We live in a world, in the United States of America, where forty percent of the people, in one way or another, have said, “I belong to Christ; I’ve prayed to receive Jesus; I’m a born again Christian.”
In that same world, the divorce rate among “evangelical Christians” is higher than that of their pagan counterparts. We have a world where believers say they believe this and they act like this.
And what Jesus is saying is, those who are genuine believers, He will begin to exert pressure in your life and in my life because He loves you so much until you cry, “Uncle.” When there is no fruit, God will enter you into a school of discipline.
And He will do it through your finances, He will do it through your kids, He’ll do it in your marriage, He’ll do it through your relationships, He will do it through your work. And here’s what it says over, and over, and over. You might jot down I Corinthians 11. This isn’t something new. In the early Church, it got so bad that there was a group of people who, they came and they had these agape or these love feasts, where they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper and have a big worship service.
People were actually getting drunk in the worship services, and some were coming early and they wouldn’t share their food with the people that were poor. The apostle Paul, at the end of that chapter will say, “Because of that lack of fruit, the lack of evidence, the lack of relationships, some are sick and some are even dying prematurely.”
See, God loves us and He’s telling His followers, “I’m committed to you producing fruit.” - Love, peace, impact, and transformation. “If you don’t,” He says, “I’m going to lift you up.” Now, He says to these fellows, “You’re already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you. I mean, you are in vital relationship with Me right now.” Now He says, “Well, how do you continue that? Abide in Me – remain,” the word means “to hear God’s Word for the purpose of putting it into practice.” That’s all “abide” means.
I understand what it is, I’m going to act on it, and do what I know. My heart is His. I’m responsive to the Spirit’s prompting. I’m taking in spiritual nourishment, I’m giving back worship. I’m responding to what God shows me.
It’s just like a marriage. I’m abiding in a relationship. You know that feeling you have, those of you that are married, when there’s connection? You know what I’m saying? Man, are you all with me here today or… I mean, no one married has this?
In my house, this is the way it works. There are times, I don’t even know what’s wrong, and I’ll just look at Theresa and I’ll say, “Um, you know, maybe it’s just body language or maybe I said something but what I can feel is we’re not really connected.”
To abide means you’re connected. It doesn’t mean everything is always going great, it doesn’t mean you have ooey-gooey feelings all the time, but it means you’re on the same page.
What He says here is, “Abide in Me, and I abide in you. As the branch,” here’s a fact, “cannot bear fruit of itself; unless you abide in Me, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” Then He says, “I am the vine;” I am the source, “you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears,” notice, “much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
As you study this carefully, we move from lifting up to a branch that’s bearing fruit, what’s He do? He prunes it. Now, some of you understand about pruning. I’m not real agricultural, as you could probably tell.
But Theresa will tell you that when I prune, man, I go nuts. We have a fruitless mulberry tree in our backyard. I don’t know if you know how these trees… they’re like weeds that have trunks. And they grow over and they get so big and they lean over on the house and then they start breaking and so the neighbors really don’t like the leaves in their yard and about every two years, Theresa will say something like, “You know, we really need to address this.”
And so I say, “Okay.” And, you know, I get the saw out and when I get done it looks like it’s been butchered. In fact, it got so bad we had a pro come in a couple times and when he did it, it looked like we just had a stub with about four or five little things and I thought, “I thought I was bad. This guy must be nuts.” In three months, it was completely covered with greenery.
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.
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?” And you get out their calendar and you’re just talking about two people. “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.
You know, I don’t want to poke too hard but I will just a little. 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.
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’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? “and 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’s a good thing to hear good messages on tape.
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.
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 gotta, 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.”
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’ll invite 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’s more fruit, I want you to abide. I want you to go to the next level. 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.”
Anybody here make a to-do list and I mean, does anybody get your list done? I don’t know anybody that can get all that done. And yet, I get this unbelievably, rich satisfaction out of putting check marks next to my list. Whoo.
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.
Where are you at with that?
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.