Insights from John 15 – Spiritual Union

“Stay united with Me, as I will with you–for just as the branch can’t put forthGrapevines fruit by itself apart from the vine, so you can’t bear fruit apart from Me. I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who stay united with Me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from Me you can’t do a thing. Unless a person remains united with Me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up.”  (John 15:4-6)                                                                                                                                                                                          

There is an effort required in maintaining our union with Jesus. He commanded us to stay united with Him, indicating it is possible to leave that place of union, to disconnect ourselves from Him. However, He promises to remain united with us. I believe He is saying in effect, “I will do My part, if you will do yours.” Without continual union with Him there is no fruit, period. It cannot come forth; it is impossible.

Verse five was my life verse for several years, and the Lord still reminds me of it from time to time. From this, I have learned that the only thing the branch has to do is stay connected, or in union, with the vine. Fruit will come naturally, with no effort at all when we do that. Apart from Him, we can do nothing except utterly fail! We will never be literally apart from Him, for He has promised to never leave or forsake us. Through Him and His strength, we can do all things.

What does it look like to stay in union with Him? I believe it means we continually commune with Him throughout each day, talking and listening, as we would with a friend. We consider His thoughts and feelings when making decisions. We welcome His guidance and correction. We live with the sense of His presence – knowing He sees all, hears all, and knows all that we think, say, and do each day. Our desire is to please Him more than ourselves, and we live our lives accordingly. We will still make mistakes, but there will be no fear of punishment or rejection. Instead, we will repent in confidence that He knows our hearts and understands the weakness of our flesh. He is always for us, seeking to help us love and obey Him.

We can choose to stay connected to Him or not, and if we choose to disconnect, we will dry up like a branch that lies on the ground and dies. His life is our life, and if we do not draw from His life continually, we quickly become barren, with nothing to give. He desires that we bear much fruit for His glory. He will be faithful to do His part, and if we are willing, will even help us be faithful to do ours.

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Learning to Walk by the Spirit

One of the greatest challenges I’ve encountered as a believer is learning to sunlit pathwalk in, or by, the Spirit. Though I didn’t grow up in church, I’ve been in it long enough to have heard the admonition to be led by the Spirit many times. However, I don’t remember anyone ever telling me how to do it. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what that phrase meant. Several years ago I came across a little book by Graham Cooke called, Towards a Powerful Inner Life. Though it is small, it is packed with wisdom and truth that greatly helped me. I highly encourage you to read his books and listen to his teachings, they are amazing!

Just as God is triune (three parts) in nature, so is man. We are made up of spirit, soul, and body. (1 Thess. 5:23) Our spirit is dead at birth, but is reborn at salvation. (John 3:3-8) Our spirit then becomes one with His indwelling Spirit, which is how we commune with Him. God releases revelation to our spirit, which is then processed through our mind and applied to our soul. Our spirit is always in agreement with God because we are one with Him through the Spirit.

Our soul is made up of three parts: our mind, will, and emotions. Obviously, we think with our minds, feel with our emotions, and make choices with our wills. Unbelievers live entirely from this realm. (1 Cor. 2:14) After the Fall of man, the spirit died and we lost our communion with, and the true knowledge of, God. This is clearly seen when Adam and Eve tried to hide in fear and shame from the One they once walked and talked with freely in the Garden. Ever since then, man came under the dominion of his soul rather than his spirit. The soul is the part of us that is influenced by the enemy.

Our body is the vehicle that carries our spirit and soul, and follows the dictates of whichever one we allow to be in charge of our decisions. If we live from our soul, we will indulge in fleshly passions that can bring great harm to our bodies, even if we are “born again.” When we live from our spirit, the Spirit will influence our decisions and we will put our fleshly desires to death, by God’s empowering grace. (Gal. 5:16, 24)

God has given us free will; we can choose whether we are going to listen to, and follow, our soul or our spirit. Since our soul is used to calling the shots, we must put forth the effort to build up our spirit. We can do this through communing with God in His Word, in worship, and prayer. We must take responsibility for renewing our minds, according to Romans 12:2. In time, this will bring our thoughts into agreement with God’s, and whatever we make agreement with, we empower. When we agree with the enemy’s lies, we give him power over us.

The carnal soul is self-absorbed. I think of it as a spoiled child – it wants what it wants, and it wants it now! It is influenced by our ungodly thoughts, our damaged emotions, and the enemy who tempts us to indulge our flesh. Our soul loves God, but wants Him on our terms, not His. It is stubborn, independent, and rebellious, and must be disciplined in order to come into submission to our spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit is self-control, a soul that has been trained to submit to the indwelling Spirit, in union with our human spirit. As we bring our thoughts into agreement with God’s, allow Him to heal our damaged emotions, and resist the temptations of the enemy, we can bring our soul into submission to our spirit. This is how we learn to walk by the Spirit.

What has God taught you about walking by the Spirit? Please comment below.

The Glory of Partnering with God

Last week, I wrote briefly on how intimacy through prayer was the key to Jesus’ success inchild praying ministry during His earthly life. There are so many aspects of prayer that entire books have been written on the subject. In all my years of involvement in prayer ministries, one facet I never understood until recently is the idea of prayer being a partnership with God. It is so amazing, I am still meditating upon it!

For so long, I wondered that more believers were not actively involved in prayer meetings or groups. We like to talk about it much more than we like to do it, generally speaking. This is understandable, for prayer really is hard work. It takes time to be still and listen to God; to discern His heart and purposes for people and situations. It takes self-discipline to put aside our own desires, needs, or issues to intercede for others. Intercession is an act of love; it is laying down your life for the sake of others, and for the Lord.

This concept of partnering with God through prayer is seen throughout Scripture. One outstanding example is found in Ezekiel 22. Beginning in verse 23, the Lord instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to Israel, rebuking her for her many sins. From the sound of His words, you would think God is about to destroy her. Yet in verse 30, He says this, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before Me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it…” God is seeking (literally, to seek the face; to desire; to demand; to ask; to request) for someone who will stand before Him (literally, in His face; in His presence) to ask Him to spare Israel. Why? Because He doesn’t want to destroy her, but her sins have left Him no other choice. His justice requires payment for sin, but His mercy desires to forgive and cover sin. Yet He will not act apart from human involvement – He must have an intercessor to agree with His heart and plans, asking Him to be merciful.

This blows my mind! The Uncreated, All-powerful, Almighty, Sovereign God of the universe has limited Himself to work through weak, broken humans made in His image! What dignity He bestows upon His people! There are other examples – Abraham with Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:16-33); Moses with the rebellious children of Israel (Deut. 9:13-29); Paul with his fellow Jews (Rom. 9:1-5). The ultimate example, again, is Jesus’ intercession through the cross. The cross is the greatest example of both love and intercession for all eternity. Jesus literally placed His own body in the gap between God’s wrath and our sin, taking our rightly deserved punishment upon Himself, enabling His mercy to cover us instead.

Unfortunately in Ezekiel’s day, He could find no one. He continues in 22:30-31, “…but I found none. So I will pour out My wrath on them and consume them with My fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.” He is still seeking partners today to stand in the gap for our families, churches, cities, and nations. It’s not that He needs us, for He is not lacking in any way. He desires our communion and fellowship. He wants us to be a part of what He is doing in the earth. He longs to hear our voices as we come into agreement with His plans and purposes.

He is raising up a bride who is worthy to rule and reign with Him for all eternity. One whose greatest desire is to see Him get the reward of His suffering. Many are hearing and answering the call to join Him in bringing heaven to earth. The climax and culmination will result in His return to the planet, as the Spirit and the bride in full agreement cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:17)

Trust and Intimacy

Intimacy is a subject not often discussed.  It has a certain mystique about it and seems a little too personal to discuss with anyone except maybe our closest friends. Yet it’s of great importance when it comes to our relationships; it’s a quality of life we were created to desire and enjoy. Intimacy is defined as, “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person.” It is probably most often thought of as the sexual aspect of marriage relationships but can also refer to emotional or spiritual closeness to another and this is the form I will be referring to.  I believe that all truly meaningful relationships require intimacy in order to thrive.

It is the foundation of our relationship with God. (I am speaking of spiritual and emotional closeness to Him). I have only begun to understand this in the last 10 of my 30 plus years of walking with Him. Though I’m certainly no expert on the matter, I have learned a thing or two these last 10 years that may be of help if you struggle with it like I once did.

True intimacy requires trust.  It involves being open and vulnerable before another and this typically necessitates some level of trust in that person. To the extent that we have issues with trust intimacy will be greatly hindered if not impossible. God created us for the purpose of communion and fellowship with Him – He created us for an intimate relationship. He knows us completely because He made us (see Psalm 139), and He wants to reveal Himself to us so that we can know Him as He truly is.

The fallen state of this world and our own souls make it difficult to trust other people and especially God. After Adam and Eve’s sin, they and everyone since have lost the true knowledge of God. Their intimate walks with Him in the Garden gave way to the shame of realizing their nakedness, the fear that led them to hide, and the control that caused them to cover themselves from their once beloved Creator and Friend. Later, jealousy led one brother to murder another. Trust was shattered.

Past and present hurts also play a big role in hindering trust, particularly feelings like guilt, shame, and condemnation.  Only God can set us free from these lies and the bondage of distrust that seeks to destroy our connection with Him and others. We must be willing, by His empowering grace, to let Him search our hearts and show us the hurtful ways inside us.  Only when we allow Him to bring us face to face with the truth can we become free.

This was at least in part, God’s reason for sending His Son to take our place, bearing the weight of our sin and imparting His life through the Spirit. He is that serious about wanting intimacy with us…ponder that for a while. If you struggle with intimacy He wants to liberate you to truly know the freedom that comes from being loved by Him and loving Him in return. There is nothing else like it – it is the very reason you exist.