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.

I Can Do It Myself

For those reading Lisa Harper’s book, Stumbling Into Grace, along with my small group, today’s devotional will match up with her fourteenth chapter, “Carrying Home a Giant.”

************************************************************

I headed into the store with three kids in tow and heard the dreaded words, “I can push the cart by myself, Mom.”

“By myself.”

These are words we hear often around here.  One of our favorite children’s shows, Charlie and Lola, featured an episode where the younger sister Lola announced she could “do everything that’s anything all on my own.”

That’s become the catchphrase of all three of my children, from my baby needing to buckle her own seat belt to my older daughters needing to pour their own milk.

It’s hard to navigate that world of growing independence as a mom.  When do I allow for their mistakes and overlook the messes of first attempts?  When do I step in and help out?  How do I let them learn to handle their own problems?  When is prayer my most important weapon on their behalf and when do I need to step into the ring and fight in their place?

It was difficult even that day in the store.  Every time we turned a corner, I unwittingly grabbed hold of the cart’s front and guided it around the turn.  And every time I did, my daughter quickly swerved to the side and declared (with increasing frustration), “I can push the cart by myself.

As parents, our goal is to foster independence, giving our kids both the skills and the confidence to make it on their own.

But as children of God, the one hand on the cart that we should never wish away is God’s. 

Dependence feels so uncomfortable, so helpless, so out of control, so uncertain.  Allowing Him to guide our turns and determine our pace can be frustrating at best.

Can we go down that aisle?  No; it may look like what you want, but I know best.
I don’t want to go there.  But that’s where I’m leading. 
Can we go faster?  This is taking forever.  No, let’s slow down.

Sometimes we have no choice but dependence.  We’ve exhausted ourselves in independent efforts and faced the fullness of our weakness.

Most of us have been there.  The stress of overwhelming circumstances breaks us down and we know that what we face is simply too much, too impossible and too weighty to handle on our own.  We’d be crushed.

So, we turn to God.  That’s all that’s left to do.  As Paul said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  We declare dependence, we trust in His strength alone to help us through, and for a brief time we have no choice but to rest in Him.

It’s in those moments that we understand what Jesus meant when He said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Apart from me you can do small things, but not the big stuff.”  Nor did He say, “Apart from me you can be okay, but with me you can be extraordinary.”

He said that without Him, we can’t do a thing.  Anything.  Not the big stuff.  Not the small things.

In the same way, Lisa Harper says, “We can become more dependent on God by trusting Him with the full weight of our lives” (165).

When I consider the “full weight” of my life, I realize just how often I stroll along carrying most things on my own.  It’s only the big cumbersome packages of circumstances that I hand over to God.

We have a way sometimes of confining God’s direction to “important” life matters.  When it comes to where to live, our job, our relationships, our marriages, our health, and other huge life decisions, we pray frantically for God’s will and for direction and wisdom.

But when it’s a matter of those everyday life details like our schedule, our eating and spending habits, our conversations, and our tasks at work or home, we tend to think we can handle that “all by myself.”

Yet, while our goal as parents is to create independent children, God’s goal for us is to encourage dependence on Him in the big things, in the little things, in all things.

Recently, I’ve been struck by how many times a day I have the opportunity to bring Christ into the middle of my decisions.  How often I feel a quiet nudge on my heart to act or not act—and how often I ignore it out of busyness or stubborn pride

I’m not perfect at this, but I’m learning.  “Don’t watch TV right now.  Don’t go in that store today.  Talk to her.  Don’t send that email today; wait until tomorrow.  Give that away.  Put this away or you’ll lose it (wish I listened to that one more often!).  Do this now, not later.  Call her.  Pray for her.  Come spend time in My Word. Don’t buy that.  Don’t take on that project.  I have a plan for you here and want you to do this.”

All day, I feel urged, reminded and encouraged.  All day I should listen.  All day I should surrender independence, stop declaring that “I can do it myself,” and voluntarily choose to let God guide me in the way I should go.  Because apart from Him, all by myself, I make things more difficult, I make a big mess, I miss out on blessing, I reject obedience, and I can do nothing.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King