Going forward in a heart-knowledge of God through the Holy Spirit's progressive unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.

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It is our pleasure to include these Christ-centered devotionals by Nancy Bulk. We pray that they might be a blessing to your heart.

"The Vine and the Branches"
Abiding Branches

"Plans and Directions"

Proverbs 16:9 "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps."

Guidance questions can be besetting and many a believer has come to the Lord with pleading hearts for answers. What does God want me to do? Where does He want to go? How does He want me to respond in a particular situation? We struggle and we angst and we wrestle, we seek advice from Christian friends; perhaps like me, you've even randomly opened your Bible, putting your finger on a verse and then struggling to make it fit the particular situation. All of this fretting springs from our natural inclinations to focus on searching for guidance rather than on the Guide. Jesus is the One who sees and knows and directs the end from the beginning; our plans are safe in His hands because we are safe in Him.

Here in Proverbs 16:9, He answers all the questions a believer might have about guidance in thirteen words. God is saying, make your plans, I'm your Guide. He says it again in Proverbs 3: 5 and 6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart………..and He will direct your paths."He says it again in Psalm 23: "The Lord is my Shepherd…….He guides me in the paths of righteousness."If Christ lives in your heart, you have all the guidance you'll ever need for any situation, any problem and any question…..no exceptions. Oh, the freedom and liberation that comes when we see and take Him at His Word.

So many times, I've labored over unmade plans, labored over simply making the plans. What to do? Does God want me here or there, what if I make a mistake, what if I miss God's will…? All of these what ifs are nothing more than fear and unbelief coming from the flesh. Trust the Lord. Make the plans, make your decision, step out of the indecisive should I or shouldn't I, and go forward with sureness and enthusiasm and anticipation for what lies ahead. The God who created the universe is your Guide and He's directing your every step within those plans. He loves you and He wants to reveal Himself in steps and ways that will thrill your soul and fill you with wonder and astonishment. And just when you think you can't be more amazed, He assures you that if you're going in a direction different from what He desires for you, you can fully trust Him to let you know. We know from Scripture that this is what happened when He changed the Apostle Paul's plans.

In Antioch , after preaching and teaching, Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are."(Acts 15:36 ) Paul made plans. And one can almost hear the enthusiasm and anticipation for what they would find on their journey. The brethren rejoicing in Jesus, young believers going forward in their knowledge of the Lord, perhaps new converts who would eagerly share their Spirit-born joy in the Saviour.

Even as Paul made his plans, the Lord had already set in place the steps Paul would take:

Barnabas wouldn't accompany him, instead it would be Silas. Then Timothy, a young disciple, joined them. Oh, how precious Timothy was to Paul; one of God's perfect steps in Paul's plans. They did indeed visit with many of the brethren on their way, but then in Acts 16:6-10 we read of God's intervention, not in just one direction, but in their second choice, too.

The Holy Spirit "forbid them"and the Spirit of Jesus "wouldn't permit them"to go where they had planned. God intervened to direct Paul and his brethren, thereby enfolding Paul's plans into God's direction. And what better place for any plan to be but enfolded in the guiding hand of the Lord Jesus. Paul's response to the vision was immediate, illustrating a wonderful life principal: When your Guide unexpectedly changes your plans, resist the natural tendency to question and worry and fret about what's going on. Paul obeyed immediately. That must be our response, too. Ignore the "what ifs"the "but's"and the "why's"that will come rushing into your thoughts, demanding attention. Those "anxious naggers"will seem logical and sensible and insistent while trying to convince you that this new direction is crazy and illogical and disastrous. Remember the Lord directs your steps. Lift the eyes of your heart away from the path and your plans. Look up and keep your eyes on the Lord and go forward. The Lord Himself is your Guide and He's not going to fail you.

God changed Paul's direction; he immediately obeyed and in Acts 16, God has given us a glimpse of redemptive fruit that resulted: The salvation of Lydia and her family, the cast-out demon from the woman, freeing her from ungodly men who were using her to make money, Paul's arrest and imprisonment in the Philippian jail, the great earthquake, Paul and his friends remaining even though they could have walked away amidst the chaos and rubble. There was the jailor, believing the prisoners had escaped and he'd be blamed, was about to kill himself. Then came Paul's reassurance and the jailor's cry of "What must I do to be saved?"and finally Paul and his friends' eventual freedom.

The abundance of God's redemptive work in this one chapter is breathtaking. Dear believer, the Lord is indeed writing chapters of our lives just as He wrote the ones in Paul's. He's mindful we are but dust; yet He's eager to take the plans we make and direct the steps, laying out ahead of us paths of righteousness and peace and joy.

The mind of man makes his plans, but the Lord directs his steps. Your name and my name are in this verse as is every believer's. Take this precious promise to heart for God has tucked into it all the guidance you'll ever need: The Guide Himself.

"Not By Sight"

Hebrews 11:1

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

How often have we heard the saying: "Seeing is believing."Or perhaps in a particularly impossible situation have said: "I'll believe it when I see it."The world we live in expects to see before we trust; pictures, visuals, signs, assurance and better yet, live cameras recording details as the evidence of a news event. In the affairs of men, sight rules. We see with our physical eyes and based on what we see, we believe. Seeing is believing. Believers, however, are told to walk by faith and not by sight. God's way for the believer is a paradox to man's way. By faith not by sight.

In Hebrews 12:2 the Lord affirms that, in Christ, the believer already possesses all that's needed for a joyous Christian life of faith. "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith."Fixing the eyes of our heart that trust Him for salvation and sanctification, the eyes of faith that trust Him to answer prayer, to guide us in righteous paths and keep us as the apple of His eye. This same promise Giver and eternal Keeper defines faith in Hebrews 11:1: Faith is the evidence of those things we can't see with our physical eyes such as God's promise to conform us to His Son. Faith is the assurance of those things we hope for but are as yet to happen such as His promise to answer the prayers He burdens us to pray. Faith IS……Present tense. Today. At this moment, the same Jesus that you've trusted BY FAITH to save you and keep you for all eternity is your life of faith. Jesus is the assurance. Jesus is the evidence. What a glorious resting place. The One who began a good work of faith within you is as faithful to complete it as He was for those saints of Hebrews 11.

From God's short and precise definition of faith in 11:1, the Lord comes along side of the believer as though to say: "Let Me show you the evidence of a Potter's work with His clay. Let Me show you the assurance of Christ in men and women who believed without wavering, who believed without seeing."And what jewels of assurance and evidence these are. We have a mighty God who delights to show His grace and power in vessels of clay. It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. This chapter is abundant with truths of what God will do in men and woman who trust Him.

Here in Hebrews, the Lord illustrates His evidences of faith through, among others, his servant Abraham. No doubt all of you are familiar with the Genesis record of Abraham's obedience to God to sacrifice Isaac. But here in Hebrews, the Lord gives us insight into Abraham's thoughts that isn't in the Genesis record. But before touching on that, no reading of Genesis 22 can ignore the test of faith given by God to Abraham, a test of faith that demanded from Abraham the life of his beloved son. Probably any parent who knows this Genesis story would shrink back and say, "I could never have done it."Take me, take all my earthly goods, take it all, but don't ask me to sacrifice my child.

Abraham's steadfastness, unwavering willingness and immediate obedience when God told him to take Isaac and go to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering, is impossible to comprehend with the eyes of human reasoning. God had promised that from Abraham's seed would come nations. That couldn't happen if Isaac is dead. His son's conception was a miracle and now he's been told by God to sacrifice Sarah's son. There's no amount of determined resolve or worked-up faith or manufactured obedience that makes possible such a demand by God. Only a faith that looks above and through circumstances to the Author and Finisher can walk with perfect peace.

Abraham arose early the next morning, saddled the donkey, took Isaac along with two other young men, plus he split the wood for the burnt offering. There's nothing recorded about a sleepless, tossing and turning night, no worry or speculation or questioning of God, no churns of unbelief…..he revealed nothing to the two young men, nor did he go to friends for advice, he never even told Sarah. When he was called he obeyed. Here in Abraham we have the essence of "peace that passeth all understanding."God kept him in perfect peace because Abraham's mind was stayed on Him. His faith in his heavenly Father was as assured and clear and evident as the sun rising on a summer morning. This is the faith of Hebrews 11:1….the evidence of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for. Abraham's inner peace rested fully on his God who keeps His promises.

In Genesis 22:4, we read: On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place in the distance; the place of sacrifice that God had promised to reveal in 22:2. What Abraham saw (with his physical eyes) we aren't told, only that Abraham 'saw the place in the distance."But what he saw with the eye of faith brought a change. Whatever God revealed in "the place in the distance"Abraham understood that there were to be no witnesses to this sacrifice….just Abraham and Isaac and the Lord Himself. There are some things, dear believer, in this walk of faith, that are just for you and your Father to witness. These are special intimate times when God reveals His secrets and teaches you His ways and whispers His thoughts; these are times when He will show you things too wondrous, too blessed, too heart-filling . There will be no words that are clear and full enough to share with friends and no eagerness to testify of His ways and His paths; these are deeply spiritual moments to silently treasure in your heart and to keep as sweetmeats of trust and fellowship with Jesus.

Whatever God showed Abraham, when he "raised his eyes and saw the place"he knew that "in the place in the distance"Isaac would live. In Genesis 22:5, after he told the young men to stay behind with the donkey, Abraham says: "I and the lad will go yonder and we will worship and return to you."We will worship and return to you. Abraham knew by faith, without doubting, that whatever God did when Abraham offered his son, that his son would live. Earlier, I shared that the Lord had given us some insight into Abraham's thoughts that wasn't in Genesis. In the past, God promised to establish His covenant with Abraham and make him the father of a multitude of nations; from his seed would come the child of promise and that child was Isaac. Therefore Isaac had to live to have children and for that to be true, Isaac couldn't die. And with a logic born of the promise, Hebrews 11:19 says: He (Abraham) considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead. Abraham's faith looked past the moment and the circumstances; it looked beyond the test to the promise that God had given him years and years before. It was all so clear. If Isaac was the sacrifice, then God would raise him from the dead. Of course, we know that the Lord stayed Abraham's hand. Once again, this man of faith raised his eyes and looked; God provided a ram caught by his horns in the thicket. Instead of Isaac, the substitute ram. Instead of you and me, dear believer, our substitute, the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world.

Abraham's walk by faith was evidence of God's promise. He didn't need physical sight or signs or advice, he simply raised his eyes and looked at that "place in the distance"where he was to go and be with God and he knew that all was well. And dear believer, your walk by faith is as assured as Abraham's. God leads in righteous paths and yes, He will test your faith. Be of good cheer. Jesus, your substitute, is the assurance of things hoped for. Jesus, your substitute, is the evidence of things not seen. Rest in Him. Your walk by faith is eternally safe with the Author and Finisher of faith.

"Sown Light"

"Light is sown like seed for the righteous”
Psalm 97:11

This short verse on light blessed my heart well over a year ago. I've meditated on it, turned it this way and that, and compared it to other Scriptures where the Lord speaks of light. On its face, the verse doesn't appear to be some theological tangle that produces reams of commentary, nor one that Christians would have wildly differing interpretations. It wouldn't seem to be a verse that the believer would wrestle with and meditate and mull through for weeks. It shouldn't awaken me in the middle of the night with some new thought and then by morning find that thought is more of a shadow than fresh enlightenment. And yet for quite a while, this has been my path with this verse. I've prayed about it, asking the Holy Spirit to show me, asking Him to search my heart and root out any fleshly self-confidence, but He, to me at least, seemed silent. So here I was with a wonderful verse, plenty of written down thoughts some of which were more developed than others. There were a few tangents that weren't focused, but perhaps the detours were the direction the Lord was taking and that it would all come together in His time. And yet, the days passed and still no cohesive thread emerged. I had a lovely maze of stringless pearls.

Perhaps another verse, perhaps this verse would remain dark for a time. That was okay—the Lord always knows best and His silence on it seemed pretty loud. I decided to abandon the verse; without light from the Lord on it, all I had were words and paper. The Lord had given no light on a verse about light. Despite what seemed to me a signal to move on, the Lord wouldn't let me let go of it. So I continued to meditate on it, but expanded some of my thoughts and went through some of the other Psalms. Psalm139 was a particular blessing. And in the New Testament, the Lord gave some further light on a verse in Galatians I'd puzzled over last year. Then in the gospel of John, I read a personal favorite--the Samaritan woman at the well. I stayed awhile, enjoying this beloved story of Jesus seeking out a sinner.

What treasure there is in this account of the Samaritan woman coming to one of Jacob's wells to get ordinary water and finding Jesus and the promise of Living Water. Out of the abundance in this wonderful story; one truth especially thrilled my heart. Jesus stopped to wait for her on His way to Galilee ; before the woman arrived, the Savior was already at the well; He was there waiting for her. She was coming to fill her water pot; probably a daily task. We don't know her name or her thoughts and while He knew all about her, she had no idea that the man sitting by the well, weary and thirsty and waiting for her was the Son of God, the Redeemer on the way to the cross, the Creator of all things, the One by whom all things hold together. Jesus had all the time and took all the time needed for this woman whose life He was about to change.

What a powerful truth He has given us in this story's opening verses. Just as for the woman, in the very same way, He is waiting for us—waiting for you, waiting for me. On every path of life, in every circumstance, at whatever place we are in our Christian life, whether a precious new babe in the Lord Jesus, or seasoned in your walk with Him, whether facing some seemingly impossible situation, whether in sweet fellowship, or out of fellowship……what blessed truth it is that even if the believer has fallen away, Jesus is waiting to hold His beloved wanderer and forgive his rebellion and say welcome home. And all those years before you were saved, He'd marked the time when He would meet you. He would be there from eternity past waiting for that moment when you would come to Him; just as He was there waiting for the Samaritan woman. What an extraordinary peek into God's matchless grace and love for us.

While all of these "wanderings through the Word"blessed my heart, I still had no light on my "Light is sown"verse. And then one morning, I was reading a devotional that spoke of goals and process, and that as a Christian we oftentimes set spiritual goals---going to Bible school, becoming a pastor, going to the mission field. Or perhaps the goals are raising godly children, seeing precious family members come to know Christ, deepening our own relationship with the Lord. Yet the Lord's goal, His end for each of His children isn't some distant event. It's trusting Jesus right now . It's enjoying the Lord right now . His end is the process itself which ultimately conforms us to Christ and glorifies God.

And there in that old devotional was the Light on the "light is sown"verse that I'd been seeking. The Lord's Light wasn't "discover what this verse means"but the Light of the knowledge of Christ that He is sowing in my heart along the way. He wouldn't let me let go of the verse for He had much to show me. He led me to the beauty and Light in Psalm 139, in Galatians and in the magnificent story of the woman at the well. The Light is Christ and seeing Him in the wanderings and the mulling and the meditation was exactly His point. Don't dismiss the process, even when it makes no sense, for that is always where you'll see a revelation of His heart. And while I stared in astonishment at what for so long had been all loose pearls, they now had a string. That the Lord sows Light even when we're bungling around doing other things is a gift of His grace to His vessels of clay. Please don't take this as irreverent, but I had to smile at His sense of humor for almost immediately He brought to my mind His words in Isaiah: "My thoughts are not your thoughts neither are My ways your ways."In other words while I was flailing around looking for the seeds, He was sowing Christ.

Why, oh, why do we ever doubt Him, ever question His ways with us or His thoughts about us? His ways are so wonderful, so faultless and so absolutely faithful for whatever veiled, murky or just plain dark situation we find ourselves in. He knows us in the depths of our soul, He knows best how to teach us….His ways are always exact and perfectly suited to whatever our need. All those weeks, He hadn't been silent; He had indeed answered my prayer, He had indeed opened the verse, but it was my dimness, my blindness that didn't see. I was trying to reach a goal—light on a verse about Light—when the Lord was saying…. "I'm sowing Light all the time, every moment of your life and all those wanderings and mulling and meditating that seem to be so disconnected is the sown Light."

Dear believer, enjoy the Lord and trust Him to reveal Himself to you with flawless timing and in His own way. Whatever your situation, whatever your burden or prayer, don't be discouraged if the Lord seems silent. He's not. Don't get frustrated if it appears as if nothing is going as you planned. It's exactly as He planned. Light is sown like seed for the righteous. I hope this promise of sown Light encourages you to wander through the Word, to feast in the writings of old saints and to meditate on Christ. And even when it seems as if it's a maze of stringless pearls, you have this promise that while you wait, He is sowing. Wait for Him. He with His ways will always astonish you.

"The Vine and the Branches

Union with Christ"

I am the Vine; you are the branches……

--John 15:5

While walking one morning, I glanced up at a large tree with what seemed like a zillion branches ranging in size from the largest of limbs to the smallest of shoots. With the leaves having already fallen, the skeletal limbs reinforced the obvious. Those branches all live and grow with continuing life, season after season, because the trunk that supports them is fed by the roots, which in turn are life-sustained by God. Nothing in this process of nature is particularly startling to you or to me and yet as the Lord is wont to do, He chose an ordinary and familiar fact about a tree with its myriad of living branches to bring to remembrance Jesus' words about the vine and branches in John 15. Isn't it marvelous when the Lord uses the commonplace, the everyday detail of circumstance to open our eyes to see Him anew? Like those on the road to Emmaus who thought they were simply talking with a fellow traveler until the Lord revealed Himself and their "hearts burned within them."Oh, doesn't your heart burn with the glorious truth that the Lord's ways are never predictable, always refreshing and thankfully never limited by the dim narrowness of human understanding.

After some weeks of meditation on the vine and branches verses of John 15, it became apparent that the Lord had poured out so much that the devotional thoughts were growing beyond the limits of a single devotional. After sharing this with another Christian, he suggested doing more than one. And so these next few devotionals are offered as gleanings of fruit from these precious verses.

Once again, I am awed and thrilled by the truth that God is a God of detail. Whether a specific, what I call a telling detail, or a general one, no word in Scripture is just there; it is the perfect word, deliberately placed. There is as much inspired in the selection and meaning as in the arranging. In Bible study, one of my favorite trails of thought is why God has placed a truth where He placed it. Because the Scriptures are inspired, it is never a questioning of placement, but an eagerness to know the Lord's heart in a particular passage. And when I read these verses in John, this metaphor jumped out at me. Why here? Why not earlier, before His last discourse? This is the eve of the betrayal, the trial, cross, the crucifixion, His death and resurrection. Jesus, as the disciples know Him in the flesh, would be leaving them, and it is clear from the questions of Thomas and Philip in John 14 that they have no comprehension about the coming events or how they will all be eternally changed by them.

During a recent Bible study, an overall truth in these verses was pointed out that I had not seen; the truth that answered my question as to why this metaphor was placed here. The intimate and deep unity between the vine and the branches was an illustration of the spiritual truth of our union with Christ. By using a simple and straightforward metaphor, the Lord defines the cherished and cultivated intimacy between Him and His child. Oh, what a profound truth this is. And how precious that this is one truth. Unity. Perfect and complete with no need of any embellishing, improving or add-ons. And we humans are embellishers, are we not? If something is good we want to make it better, and if it is better, we are sure there is a best that would make it more perfect. Here Jesus is teaching union with Himself—a perfect and complete union without any additions.

No additions; just a singular emphasis. His words to His disciples are so repetitively intense that one cannot read these verses and not notice the multiple uses of three words: Vine is used 3 times, fruit is used 6 times and the word abide is used 10 times. The phrase "abide(s) in Me"6 times. Divine repetition is always an urging to pay attention, to ponder, to stay awhile, to listen to what the Spirit is saying. But this is not a "how many times do I have to tell you'scold, such as a parent dealing with a child. Here is His heart-longing and love for the disciples that has a poignant agony for these He calls His friends. He speaks not of calls to duty and responsibilities or a commission to the world's lost; there is no word about future fledgling churches or of these friends being His witnesses. There are no cautionary warnings of the endless and frustrating dealings with the doubters and tormentors and unbelievers that will plague their spread of the gospel. There is no mention here of temptations of the flesh or the uncertainties and terrors that await these friends. His words promise that Union with Me is your life. Stay with Me and find rest for your souls

Rest for our souls, fullness of joy…all is ours in Christ. Yet His very strong emphasis on unity cannot ignore that Jesus knew that future disunity among His children would be a snare. The apostle, Paul, in 1 st Corinthians, exhorts the brethren in 1:10 : "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and there be no division, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment."Paul had learned that the brethren at Corinth were quarreling; instead of being united in Christ, they had become separate groups. Some were of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Cephas and some of Christ. Paul takes them to task, asking if Christ has been divided? They had made Jesus one of many. Jesus is never part of a group, or some of the whole, or one of many. He is God; complete in Himself. In Him alone is unity. How many times have I allowed myself to get tangled in the details of some dilemma, or tumble into anxiety over unexpected circumstances, or allow some fear to grip my heart. Perhaps you have, too. How eager the flesh is to elevate these to major issues so that we get bogged down in the chaos and the disappointment and the confusion. Are you not thankful that as believers we have the answer for any kind of disunity? It is not a man-made solution or better advice or a new, more reasoned approach. It is Jesus the Unifier. It does not matter how tangled, how complicated, how entrenched the problem……the answer is always the same: Coming back to the Perfect Unifier. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Dear Christian branch, stay in Union with the Vine. . Oh, may the Holy Spirit burn that truth in our hearts.

Next time, Lord willing, we will dip into Abiding in the Vine

The Vine and the Branches

Abiding Branches

I am the Vine and you are the branches;

he who abides in Me, and I in him….. John 15:5

If you were asked to describe the Christian life, you might speak of loving the Lord, of much time spent in prayer and Bible study, of involvement in Christian endeavors or in close fellowship with others of like mind. While all of these have a place, there is only one answer to the question. Christ is the Christian life. He has positioned the believer in Himself; the believer must simply remain there. What a blessed and precious truth.

In this chapter the branch is spoken of as the work of the Son and under the care of the Father. It is here, in verse 5, where He lays out the relationship of what He is teaching through this metaphor of I am the Vine and you are the branches. He gives us a behind-the-scene peek of the Son's and the Father's branch work, then He moves from branches in general to branches in particular. You and I are the branches. It is a very personal. Jesus and me. Jesus and you. Here, in this wonderfully instructive picture from a garden vine, Jesus explains the deep intimate relationship between Himself and you. It is called living the Christian life.

There is, of course, great and sweet mystery here in that when He saved us, He placed us in Himself. This is spiritual, yes, but it is also a reality more real than any you can see with your physical eyes. Any earthly illustration fails; there are no keys to the Christian life, no secrets, no grand plan to live one and no multiple steps to a better one. In fact, a branch (the Christian) simply abiding in the vine (in Christ) is positioned in a place of joy and rest and peace and love and hope and triumph. If that were all, we would bow in worship and wonder at His grace. But there is more. In Him, we are where nothing can touch us that He does not allow. In Him, we are where sickness and death have no power. In Him, we are sheltered in every detail of our day. In Him, we are where He delights in fellowshipping with us; He soothes our tears and listens to our prayers and He accomplishes that which concerns us. He never leaves us or takes His eyes from us; He knows our deepest longings, He knows the smallest bend of our will and He rejoices when His word is hidden in our hearts. What He commands He promises and what He promises He is faithful to do. He guides and leads and restores and revives. He provides and preserves and keeps and protects. He never leaves us on our own nor does He require our assistance to become mature branches. He is the Life of His branches.

These promises of the True vine to His branch are but a glimpse of Christ our Treasure. Do not the words abide in Him rest and reassure you? So much in the world that we encounter is stress and anxiety and fear. Yet, the believer abides in the Overcomer. "Let not your heart be troubled…In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage , I have overcome the world."(John 16:33) The Lord has provided the solution to any difficulty, problem or impossible situation that believers might encounter. Just abide in the Vine.

A favorite hymn of mine is "Abide With Me"but after studying these verses on abiding in Christ, I noted that the words of the hymn have a sense of distance as though the writer was alone; the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide , is one of the lines. The hymn is written as though the believer and the Lord are separate, as if the child of God, surrounded by a plethora of failing helpers, fleeing comforts and deepening darkness, must plead with the Lord to abide with him, walk with him, stay with him. But here in John 15, we have Jesus saying: "abide in ME."Jesus is speaking not of some additional emphasis, not of beseeching or earnest desperation, not of you and me having to entreat Him to abide with us, He speaks of a living and intimate relationship between Jesus and you, between Jesus and me.

Unlike the hymn writer's words, the constancy in Jesus' words do not vacillate around feelings and experiences and the mountains and valleys and shadows of daily life. Oh, are you not thankful that nothing of self and the flesh is required of the Christian living in union with Christ? All that is required of you and of me is to remain where He placed us. It is Jesus who is responsible for the growth and the conforming and the maturing; the Christian needs only to live from the Source. Just as the branch need not expend time or work or effort with self-cleansing or pruning or purging, neither does the Christian. God the Father is the Vinedresser. (John 15:1)

And we believers should be thankful and relieved that the Father has not left the pruning process lives in our hands? For sure if it were left to me, I would be doing just the opposite of what God does. My natural inclination would be to leave those fruitful branches alone so they would thrive…why touch what is already bearing fruit? I would be focused on trying to revive the barren ones. And as a result, I would be pruning the wrong branch. Ah, beloved, the Father knows His branches. He knows what to prune in your life and what to take away. And what is His pruning tool? The Scriptures. Psalm 119 illumines His pruning tool at work. One verse that has greatly blessed me is verse 133. Establish my footsteps in Thy Word… Establish, as in to make secure and permanent. On my own, I would vacillate and wander and consult my feelings; I am so thankful that He will establish my walk in His word.

In Ephesians, Paul lifts us out of any thought of human boasting as to our own efforts. Chapter 2, verse 10: "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."His workmanship. Created in Christ for good works….oh, dear believer, do not turn these words of union and liberty around to read: created for good works in Christ or created to do good works. Each of those misreadings inserts man's ideas into God's finished work. And those good works? My, my, what love God has that the work comes to us already finished: "good works which God prepared beforehand."An extraordinary promise He has tucked into this verse; a verse I had read many times but seeing it in the light of the vine and the branches brought a fresh and heart-swelling awe. Works that God prepared ages ago that I should walk in them. God's prepared works. Prepared in His providential care, prepared because He is the master Workman, prepared by the attentive Vinedresser. Jesus is responsible for your growth in Him, for my growth in Him. The Father will take care of the cleansing and pruning.

Just as branches must abide in the vine to live, the Christian abides in Christ to live the Christian life. Oh, may the Lord refresh us anew to this eternal truth.

Next time: Fruit-bearing.

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