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About this series
How to be a Christian Without Being Religious
Is it possible to be a Christian without being religious? More than a list of activities, behaviors, and rules, this series will show you that the Christian life is, at its core, an ongoing relationship with the living God. You will discover how to live a life of faith; how to portray Christ's love and character in your everyday activities; how to know if you are growing spiritually; and how to develop a dynamic, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.More from this series
Pruning is God moving into your life and cutting away superficial priorities, and anything you’re trusting in other than Him, that is decreasing the level of relationship and abiding in your heart and life.
Listen carefully: Discipline has to do with God dealing with sin in your life. Pruning has to do with God dealing with the self in your life.
Why? God wants to produce more fruit. So what does He do? He gets into your priorities and He says, You know something? Yeah, I see a lot of fruit. I want more fruit. I love you. This is not done out of spite; it’s not done out of anger.
But what He does is He gets, when you prune you get right down near where those big branches are and you lop off big things that seem really important to you.
And the pruning happens, I’ve found in my life, around areas like priorities. Have you ever found that you’re trying to juggle all these balls, and there are the kids here, and there’s work here, and this here, and ministry here, and this here, and this here? And you keep trying to figure it out, figure it out, figure it out. And your life is so busy, so crazy, and you do the Christian deal.
You know what the Christian deal is? “Let’s have coffee. Well, when do you want to have it?”
“Well, how about next Monday?” “No, next Monday won’t work. We got soccer and this and that.” “Well how about…” “No, well, they got dance lessons…” or, “Oh, I got a meeting at church on that…” What about, what about, what about, what about?
And you look at each other, and you smile and you say, “Boy, see you later!” Right? Two Christians can’t come up with a date, unless it’s five in the morning to meet with one another, just to be.
I don’t want to poke too hard but I will just a little. If I asked you, those of you that have families, how many times you sit together, with the TV off and eat a meal together, and have quality conversation in your home, I think even in this church, with such great people, I would be horrified at your response.
And I want to tell you something, if your kids don’t abide with you, they will not catch your values. If your kids don’t abide in your home with you, if there is not unstructured time where you’re together, no agenda. Way too many meals are eaten in minivans and SUVs.
And we’ve got someone going this night, someone going this night, someone going this night, someone going this night thinking, “Oh, we’ve got to provide all this stuff for our children,” so they got a practice here, a dance lesson here, a guitar thing here, a church thing over here, and when you look across the week, maybe once you eat together, share hearts. Like, what are you trying to do? Produce professional athletes, professional musicians, and all your kids are going to go into ministry?
See, I think God, in the midst of that kind of stuff, will start pruning and bring pressure in your life where you sit down and you just feel like, “I can’t take this anymore. I’m overwhelmed. This is nuts.”
And you know what you do? You don’t make some, little midcourse changes. You’re all smart people. And if a little, midcourse change could get things right, you would do that. You say to one of your sons or daughters, “You can do music or you can do soccer. You can’t do both. You can do this or you can do that. You can’t do both.”
And if you’re married, you look at one another and you say, “You know what? We’re going to focus this fall on this or on this. We can’t do both.” And an amazing thing would happen. People would find themselves talking with one another again.
See, your kids, how many of you have had your children come to you and say, “Mom, Dad, I think I’m on the beginning of a deep, emotional crisis in my life. Could we talk?” “Excuse me? Mom? Dad? I’ve got some repressed feelings about rejection I’ve had at school and I think some time, unstructured where we dialogue about my self-image because it’s all on the line right now and my body is changing. You think we could get an hour or two on this one?” When does that happen?
That happens when you’re hanging out, and your kids are hanging out, and you talk. And you know how they process what they hear at school and what they see on TV and what their friends say? There better be a place where there’s a circle, where there’s a filter it all goes through, and it better be around your table where you say, “Well, how did it go today?” And they give you that lame, “Oh, nothing.” “What did you learn?” “Nothing.” And you say, “Sorry, you want to eat here tonight?” “Yeah.” “Well, something.” And you say “At this house, we’re going to talk about it.”
Now here’s the problem. Just as that happens in our family, it’s a microcosm of our relationship with God. And hear me. If you do not have time to talk with your heavenly Father and build a relationship with Him, if you do not have time on a very regular basis to methodically and unhurriedly read through the Scriptures and let Him speak to you; if you do not have time to meet with your small group of believers where you are authentic and real and you’re sharing your life and they’re sharing their life and you are in life together; if you’re married and you do not have time to meet with your spouse and talk, not only about the finances and the business and the house, but issues of the heart, I got news for you. I don’t know what you’re doing but a lot of it is not the will of God.
Because the primary goal is that you produce fruit. Apart from Him, we can do what? Nothing. “If you abide in Me,” and what’s it say? “My words abide in you.” Is God’s Word abiding in you? It can’t abide in you if you don’t hear it. So it’s a good thing to come to church.
It can’t abide in you unless you read it. You need to make a priority to get into the Scriptures on your own. It can’t apply to you if you don’t study it. If there aren’t some key passages that you memorize. And even others that you say, “I’m going to meditate, and think, and ponder, ‘What does that mean to me?’”
If you abide in Him, and His Words abide in you then, out of the context of that relationship, you ask. And just my confession to you, I’m far from having any of this all together, is when I’m most tired, and most worn out, and most frazzled, what I realize is I may even be in the Bible and be praying but unconsciously I’ve shifted from the abiding to, “I’m going to make it happen. Oh, yeah, I’m reading and praying and, Oh God, I want You to help me.” “No, no, no, no, Chip, you don’t get it. I want you to abide in Me and then I will show you.”
You know why we don’t hear God’s voice when we get overcommitted? We’re not abiding. When you are abiding, He’ll say, “This is the way; walk in it when you turn to the right, when you turn to the left.”
And so, when we don’t do that and we all go through seasons. I’m convinced balance happens rarely, as you go from one extreme to another. And so, I think maturity is just getting not quite so far out of balance so often.
But God prunes. And He’ll prune about identity issues, He’ll prune about priorities, He’ll prune about significance, and He’ll prune about security. See, those are deep issues of the heart.
And so, in this last year, I think God did great things. I didn’t like most of them. So, is my security in who I work with? Is my security and significance in my expectations being fulfilled? Is my focus on what I can see happening or is it in my trust?
You must cooperate. That’s what it means to abide. Ask yourself, “Am I in a season of discipline where I know there are some things about my life that are not right? There are some attitudes that aren’t right. There are some habits that aren’t right. There are some relationships that are out of kilter.” God will take you away. He will lift you up because He loves you!
If you’re, in general, walking with God, what He’s going to do is He’s going to prune you. And He will prune you, not so that life can get hard. He will exert pressure, and pressure, and pressure, and pressure until the main things get back to being the main thing.
And the main thing is not what we do for Him. The main thing is not how many ministries you’re in, not how busy you are, not how much money you’re giving away. The main thing is your heart, and your relationship with this connectedness with Jesus.
How many of us, if the truth were known, honestly feel like Jesus is our friend, our best friend; honestly feel like He’s the most approachable, the most winsome, the most loving, the most accepting relationship we have in the whole world?
How many of us honestly open this book on a regular basis, not because we ought, should, or got to, but with a sense of, “Who am I to get to know a God like You? All powerful, all knowing, You’ve loved me, You’ve died for me, You’ve raised me from the dead, You got a great plan for my life. I just want to know what it is.”
And, parents, can I give you a cue on this one? Is there anything more precious, in your experience, than having one of your kids climb up on your lap – you didn’t ask them, maybe you’re even, kind of, sitting and watching something or you’re reading the paper or you’re just, sort of, half out of it and have one of your kids climb up on your lap, look up at you, put their arms around you and just say, in my case, “I love you, Daddy.”
Is that almost up there with cleaning their room? Do you know what your heavenly Father, often, is looking for? Could you just look at My face? Could you, could you refocus? I didn’t die for you. I didn’t give all that I have so that you could get busy doing stuff. I wanted a relationship. He wants to enjoy you. He’s not down on you.
I think one of the great myths in Christianity is that, secretly we believe in the back of our mind, “God is really mad.” And He’s mad at us. And no matter what we do, it’ll never measure up.
That is not the God of the Bible. Any anger that God has ever had has been dealt with once and for all. It’s called, “the wrath of God” and it was placed on Christ, in your place, when He died on the cross.
Every time you come to God, now, are there times you disappoint Him like I do? Are there times you let Him down? Are there times you grieve Him and make Him sad? Absolutely. But He’s never down on you. And He invites you to come and sit on His lap. Not out of duty.
See, a lot of our energy, in Christian circles, is really not about honoring God. It’s really about helping us feel better about ourselves. When I do this, and when I do that, I feel like I’m a better person. And God would want us to hear, You’re already a better person; I love you as much right now as I’m ever going to love you.
And so that’s why this very last evening, He said the most important thing that He could say, Guys, here’s what I want. Here’s the key. Abide. If there’s no fruit, I’ll discipline you so that you can bear fruit. If there’s some fruit, I’m going to prune you so there can be more fruit.
And then when there is more fruit, I want you to abide. I want you to go to the next level. Actually, one of the best chapters I have read on pruning and abiding is – I don’t know where it’s at in here but chapter 4, 5, 6, or something. But Bruce has, you know when you read a book and someone shares some stuff from the heart and something goes off inside of you and goes, Whoa. I have never heard anybody put that in print. That’s me. That’s how God did it with me. That’s what happened with me in this.
And he talked about when you have, when you’re bearing fruit, going from more fruit to much fruit, he said that you need to go to the next level, spiritually. And He talks about, in His own life where, he was involved in ministry and a lot of good things were going on, but he was experiencing a lot of burnout. And he made commitments to get up at five and meet with God, to get in the Scriptures every day, and to pray until he actually met God. And he said it was like starting all over in His Christian experience. He said, “I literally gave less time to ministry, I gave more time to God, and then” – are you ready? “less produces more.”
Because what happens now, it’s supernatural. God works in you and through you and things happen you can’t explain. You are led to pray in ways that you didn’t pray before. You get near to His heart and you more align your will with His will. It’s not doing more, it’s being more and making your relationship with Him the priority. And that’s how you move from more fruit to much fruit.
Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I know of no greater challenge for American Christians. And for those of us that have any sense of drivenness, those of us that have a compulsive personality, those of us that are on the performance track, this may be one of the greatest challenges we ever have.
And I would just share with you, the only way I know to do it is do first things first. Many, many, many years ago, I just hit the wall and thought, “I can’t get everything done.”
And the only way I’ve made any progress on this journey is to do first things first. And so, I don’t know about you, but I just said, “I’m not going to meet with people,” early on it was so hard for me I had to develop a habit. I just said, “No Bible, no breakfast.” Tell you what, a couple days of that will get you motivated. Not legalism. I put it on myself. But I got in a routine where the first thing I did. I read David a great while before dawn. I read Jesus’ life a great while before dawn.
I know we’re not all morning people but here’s what I know, I’m going to meet with God first. I’m going to talk honestly with God. And I’m going to come up with a spiritual diet that I need, not that you need.
Some of you are way past me spiritually. You may need this much time and this kind of a diet. Others may be brand-new in Christ. You may need this much time and this kind of a diet. This is where I’m at.
But I’ve asked God, “What do I need to abide? How much time thinking? How much time praying? What do I need? Where am I going to read? What kind of devotional helps? How much do I journal or not journal?
There are a lot of great ways but here’s the issue: do you wait until that fits into your schedule? Or do you drive a stake and say, “Abiding in Christ is the most important thing I will ever do in any twenty-four-hour period, and I may not get anything else done but I will abide.”
And of course, it’s not just spending time in the morning. Then it’s, “How do I live out that relationship every moment of the day?” But if it doesn’t start, and you drive a stake, it’s impossible to do later.
But here’s what I know Jesus has said. He said that, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you can ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Now, those of you that are thinking that bigger house and adding two zeros to your income, this sounds like a good verse, don’t go there.
See, if His words abide in you, what will get on your heart are the things that are on His heart.
And what you’ll be thinking about is if there’s zeros to be added, wonder where that money ought to go to really help people that will impact eternity?
And if there are people with needs, you let His words abide in you and you catch Jesus’ heart, you’ll look at your neighbors different, you won’t judge people from the outside, you’ll start looking at yourself and realizing the person who probably needs to grow more than anybody else is you. That’s what I learned.
And then His words abide in you and then you ask. And then you start asking for beyond material needs. As important as that is, and God wants to answer, I’m not diminishing that. But you start asking for a larger heart, you start asking for opportunities to share Christ with your neighbors, you start asking for the boldness to say, “No” to all the busyness and say, “Yes” to some important relationships.
You ask God for the faith to take steps that you know He wants you to take but you’re scared to death. Welcome to life. And you begin to ask the kind of things that are on His heart and then He will enlarge your mind and you’ll begin to ask things that you think, This is nuts. What am I doing asking for this?
And then you’ll look back eighteen months, it was nuts, and God did it! And then you’ll ask Him for this. And God did it! God is not looking for superstars! He’s looking for an ordinary man or a woman who would say, Jesus, I want our relationship to be first and foremost. I want to abide.
And see, verse 8 tells us, “By this,” not by activity, not by busyness, not even by acts of service, “by this My Father is glorified that you bear much fruit.” All fruit is is character, good works, and good works expand the kingdom that flow out of your relationship. And He says, “You’ll prove you are My disciples.”
Why did He tell us these things? Did He have some sort of cosmic need to have a relationship and then want us to do all this stuff? Look at verse 11 in your text. What’s it say? Jesus turns to His disciples that night, “These things I have spoken unto you that My joy might be in you and that your joy might be made full.”
The greatest thing you’ll ever do for you, and in your relationship with God, is to bear much fruit. Bearing much fruit means if there is no fruit, you cooperate with God’s discipline, you repent, and you do whatever He wants you to.
If you’re bearing fruit and He begins to prune, and He wants to get rid of self, and self-dependency, and security on people, and get your priorities right, you cooperate and you realign.
If you’re already bearing more fruit and you want much fruit, it means you take it to the next level and you say, wherever you’re at, “I’m going to make my relationship with Christ, my time in the Word, my prayer life, the number one focus of my human experience on this planet.” And then a transformation will occur in you, and then through you.