  The radish seeds were leftovers from last year.  It seemed unlikely they’d grow.  Yet, the girls faithfully watered that pot for days and surprisingly they were rewarded by the first hints of green.

A day later, the pot was crowded by infant radishes.  The girls must have dumped 20 seeds all into the same tiny space in the miniature pot.

It was going to be really crowded in there.

Unfortunately, even though it is hard and a little sad, we now have to make some tough choices.  If all the radish plants remain in that pot, none of them will grow correctly.  Some of them have to come on out of there.

Sometimes our lives are just as crowded as that tiny radish pot.  Every single seedling may have potential for beauty, growth, and produce, but nothing can grow when they are all shoved into the small space of one simple life and the restriction of 24-hour days.

Even though it’s hard and a little sad, there are times when some things have got to go so that other areas of your life can grow to their full potential.

It’s not always a mystery when choosing what to toss.

When Jesus walked into the temple and saw the vendors hocking their wares–doves for sacrifices and loans for people needing money for their offering–He responded immediately.  It didn’t take a second’s thought for Jesus to overturn their tables and chase the mercenaries out of the holy space of the temple courtyard.

He threw out sin, contaminated worship, and the profanation of the holy.

As soon as Jesus cleared the place, the blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14).

The only reason they could seek healing in the temple, the only reason there was room for the blind and lame to worship, was because Jesus had thrown out the tainted and unholy.

The Message emphasizes this when it says, “Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in.”

Until Jesus cleaned house, there hadn’t even been room in the temple for those who needed God the most.

Will we allow Jesus to overturn the tables in our heart where sin and the unholy have set up shop?  Will we clear out the trash and the disgusting, so that we have room to come to Jesus—and to bring others along who need Him the most?

Of course, it’s not always so easy to tell what has to go in our lives.  We have a million choices of how to invest our time, energy, talents, and money, and all of them could be good.  We could lead hundreds of crusades against a world of evil.

But if we crowd out our lives with too much that is good, nothing will grow as it should.

Jesus Himself exhibited the kind of focus we need, to hone in on our purpose and refuse to be distracted by every demand and need.

During His ministry, mobs of people sought out Jesus for healing, and He frequently healed those who sought out His help.

But He didn’t heal everyone.

In fact, when the crowds grew too large and people sought Him out for healing alone, He moved onto another town or escaped the masses to pray alone on a mountain or by the sea.

Healing was fine.  Miracles were part of His ministry.  But it was not His main purpose for coming and He never wanted that to be the focus of His presence.  Instead, He had come to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and “to save the world” (John 3:17).

Maybe it’s time for you to pull out some of the extra radishes from your pot.  The first ones to go are easy—yank out the sprouts of sin, the unholy habits and the remnants of the flesh life.

Then prayerfully ask God to help you focus.  What seedlings should you tend and invest in until you harvest their potential?  What seedlings need to be set aside so that other areas of your life can grow?

 

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King