Yesterday was a day that I hope and pray I will never forget. It has been a long time since I had an epiphany like this. But what I realized yesterday could change my life forever, and I want to share it with you. Now some of you may already know this, but I am just discovering it for myself, which makes it exciting for me. Some of you may be like me and really had never put two and two together; I hope today will be life-changing to you as well.
Let me set the stage for you. I am trying to finish out my reading challenge that I gave myself on Good Reads. Last year I read quite a lot, and so this year my goal was to slow it down a bit. My problem was that I slowed down too much. I wanted to read 20 books by the end of the year, and so fart I’ve completed 16. I have many that I’ve started, but subsequently have gotten distracted from, so I picked one back up: Holiness by J. C. Ryle. In order to finish four books (previously started), I need to read large swaths of them each day. Thus yesterday, I read 55 pages (I read slowly, so this took time). Half of those 55 pages were of one chapter that I had already begun months before. It was a chapter on assurance of salvation. I must admit, 1) I don’t tend to have a problem with assurance of salvation. I may have a tinge of doubt once in a while, but by and large I am not fearful or fretting, 2) Ryle’s writing on the subject was somewhat helpful, and I like Ryle, however, the extended quotes at the end of his chapter were what were most-powerful to me. It was while reading these quotes that I had my life-changing, mind-blowing moment.
Many of the quotes were saying the same thing in different ways using different illustrations and anecdotes. But as I was reading them, I kept coming across words like “cling” or “lay hold.” There were sentences like this one: “The least bud draws sap from the root as well as the great bough. so the weakest measure of faith doth truly ingraft thee into Christ, and by that draw life from Christ, as well as the strongest,” (Samuel Bolton). Many of the quotes in this section dealt with laying hold, and about being a bud and drawing sap. Some spoke of growing in assurance as we grow in the faith. And that is where my train of thought left the depot.
You see, this is not only true with assurance, but with any aspect of faith in the Christian’s life. I am no different than most Christians; we tend to look at “giants of Christian history” like Luther, Augustine, Calvin, DMLJ, Spurgeon, and the like wishing we had their faithfulness in prayer, in Bible reading and study, in giving, in faith, etc. Often what we do is set a new resolution. I’m going to pray more or I’m going to pray longer. I’m going to read my Bible all the way through this year. I’m going to give more. And so forth and so on. We end up praying for a week or two, nearly every day. We get all the way to Leviticus (again!) and then begin to lag in our devotions. We give a few times, a little more than we are comfortable with and then it’s back to the same old same old. We see no fruit; we see no benefit. It’s more of a drudgery than anything else. So we give up. We let it all just slip away.
This was the realization I had yesterday: we never give time for fruit to come. What tree do you know of that is planted one day and bears fruit the next day? Or for that matter the next month or year? We are an impatient lot, are we not? We are so used to going to the supermarket and picking up our produce that we have forgotten that it took months and in reality years for that fruit to be borne. We expect that our lives will be changed every time we pray or every time we read the Bible, and that is not the case. The moments that we pray, read, give, evangelize, etc, are usually never immediate life-changing moments. They are cultivating moments. They are fertilizing moments. They are pruning moments. In time, our lives are changed. In time, fruit is borne, but it typically takes a while.
What we tend to give up on is what is necessary for fruit to bear. We cease to abide, lay hold of, or cling to that which is necessary. We still believe in Jesus; we still desire to obey God. But that which brings life (the Spirit bringing life through the “sap” of God’s Word, prayer, etc.), we cut ourselves off of for large portions of time. We are so often like a child who wants to play an instrument, but only practices once or twice a month for just a few minutes each time, and then wonders why he/she isn’t getting any better. It’s not a matter of trying harder; it’s a matter of abiding longer–longer as in forever. It’s a matter of holding on even when we want to let go.
When we lived just outside of Chicago, we owned three apple trees. Every spring, as soon as the thaw was true, I would have to go out to those apple trees and pound three stakes of fertilizer around each one. Throughout the spring and summer, I would weekly need to go out, look for disease, blight, or spots on the leaves cut them off, and rake up any that were dropped. I’d spray (organic?) pesticides when the blooms came so that the apples wouldn’t be wormy. The first couple of years we got no apples. It got tempting to forget the whole thing; what’s the use, there’s no fruit. But the third year, doing the same things, we began to find little apples on the trees. I had read that it takes about three years before fruit bears, and on the fourth year, one will start having edible apples (the sad thing is that we moved to just outside St. Louis the fourth year). The only question then, is will the grower be faithful, even when no fruit is seen, knowing that if he endures through the seasons of barrenness, one day the harvest will come.
Not feeling like your getting much out of Bible? Switch things up, but don’t just let it slide. Get a Bible study from CBD.com or your local Christian book store (a good, biblical one). Instead of reading straight through every year, study a certain section (perhaps the Minor Prophets or the Pauline epistles). Not feeling it in your prayer life? Switch things up, but don’t cut yourself off to just a couple of quick two-second prayers. I’m not dogging on those two-second prayers, but we cannot be sustained by them. I started having a “Little Book of Prayer” in my back pocket. It’s just a little blue notebook that I’ve put every person in our church into. I’ve got prayer requests from most of them that I will pray for at various times during the week. Get with a “prayer warrior” and pray with them. Read books on prayer. Get a prayer journal; read the prayers of saints from yesteryear.
That being said…no matter what, cling and lay hold of Christ. Stay connected through His Word and through prayer. Every fruit of faith comes through abiding. “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,” (John 15:4, ESV). It’s not “try harder,” but “abide longer.” The branch doesn’t try to bear fruit. The fruit naturally comes because the branch abides on the vine or on the tree.