Several years ago, I had the chance to walk through a jungle forest in Bali, Indonesia. My friend and I were standing near the bottom or a canyon, looking up and across to the other side where numerous large trees were stretching heavenward. Because they were growing in the side of a cliff, the roots of these trees were exposed as they reached down dozens of feet to the river below. The trees had survived and thrived because they pursued the source of water.
In John 15, Jesus illustrates a need for us, as his followers:
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Do you want to become more loving towards your spouse your children? Do you want to become increasingly patient with people who get under your skin? Do you want to experience joy even when you don’t get the job, or you receive bad news from the doctor? The fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) will grow abundantly in our lives only as we remain rooted in Jesus.
To remain in Jesus is to deepen a relationship. To be a Christian is more than believing that God exists; it’s more than living a morally-acceptable life; it’s even more than having correct ideas or doctrines about God. Being a Christian is living in a close relationship with Jesus. It is drawing our strength from him when we grow weary, it is crying out to him when our hearts are heavy, it is being fully satisfied in him, knowing that he meets our deepest needs, and satisfies our greatest longings. When we respond to the gospel in faith, God assures us that we are spiritually joined to Jesus, so that we may indeed abide in him! But like any relationship, we may not sit passively and expect the relationship to thrive. Abiding in Christ requires us to cultivate and develop our walk with him, so that we may grow as Christians. So, how can we do this?
Earlier in the passage above (John 15:3), Jesus explains to his disciples that because they have received God’s word, they are “cleansed”. In the context of John 15, Jesus means that God’s word functions as a tool for pruning us. God uses his word to expose and trim away our weakness and our brokenness; he uses his word to call us to obedience, to comfort us with his promises, to correct our wrong ideas about who he is. God’s word has a powerful, shaping effect on us, and if we desire to strengthen our walk with God, God has given us his word which he graciously uses to refine and prune us. Discipline yourself to read it, study it, and meditate upon it. As you read, ask what God is showing you about what is wrong about our nature, that requires God’s grace? What does the text show you about how God graciously rescues us from our sin? How does this text call you to live in response to God’s grace?
Jesus continues, promising us that “if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). Jesus doesn’t mean to suggest that that God is a cosmic vending machine who will dispense whatever we wish whenever we want. Instead, he is emphasizing the connection between God’s word, prayer, and our relationship with Christ. As we are shaped by God’s word, we approach God in prayer, enjoying communion with God. God shapes our desires through his word, so that we approach him, asking for what he would have us ask for, and he is pleased to give it to us. Prayer, in other words, is a vital part of our relationship with Jesus. Yet, for many, prayer can be difficult! What should you say? How should you say it? If you aren’t sure where to start in prayer, the Psalms are a prayer book that can teach us the language of prayer. Become familiar with the language of the Psalms, and you’ll find that often they are able to express to God the deep cries of your soul.
There are other ways to pray, of course. Our family often uses the acronym ACTS as a reminder to:
As you pray (whether you pray silently, out loud, or by writing in a journal), practice being specific in what you are asking of God. Or, select a bible passage, and pray through it, using the ACTS; what does the text show you that you can Adore God for? What does the text give you to be Thankful for? And so on. A final suggestion is praying through each of the petitions of the Lord’s prayer, expanding upon each petition. For example, when you pray, “Give us our daily bread”, you bring to God your daily needs, whether for a job interview, financial provision, or health for a loved one who is ill.
The Christian gospel invites us into a deep relationship with the Lord of the universe! As we commune with him in prayer and in his word, we’ll find that God graciously forms and shapes us more into his image. Draw near to him in that journey today!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra