Sunday, January 31, 2016

Day Forty - Our One Great Need


“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, 
and all these things will be added to you.” 
Matthew 6:33

Does it strike you as odd that in forty days of devotionals on abiding in Christ I have not once led us to pray for the practical things of life? After all, Jesus clearly promised us that if we will ask according to his will, he will grant whatever we ask. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to have spent at least some time praying directly about any number of practical things in life? 

Yes it would, however, we are so prone to jump into the work of the Kingdom of God and forget the King. We are so prone to think that the major issues that lie before us are the need for people and money and things rather than our need for Christ who is Lord over all things. We are so prone to get on with bearing fruit rather than with abiding in the vine from whom comes our fruit. Therefore, it has been good and right and necessary to spend forty days in prayer and fasting, seeking the King as an end in himself; seeking the vine before the fruit. 

This is not to say that the practical things of life are unimportant; it’s simply to say that they are secondary. It is as Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” God is aware of all of our needs, and he is willing and able to provide them in his way and in his time. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:10-11). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Beloved, if we abide in him and his words abide in us, we can ask anything we wish and he will do it for us! Therefore, the most important thing we need is to ensure that we are abiding in Christ, and he in us. Everything else in life combined is, by far, secondary to this one great need. Indeed, the one who rushes to bear fruit will bear false fruit, but the one who first pursues the vine of Christ, who first seeks the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, will bear much fruit to the glory of God because “all these things will be added to him.” 

So, from these forty days let us learn and never forget the lesson: “But seek first the kingdom of God [seek first to abide in the vine] and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). 

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will cause the truth of Matthew 6:33 ever to abide with us as his people. Pray that we will never stray, by his power and grace, from striving first to abide in the vine and then passionately praying for the fruit of the vine. Let us also give thanks to God for these forty days!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Day Thirty-Nine - Joy, Obedience, and Love for Others


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.” 
John 15:11

On day twenty-four we meditated on John 15:9-10 which says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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.” From this I concluded that to obey Christ is to love him, and to love him is to obey him. Or put another way, obedience makes our love for Christ visible, tangible, objective, and measurable. Obedience is more than adherence to a list of rules; it is the manifestation of passion for God. True, biblical obedience is not legalism; it is love. Then on day twenty-six we considered some of the joy-producing benefits of obedience, namely, that we grow in communion with God, we grow in communion with the Body of Christ, and we incur the manifold blessings of God, even if through suffering. All to say, when Jesus commands our obedience he invites us into the fullness of his joy. 

Today I want to show how our obedience produces joy for others, and how their joy in turn completes our own. Obedience to God is at times directed towards God, but more often than not it is directed towards others. For instance, while the first four of the ten commandments have to do with our relationship to God, the last six have to do with our relationships to others (Exodus 20:1-17). 

When Jesus was asked what is the first and greatest commandment, he did answer that it is to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, but then added that we must also love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). Further, Paul said that to love our neighbor is to fulfill the law: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). And John writes in no uncertain terms, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). 

So, more often than not, when God issues a command, he has the good of others in mind. Therefore, when we walk in obedience to his commands, others benefit in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that they get a joy that has its roots in Christ. It is a great joy to be the recipient of someone else’s joy in God! 

Beloved, we must pause to consider this: Jesus means to fulfill our joy by using our obedience to produce joy in others. There is no joy in the world like being used of God to produce joy in someone else. 

And even greater is the joy that sees the joy of others eventuate in their obedience to God. As Paul said to the church in Rome, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice [i.e., take joy] over you…” (Romans 16:19). Oh may we strive to be obedient people that we may be joy-producing, obedience-producing, God-glorifying people! 

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will help us see his designs in obedience, and give us soft hearts before him that we might follow him wherever he leads. And pray that as we do, he will fulfill our joy by producing joy in others. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Day Thirty Eight - Joy and Evangelism


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.” 
John 15:11

The fruit of the vine comes in many sizes, shapes, textures, and tastes, and each has its own measure of joy. But one type of fruit is particularly joy-producing, so much in fact that even the host of heaven rejoices in it. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” And again, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7, 10). 

Oh how I pray that we will know the joy of this fruit in abundance! Oh how I pray that we will be like our Lord who emptied himself and took on the form of a servant and became obedient all the way to death on a cross for the glory of his Father in the salvation of the lost. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). 

Oh how I pray that in these final days of consecration and meditation on John 15:1-11 we will come to crave and seek the food that is indeed food: “Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, “There are yet four months, then comes the harvest”? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor’” (John 4:31-38). 

As the body of Christ, some of us are called to sow seeds of the Word into the lives of others and some are called to reap the harvest of evangelistic conversion. Various parts of the body have various roles. But whatever our respective roles, God has sent us into the world to engage in preaching the joy of the gospel for the glory of his name and the salvation of the lost. So, Beloved, let us play our part with passion. Let us deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily and follow him into the fields that are indeed white for harvest. Let us pursue our joy in the joy of sinners saved by grace. Let us seek to share in the joy of the hosts of heaven. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will greatly increase our joy by greatly increasing our fruitfulness in evangelism. Pray that the Father will fill us with the Holy Spirit and give us a great and compassionate boldness in preaching the gospel. Pray for your family, friends, and neighbors that they might come to know Christ and the joy that is found in him alone. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Day Thirty-Seven - Joy, Idolatry, and Eternal Life


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.”
John 15:11

Jesus is so wise—he knows how to turn the hearts of his children away from idolatry. He loves to save and send his disciples into the world to bear fruit, but he knows with utter clarity the difference between the fruit and the root. In Luke 10, after his disciples returned from a mission with reports of the fruit they had borne, Jesus said this: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:19-20). In other words, do not rejoice in the fruit; rejoice in the root. Do not rejoice in the benefits afforded you as a child of God; rejoice in the fact that, by grace, you are a child of God. Do not rejoice that you have power; rejoice that you have life in the Son! 

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). This man sold everything for the joy that was set before him, and the joy that was set before him was the treasure, not the field. The field was a fringe benefit, but the treasure was the prize. And so the question arises, what exactly was the treasure? 

In Luke 10 Jesus instructed his disciples to rejoice in the fact that their names are written in heaven. What else can this mean but that they have eternal life? And what is eternal life? Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To have your name written in heaven means you have eternal life, and to have eternal life means you know God the Father and God the Son. Therefore, to rejoice that your name is written in heaven is to rejoice in God himself. God himself is the treasure of the field. And the heart of the true child of God cries out, “O Father, do what you will with the field; I must have the treasure! Bear fruit through me as you will; I must have you!” 

We are so prone to worship the created thing rather than the creator. We are so prone to take joy in the benefits of our salvation rather than the Author of our salvation. We are so prone to rejoice in the fruit rather than the root. And so Jesus, in loving-kindness, warns us away from such idolatry and points us toward eternal life. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” 

Prayer Focus: Pray that as the Father causes us to bear much fruit, he will keep us from idolizing the fruit. Pray that we will learn to take our joy in him and not the things we do and produce through him. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Day Thirty-Six - Joy, Fruitfulness, and the Glory of God


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.” 
John 15:11

I can remember so vividly the days before I was in Christ, how I hated and disobeyed and rebelled against and ignored him. How I lived as a law unto myself. How I sought to fulfill every fleshly desire, following in the course of this world and the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). But now, by the immeasurable grace and kindness of God, I am not only a friend of God but a child, and therefore I am a fellow-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)! And as a fellow heir with Christ, I am ever receiving grace upon grace that I may bear fruit with Christ and bring glory to God the Father. I, who was once an enemy of God, am now a son who bears the fruit of the vine to the glory of God the Father. 

Who can imagine such grace? Who can conceive of a God so good and kind that he turns his enemies, not only into friends, but into fruit-bearing sons and daughters? Who can comprehend the privilege of living a life that, by grace, brings glory to God? “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

The reason the fruit of the vine brings such joy to our souls is because every single piece of fruit is a testimony to the fact that this immeasurable grace of God is at work in our lives. Every single piece of fruit cries out that we were great sinners but that God is a greater savior. Every single piece of fruit displays the fact that we are indeed abiding in Christ, and that his words are indeed abiding in us. Every single piece of fruit is a clarion call to those still lost in their sin to come and know this God of unspeakable grace. 

And oh how I pray that we will long more and more for the fruit of the vine that we may know the joy of Christ! Oh how I pray that we will strive to abide in Christ and allow his words to abide in us. Oh how I pray that we will learn to plead with him always and for everything, receiving many answers to prayer, proving to be his disciples, glorifying God the Father, and knowing—truly knowing—the joy of Christ!

Prayer Focus: Plead with me that the Father will open our eyes to see the fullness of the gospel in every single piece of kingdom fruit we bear, and pray that he will make us immensely fruitful people so that his name will be greatly glorified.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Day Thirty-Five - Joy, the Word of God, and Prayer


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.” 
John 15:11

While it may be difficult, at least initially, to understand how Jesus uses warnings, pruning, and suffering for our joy, it is not difficult to understand how he uses his word and prayer to this end. Imagine what joy would be ours if the following words were descriptive of our lives: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). There is no greater joy in life than to be in such communion with our heavenly Father that he is pleased—not occasionally but always pleased—to answer our prayers. 

Consider the words of Jesus, John, and King David. “But now I am coming to you [the Father], and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves…Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full…And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete…The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb…Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day…How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth...I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law” (John 17:13; 16:24; 1 John 1:4; Psalm 19:9-10; 119:97, 103, 163; emphasis mine). 

Abiding in Christ gives us life. The Word of Christ shapes our hearts and minds and prayers. Humble and biblical pleading with Christ moves the heart of God. Being so moved, God eagerly answers our prayers. Answered prayers are the fruit of the vine. The fruit of the vine brings glory to God. And every step of this process brings great joy to our souls, in God’s time and way. 

Thus it is that Christ spoke “these things” for our joy, and all that remains for us is to learn to walk in the way he has shown us. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will teach us to abide in Christ, saturate our lives with his Word, pray without ceasing, and bear the fruit of the vine. Pray that the Father will give us the joy he has prepared for us in Christ from before the foundation of the world.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Day Thirty-Four - Joy and Suffering


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.” 
John 15:11

Yesterday we meditated on the fact that the Father will prune the fruitful, which is to say he will discipline them. And we said that the reason this promise produces joy in the lives of believers is that they know the painful process of pruning is designed to shape them more and more into the image of Christ and cause them to obtain “the outcome of their faith, the salvation of their souls” (1 Peter 1:9). Sometimes the Father uses the shears of suffering to prune us, and so today I want to reflect with you on the relationship between joy and suffering. 

Perhaps the most important lesson to learn about suffering as a Christian is that it is not an end in itself, but a necessary means to a greater reward. Even Jesus himself endured immense suffering “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2), and then he bid us to take his view of things: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). And Peter encourages us in much the same way: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). 

Fruit-producing Christians take joy in suffering with Christ because in it they are united with Christ, by it they are shaped into the image of Christ, and through it the Father saves souls to the glory of Christ (Acts 5:41, Colossians 1:24, 1 Thessalonians 1:6). 

And while there is something unique about suffering specifically for the name of Christ, the Father can and will use any kind of suffering to produce these ends: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, emphasis mine). 

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9, emphasis mine). 

Fruit-producing Christians take joy in suffering because the reward of Christ is worth the price of pain. Indeed, “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will help us see his designs in suffering and cause us to rejoice in him. Pray that we will not resist him, but rather embrace his wisdom and work in our lives.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Day Thirty-Three - The Joy of Warnings and Pruning


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.” 
John 15:11

As we have seen over the last several weeks, Jesus offers some very strong warnings and promises in John 15:1-10. For example, “Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (verses 2, 6). So, for those who do not bear the fruit of the vine he warns of hell, and for those who do he promises pruning, which is, in a word, discipline. Let’s look at “these things” one at a time and consider how they are intended for our joy. 

All throughout the Bible, warnings of the wrath of God are intended to produce repentance that is in keeping with salvation. Thus, Jesus pleads with the people of his day, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And then he sends the disciples out to preach the same message: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12; see also Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20). Why do Jesus and the disciples call for repentance and call that good news? Because the day of judgment is coming, and with it the wrath of God, and their desire is to help people avoid it. 

And even when the wrath of God is poured out, it is most often designed to produce repentance. Consider Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:8-11. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts…The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.” 

To be sure, the actual effect of the wrath of God in these cases was not repentance but still the point remains: God’s design in pouring out wrath was to produce repentance. Therefore, the reason we can take joy in the warnings of Jesus is because we know that his heart is for our salvation and not our condemnation. We know that his heart is for our good and not our evil. It may not be pleasant to hear the truth about God’s anger in such stark and threatening terms, but for those who repent and believe it is life, and therefore it is joy. 

Now, for the fruit-producing believer, the wrath of God has been satisfied in Christ and is forever removed from their lives. But for his glory and their good, the Father will continue to discipline them and form them all the more into his image. This may not immediately strike the believer as good news, but that is in fact what it is: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). 

And so it is that Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). 

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will increase our joy by helping us see his designs in warnings and pruning. Pray that we will not resist him but rather embrace his wisdom and work in our lives. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Day Thirty Two - Joy and Submission


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.” 
John 15:11

When Jesus says “these things I have spoken to you,” which things does he mean? In one way, I suppose, he means everything he ever said. But to be more true to the context of this verse, I think he means the things he’s taught in John 15:1-10. Thus, over the next several days we’re going to go back over the entire text and meditate on how the things Jesus taught relate to joy. And I hope you will take the time to meditate carefully with me because, as I mentioned yesterday, Christ is out to maximize our joy! Let us begin with the subject of submission.

In verse 1 Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” As I said on day one, this means that the Father is in ultimate control and has ultimate power over the Son. This means that the Father superintends the life and growth and spread and fruit of the Son. And as for the Son, this means that he is willingly, gladly, and absolutely submitted to the Father and vulnerable before him. The Son is subject to every whim of the Father and surrendered to his perfect will.

Then in verses 4-5 Jesus said this: “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.” Another way of saying this is, “Unless you submit to me as I submit to the Father, you can do nothing.” And with these words Jesus calls us into the very life that he is living: a life of joyful submission to the Father. 

Now, how does joy relate to submission? Or to put it the other way around, how does submission give rise to joy? When we truly submit our lives to the Father, we come to see with our own eyes that he is wise and loving, and that he only plans what is best for us, what is best for others, and what is best for his glory. Rarely does he do things in a way that makes immediate sense to us, but in time we come to see that his plans are good and wise. 

Therefore, submission gives rise to joy because, in time, we come to learn more of who God is and we rejoice in him. We come to bear the fruit of the vine and prove useful for the glory of the Father and the good of other people, and we’re surprised and overjoyed that he includes us in his vast, eternal plans. We come to see that the Father does indeed know us by name and that he has caused us to know him, and that there is no greater joy than to know and be known by the Almighty God. 

Without submission to the Father there is no lasting joy, but with submission to the Father there are pleasures evermore in Christ (Psalm 16:11). 

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will help us see the joy of submission, and that he will help us yield to him in all things with glad and willing hearts.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day Thirty-One - Jesus' Joy and Ours


“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.”
John 15:11

With the words of John 15:11, Jesus reveals what has been one of his primary aims since verse 1, namely, the fullness of our joy in him. Have you ever stopped to think about how passionate Jesus is about our joy? Jesus wants our joy. Jesus teaches for our joy. Jesus laid his life down for our joy. Jesus is ever interceding for our joy. Twice, Jesus even commanded us to have joy (Matthew 5:12, Luke 10:20)! Beloved, we have likely never imagined how passionate Jesus is about our joy.

And what is this joy about which he’s so passionate? The main word translated “joy” in the New Testament is chara. It is used one-hundred-thirty-three times, and means “a feeling of inner happiness, rejoicing, gladness, or delight” (Friberg and Friberg, eds., Analytical Greek New Testament: Baker Books, 1994). Sometimes a distinction is made between happiness which is based on circumstance and joy which is deeper and more enduring. But this is a hard case to make from the Bible because the word chara is used to describe all types of happiness or joy.

Thus, rather than making an arbitrary distinction between two words, I would rather put the matter this way: joy is happiness based on some object or circumstance, and it will last as long as that object or circumstance lasts. If we take joy in ephemeral things, our joy will fade as fast as does their usefulness. But if we take joy in eternal things, our joy will be everlasting. Indeed, our joy endures as long as the object of our joy endures.

So, then, from whence does Jesus bid us to take our joy? Answer: from him, the fountain of everlasting delights! “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, emphasis mine). And to be sure, the joy of Jesus is vast beyond measure: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). So again, since Jesus is the fountain of everlasting joy, our joy in him will endure forever!

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us understand his passion for our joy, and that he will help us delight in him, walk in his ways, and know the fullness of his happiness!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Day Thirty - Obedience, Prayer, and the Fruit of the Vine


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

For eleven days we reflected on the meaning of John 15:7-8, and then for the past nine days we have reflected on the meaning of John 15:9-10. Today I want to explore the link between these four verses, showing that obedience is a necessary element of effective prayer and that answered prayer is the fruit of the vine. Let’s begin by looking at all four verses in context: 

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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.” 

First, let me remind you how I come to the conclusion that answered prayer is the fruit of the vine. In the original language of the New Testament, the word for “it will be done” in verse seven and the word for “so prove” in verse eight are the same word. The word literally means “to become,” and thus these verses could read like this: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will become for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so will become [i.e., show yourselves to be] my disciples.” By linking answered prayer to the fruit that proves we are his disciples, Jesus teaches that answered prayer is the fruit of the vine. (See Day Fifteen for a more detailed treatment of this argument.) 

Now, let’s look at the connection between obedience and prayer. One of the conditions Jesus gave for answered prayer is that we abide in him, or as he put it in verse 9, that we abide in his love. Then, he taught us that to obey his commandments is to abide in his love. Therefore, if we don’t obey his commandments we will not abide in his love; if we do not abide in his love he has made no promise to answer our prayers; and if he does not answer our prayers we will not bear the fruit of the vine. Indeed, obedience, prayer, and the fruit of the vine are inseparably linked to one another in John 15:7-10. 

In a book entitled The Necessity of Prayer, E. M. Bounds wrote the following: “‘The Christian’s trade,’ says Luther, ‘is prayer.’ But the Christian has another trade to learn before he proceeds to learn the secrets of the trade of prayer. He must learn well the trade of perfect obedience to the Father’s will. Obedience follows love, and prayer follows obedience. The business of real observance of God’s commandments inseparably accompanies the business of real praying” (The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, Prince Press, 2000: 56).

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will teach us well the “trade of perfect obedience” that we may learn the “secrets of the trade of prayer.” For if in this way we learn the “secrets of the trade of prayer,” we will bear much fruit to the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Day Twenty-Nine - Jesus, Our Example


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

One of the things I love most about Jesus is that he only calls us to do what he himself was willing to do. He calls us to serve one another in the way that he first served us. He calls us to love one another in the way that he first loved us. He calls us to suffer unjustly in the way that he first suffered unjustly. He calls us to passionately and willingly obey his commandments in the way that he first passionately and willingly obeyed his Father’s commandments (John 13:15, 13:34, 15:10, 15:12, 1 Peter 2:20-25). 

And not only does he set us an example but he promises to give us the power we need to do what he has called us to do: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14). So, if we attempt to do what Jesus has called to do on our own strength, we will fail miserably. But if we attempt to do what he has called us to do by leaning hard on him in prayer, he will hear from heaven and give us the power to do it! 

And this is not all: not only does Jesus set us an example and promise, through prayer, to give us the power we need to follow his example but even when we fail—and we will fail—he himself has become righteousness and sanctification for all who believe in him: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The Son is all for all who cling to the Son! 

Prayer Focus: Pray with thanksgiving for the example Jesus set us, the power he gives us, and the righteousness he is for us. Pray that he will cause us to grow all the more into his image as we adore him and lean hard on him in prayer and abide in him by grace. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Day Twenty-Eight - The Benefits of Obedience


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

Yesterday we meditated on the link between obedience and sanctification, emphasizing especially that obedience is the aim and visible proof of sanctification. Today I want to show that true, godly, heart-felt obedience, while it may be costly and painful at times, is a fountain of joy because it beckons the blessings of God. And though the blessings it beckons are quite literally innumerable, let me name several of them. 

First, the ultimate blessing of obedience is that we get God himself! “And being made perfect, he [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). How would you define eternal salvation, or what is elsewhere called eternal life? I think most of us would define it by emphasizing the temporal aspect of it—eternal life means that we will live forever. But listen to how Jesus defines it—“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). So, all who obey Jesus get eternal salvation from Jesus, and eternal salvation is to know the Father and the Son and, of course, the Holy Spirit. Indeed, even as the chief benefit of my marriage is that I get Kim, the chief blessing of obeying Jesus is that I get Jesus. 

The second most important blessing of obedience is that we get the body of Christ: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2-3). Christ may save us as spiritual orphans, but he does not leave us that way! He abundantly provides us with brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we are united in Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). 

Third, in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 God promises the children of Israel that he will bless them in eighteen specific ways if they will only obey him from the heart. He promises to make them a people holy unto himself, he promises to bless their families, to bless their land, to bless their work, to bless their food, to bless their battles and give them victory, to bless their finances so that they will always lend and never borrow. In short, he promises to bless them in all they do. And if this was so for those who were under the law, how much more is it so for those who are in Christ Jesus? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). 

This does not mean that we will not suffer, in fact, if we obey Christ we are sure to suffer. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20). But just think of the great blessings that fell upon Christ because of his unflinching obedience to the Father, and know that we too will receive his blessings if we endure to the end. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will open our eyes to the blessings of obedience so that we will not see it as drudgery but as great joy.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Day Twenty-Seven - Obedience and Sanctification


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

Yesterday we learned that the only way we are able to continue abiding in the vine of Christ is by the steadfast love of the Father, as he applies the gospel of grace to our lives and covers our sins by the blood of his Son. Given this foundation of the gospel, the lesson for today is this: to grow in Christ is to grow in obedience. The process of sanctification is the process of learning to obey Christ from the heart, and when sanctification finishes its work we will be perfectly and joyfully obedient, by the grace and power of Jesus. Consider the following Scriptures, and notice the link between holiness and obedience: 

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8). “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:1-2). “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16). “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3; above emphases mine). 

Of course, this is not to say that we earn our sanctification through obedience. The process of sanctification is just as much blood-bought by Jesus as is the faith we exercised when we first believed in him. Our sanctification is accomplished by God the Father through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, faith, and the body of Christ (John 17:17, Acts 20:32, 26:18, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30, 6:11, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:10-14, 13:12). It is God who provides the means of and the power for sanctification, and it is God who guarantees its ends. 

So, I am not saying that we earn our sanctification through obedience, but I am saying that heart-felt obedience is the aim of sanctification and the necessary display of the fact that we are becoming holy as he is holy, by the grace and power of God. I am saying that as the fruit of the vine makes the nutrients of the vine visible, obedience makes the process of sanctification visible. 

Therefore, Beloved, as we pursue Christ let us pursue heart-felt obedience! Let us pursue a heart that trusts our Father and believes that what he says is for his glory and our good, and let us pursue a heart that is quick to walk in his ways and to forsake our ways and the ways of the world. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us to see the link between sanctification and obedience, not just in our minds but in the way we live our lives. And pray that he will change our hearts so that we will be quick and glad to obey him in all things.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Day Twenty-Six - Disobedience and the Gospel


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

If it is true that to obey Jesus’ commandments is to abide in his love and to disobey Jesus’ commandments is not to abide in his love, then how can the Father allow us to continue abiding in the vine of Christ when we disobey him even one time? Let us not make light of sin: when Adam and Eve disobeyed just one time by eating a piece of fruit, their sin was serious enough to fell the entire human race and to corrupt the created order (Romans 5:12-21; 8:19-23). And so I ask again: how can the Father allow us to continue abiding in the vine of Christ when we disobey him even one time? 

Put simply, he applies to us the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus. Here is how Paul explained it in Romans 8:1-10 (I know this passage is a familiar one, but please read it carefully for without this explanation we could never continue to abide in the vine of Christ): 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” 

Does this mean that those who are in Christ are free to sin? Absolutely not! “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) The whole design of the gospel of grace is to make us holy as he is holy, to make us obedient as he is obedient. And in the heart of the true child of God, the gospel of grace breeds a great desire for holiness and repentance. Every time the true child of God sins, his passion is to repent and change by the grace and power of Christ. Or to put this another way, his passion is to respond to disobedience with obedience, for repentance is obedience responding to disobedience, by grace. 

And the true child of God has such passion for obedience because he has such passion to see Jesus, and he knows that the process of growing in holiness and obedience is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a necessary preparation to see and love and live for the glory of our great God and savior, Jesus Christ: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (Matthew 5:8, 1 John 3:2-3). 

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us to tremble at our sin, trust wholly in the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus, and have the passion and ability to repent when we do sin.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Day Twenty-Five - To Hate Christ is to Disobey Christ


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

It is perhaps an obvious implication of yesterday’s meditation, but today I want to make explicit the fact that to disobey Christ is to manifest hatred toward him. Just as our love of Christ is made visible through obedience, our hatred of Christ is made visible through disobedience. Consider the words of Nehemiah as he reflected on what happened to the Israelites after they entered the promised land: “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies” (Nehemiah 9:26). Or consider the words of the apostle John: “For everyone who does wicked things [i.e., disobeys God] hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). 

And let us be clear and sober about the fact that God will severely punish such hatred: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8). And from Deuteronomy 7:9-11: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.” 

Beloved, we must come to understand that when we disobey God we reveal the fact that part of us still hates God, and we must grapple with the fact that God in turn hates our hatred of him. I do not mean for this to cause us to doubt our salvation every time we sin, but I do mean for this to teach us not to trifle with our sin. I do mean for this to help us get to the root of our sin: to sin is not simply to break a rule, it is to manifest rebellion and hatred toward God. And it is this remaining hatred that we must face and deal with in the presence of Christ. 

Oh how deeply grateful I am for the fact that our God is gracious and patient and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:5-6)! How grateful I am that, even when we do sin and reveal our remaining hatred of him, we have these very great and precious promises: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). And, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Amen, and thanks be to God! 

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us understand how he sees our disobedience, and that he will help us prosper in the love of Christ and die to the hatred of Christ that still remains in us.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Day Twenty-Four - To Love Christ is to Obey Christ


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

A few days ago I drew out the following train of thought: to abide in Christ is to obey his commandments; to obey his commandments is to love him; therefore, the commandment to abide in him is tantamount to the commandment to love him. Today I want to strengthen that middle proposition, namely, that to obey Christ’s commandments is to love him. 

The connection between obedience and love can be found all throughout the Bible, but it is perhaps most explicit in Deuteronomy and the writings of the apostle John. Consider the following six passages: “You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always” (Deuteronomy 11:1; see also 6:4-9, 10:12-13, 11:13, 11:22, 19:9, 30:16, 30:19-20). “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me” (John 14:23-24). “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). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3; above emphases mine). 

These several passages are sufficient, I’m sure, to prove the point: to obey Christ is to love him, and to love him is to obey him. Or put another way, obedience makes our love for Christ visible, tangible, objective, and measurable. As I said two days ago, obedience is more than adherence to a list of rules, rather, it is the manifestation of our passion for God. True, biblical obedience is not legalism; it is love. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow him by passionately and willingly obeying his commandments. Pray that God will make us a loving and obedient people. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Day Twenty-Three - The Power to Love Christ Comes from Christ


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

Over the last couple of days we’ve been learning more about what it means to abide in Christ, obey Christ, and love Christ. Today we will see that there is a proper order to love that not only calls us to love but gives us the passion, resources, and ability to do so. 

And this order exists first and foremost within the Godhead itself, as the Father first loves the Son and the Son then reflects that love back to the Father in the form of heart-felt, passionate, willing obedience. When the Son receives love from the Father, he receives all the passion, resources, and ability he needs to love the Father in return. When the Father sees the obedience of the Son, he sees love, and he rejoices not only in the Son’s love for him but also in his own love that is working in and reflecting back from the Son. 

This same dynamic then plays out between the Son and the children of God. First, the Son pours his love out on the children of God and then they reflect that love back to him through heart-felt, passionate, willing obedience. When the children of God receive the love of the Son, they receive all the passion, resources, and ability they need to love him in return. When the Son sees the obedience of the children of God, he sees love, and he rejoices not only in their love for him but also in his own love that is working in and reflecting back from them. Thus, the proper order of love is this: the Son loves because the Father first loved him, and “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). 

So, the key idea we should grasp today is this: without him we can do nothing, and therefore all the passion, resources, and ability we need to love him in fact comes from him. Our love is a reflected love and its source is God the Father, mediated through the Son. We must indeed obey his commandments and labor to love him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, but we can only do so in the strength that God supplies. Therefore, in the end, since he is the fount of our love, he gets the glory for our love. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will teach us to endeavor to love him, not from our strength, but from the strength that he supplies. Pray that he will teach us to lean on him as our all-sufficient fount, and then give him the glory that is due his name.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Day Twenty-Two - To Love Christ is to Have Passion for Christ


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 15:9-10

Yesterday we learned that to abide in Christ’s love is to love Christ, and that to love Christ is to obey his commandments. Today I want to add a simple but crucial idea to the mix: to love Christ is to have passion for Christ. I get this from the great commandment which originally appears in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” 

The word for “love” in the original language of the Old Testament is a very intense and passionate one. It is used to describe the love of God for his people (Deuteronomy 4:37), the love of parents for their children (Genesis 22:2), the love of a husband for a wife (1 Samuel 1:5), and even the corrupted love of sinners for evil (Psalm 52:3). Thus, when the Bible calls us to love the Lord with all that is in us, it is not calling us to a dispassionate, uninterested, “I love because I’m supposed to love you” kind of love. Rather, it is calling us to a passionate, interested, “I love because I want to love you” kind of love. 

In his commentary on Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew Henry said, “We must highly esteem him [God], be well pleased that there is such a Being, well pleased in all his attributes, and relations to us: our desire must be towards him, our delight in him, our dependence upon him, and to him we must be entirely devoted. It must be a constant pleasure to us to think of him, hear from him, speak to him, and serve him. We must love him.” 

And what does this imply for our study of John 15:9-10? Just this: obedience is more than adherence to a list of rules, rather, it is the manifestation of our passion for God. True, biblical obedience is not legalism; it is love. Consider the words of David from Psalm 119:46-48: “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (emphasis mine). Does that sound like rote obedience to you? It is not. Quite the contrary, it is passion for God expressed in fidelity to his commandments. It is trust that God is good and only commands what is good and right and true. 

So, the key thought for today is this: to abide in Christ is to love Christ, to love Christ is to obey his commandments, and to obey his commandments is to manifest our heart-felt passion for him. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will deliver us from religious observances and teach us what it means to delight in him and his commandments with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength.