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.
(John 15:5)

I am a firm believer that every single trial we have in life is allowed by God in order to test our mettle, usually with the aim of showing us where our fortitude or character is a little bit lacking.

I mean, if we are honest, any one of us can be immeasurably bold, incredibly courageous, and are capable of great gallantry… theoretically.  It’s that sticky place where heroic imaginings meet with a leaky fridge or an explosion of teenage drama over a five-minute departure time that we sometimes find our integrity falling a bit short.

Or pain. In my case, I have to confess that a month or two of near-constant headaches will quickly shred any guise of righteousness I may have concocted in my mind and lay my weaknesses rather painfully bare.

Strange though it may seem, I see this as a good thing.

In a recent reading of John 15,  the Lord’s discourse grabbed my attention in a new way, and I have been thinking about it since.

Really, there is so much packed into this one passage that I could go on forever (don’t worry – I won’t; at least not today…), but the what stood out to me was the emphasis Jesus put on abiding, bearing fruit, and loving before He launched into a sort of warning about the persecution and difficulties that lay ahead for the disciples.

In the illustration of the vine and branches, the Lord makes twelve references to abiding or remaining in the first eleven verses.

Now I know that the Lord did not begin this agricultural analogy to His disciples by announcing, “Verse 1 of Chapter 15 begins, ‘I am the true vine…'”

I also know that He was most likely speaking to them in Aramaic or Hebrew and not in either English (my translation) or Greek (the language the text was translated from).

However, in any language if a speaker repeats the same concept multiple times in a brief span, that speaker kinda wants the listener to hear it. It’s worthy of note the other concept He reiterates is love: loving each other, remaining in His love, etc.

As I have mulled all this over while simultaneously dealing with the afore-mentioned month or two of head pain along with the inevitable adolescent ire, and yes, even the leaky fridge, it has been driven into even my somewhat thick and murky consciousness that the one way we are going to endure hardships, difficulties, and trials is to love each other well.

And the only way we can love each other well is by remaining in Him.

While that may seem self-evident, the lesson my Father has been hammering home here lately is that “remaining in Him” is more than an hour or two of pre-dawn Bible study and prayer. It is an all day,play-by-play reliance on Him to provide me with the ability to do what I cannot do on my own.

As an example, take the watermelon vine in the photo above. That yellow flower and the other little buds each hold the promise of delectable, mature fruit to come. Yet if at any time the flower or the ripening fruit becomes severed from the vine, there will be no scrumptious melon but only decay.

Also, there is absolutely no way to attach the melon to the vine for a few moments or hours. Even if there were, such partial nourishment would never be enough to sustain a truly juicy melon through the scorching Tennessee summer. The fruit would certainly wither.

Even so, a few minutes or an hour alone with God in the morning is not enough to sustain me through yet another day of pain, be it the physical pain of migraine or the emotional frustrations of navigating through the volatile Land of Adolescence as a parent.

No, I need much more than a brief connection. If I am to love my family well and endure the pain of life, I will have to remain connected with Him every single second – for there is not a single second of the day in which I do not need a greater strength and a fiercer love than the shriveled parody I can conjure on my own.

And that is where true joy begins…

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

If Gathering: A Reflection

Friday and Saturday, I attended a sort of unusual women’s conference.  May I be brutally honest for a moment? Had I not heard from a few Biblically solid friends how good it was last year, I probably would not have attended.

The Pinterest-y feel of the whole thing when I looked into it did little to engage my rather awkwardly pragmatic little self. Door prizes. Cutesy table decor. Other things of that nature which, in my jacked-up little Spartan mind, are symbols of American privilege and hail the possibility of fluffy, ear-tickling speaking. (And if you’re wondering, no. I did not enter to win the door prizes but used my scrap of paper to fidget with while listening. I am, at least, a consistent oddball).

But I did have those friends… so I went. I am so glad I did. There were a variety of women speakers from several backgrounds, nationalities, skin tones, and life stages, yet they all had one thing in common: Jesus. A passionate love for Him and for His kingdom. Despite my own atypical female outlook, this was a place I belonged. The speaking was not (blessedly!) about feeling good about our Christianity. It was surprisingly challenging, engaging, passionate, and Biblically sound series of teaching sessions. Best of all, it was all about Him.

You see, God in all His attributes is my one true obsession. I love Him so very much.  I love His written Word because He is the Word. I love His Kingdom because He is in it. I love even the painful or difficult things in my life because in them, I have to depend on Him. In times of unrelenting physical pain when I have been tempted more than once to believe He is not really good, He always reminds me that He really is.

However, despite my zeal for Him, lately and with growing distress, I feel I have struggled to love people as much as I ought. I don’t know why this is–perhaps a combination of fatigue, migraine-brain, medication reactions (don’t worry — I’ve quit that one), or just plain old burnout. But whatever the reasons, I cannot allow excuses for my own, critical thoughts. In truth, for some time, I fear I have been struggling with a greater sense of frustration with people than overflowing with compassion for them. 

Yet, I do love people. I truly do. When I prayerfully examine my heart, I find that underneath my frustration is a sort of despair that so few really know my God; that so few really seem to want to know Him. Still, I had allowed sin to twist these feelings and had been struggling with a critical heart for some time.

So days before the If Gathering, I asked God to prepare my heart. I wanted to hear only His voice, to know what He wanted me to do. There were many ways He spoke to me, but the best, the most private and personal yet the one I want to share was this: Near the end, after the last speaker but some minutes before the live stream was over, I was praying when He spoke to me quite clearly, “It’s time to go.”

I wrestled with that for a few moments. There were people I had hoped to check on, people I wanted to speak with or perhaps pray with. So many little possible conversations I hoped to have.

But He made Himself clear, so I slipped out. Sure He had something for me to do, I looked about for someone He wanted me to encounter in the lobby, perhaps, or in the parking lot, but both were deserted.

As I walked, I looked up to see the most spectacular sunset through the branches of some trees. The overall effect of was simply breathtaking. And I knew that was why He had called me out.

After a busy season, He has called me to a time of rest in Him, of pressing in close, finishing the book I have put off; of digging into His Word, even attempting to learn to read it in the original tongue. Time to abide in His love. Time that I, in my fretfulness and worry and wanting to do, have been failing to thoroughly enjoy.

It still seems strange to me that God stepped into the midst of a struggle to bring my heart in line with His own great love and reminded me in a very personal way, “I love you, too, you know.”

I know that it is His great love with which I must love others. What little love I have of my own is feeble; His, though… there are not even words. With this love, mighty love, my Savior’s love coursing through me, oh the people I can embrace!

Thank You, my Lord, for such a wonderful reminder.

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