As we started this year our fellowship was considering what we should do in our Tuesday evening meetings. Our usual pattern in these meetings is to have bible studies looking at a book or theme. Because this year is a 'year of transformation' we thought that we should have a series of studies looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit with a working title of 'Equipping us for Transformation'.
Our plan was to start with a discussion about people's desires for the areas of witness that the Lord had placed them in ('ministries') and how the gifts of the Holy Spirit might empower them for what they had been called to do. However, when it came to the discussion night we realized that there is an absence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Western Church and our Pastor who led the discussion started with the question: "why are the gifts not more in evidence when the promise of God's word is that 'these signs shall follow them that believe'"?
We had three quite amazing weeks as the Lord has opened us up following the discussion which quickly turned into a time of repentance and confession. (Repentance had been a theme present in our weekly early morning prayer meetings in the weeks preceding these conversations). It was like the Lord was saying "if you are serious about this, I will show you the way".
What has followed have been times of starting to open our hearts and sharing about our inner thoughts and fears and releasing these to the Lord. Two of the women in the fellowship shared key scriptures in John 15 and 1 Corinthians 13 which have overturned our original intentions. John 15 is the chapter in which Jesus talks about "abiding" and 1 Corinthians 13 is the well-known "love'' chapter.
In John 15 Jesus points out that without Him we can do nothing but if we abide in Him all things are possible. "If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done for you". The word "abide" in the New Testament comes from the Greek word "meno" (continue, dwell, endure) it signifies being part of and continuance (remaining). I thought that it sounds very like the continuing dependence of a baby in the womb - continuing in the mother and dependent upon its mother until born. The baby is not only within its mother’s womb but connected by the umbilical cord upon which it is dependent for its life and sustenance.
Jesus chooses the example of a vine - He is all the vine and as branches we are connected to Him being both part of the vine and connected to the root for our vital sustenance. We cannot live apart from the vine but if we are a part of it, we must reveal this by sharing its very essence and baring fruit. By being the whole vine Jesus unreservedly identifies with us and we have a responsibility to Him not to mar the character of the vine by not representing Him as we should.
The second scripture in 1 Corinthians 13 is the one regularly read out at weddings and generally thought of as the 'love' chapter. In the context of our original intention however it quickly becomes a powerful comment on misusing God's gifts:
1 Corinthians 13:1-2 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”.
So, then our heart attitude and motives are a vital factor in using any gift. Without love our efforts may be loud and even sacrificial and busy, but according to scripture are in fact the equivalent of an off-putting noise! We can have lots of fruitless activity that does not come from the heart of the Lord but from some other place in our own ambitions or motives.
So, if I was to summarize the Lord's message to us it seems to be this: “If you want to do this My way and be equipped to bear fruit you must first abide in Me and continue to abide in Me. Abiding changes your hearts and roots you in My love and joy''. John 15:7 ''If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” ... In other words, I will give you the gifts that you need and when you use them in love you will be fruitful for my glory not yours. John 15:8 “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so, you will be My disciples”.
Now we are starting to be in lockdown because of the Corona virus, it makes me wonder if this is not an opportunity for the church itself to stop all of the doing for a while (in terms of running its programmes and services etc.) and abide. I am sure that there will be plenty of chances to show the love and compassion of the Lord and bear fruit for His glory over the coming weeks and months and no doubt begin new activities - but if all that we do is not based in abiding and therefore without the Lord at the centre it will be fruitless. Worse if it is without love it will be like a tuneless cymbal. Is this time for the church to examine itself and “reboot”?
The word “abide” also appears in the old testament for example in Psalm 91:1-2
''He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
Psalm 91 has now been taken up as being very relevant to where we are across the world with Corona virus and the promises contained in it:
Psalm 91:9-12 Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, 10 No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; 11 For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. 12 In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
The meaning of the old testament word for “abide” (kwlty – “he shall pass the night”) is similar to the new. It “denotes a constant and continuous dwelling of the just in the assistance and protection of God” (Bible study tools). There are 2 references to abiding in Psalm 91 which reflect our passage in John 15: “you have made the Lord… your dwelling place” and “His angels… keep you in all your ways”. Both of these reflect Jesus’s words about abiding not being an option for us to see the Lord’s intervention in our lives and bearing fruit for His glory.
There is one other thing to add into this story for the moment and that is something that was given at one of our early morning prayer meetings mentioned above. This was a picture of many tables in a room with food on them. Christians were milling about the tables tasting whatever they fancied but the Lord was waiting at the first table where there were unfinished meals. He was asking why people were seeking out food from the other tables when the meal that He had provided was unfinished.
The implication was that we don’t finish what the Lord gives us we just move on to the next theme of the month, shiny initiative, interesting idea or ‘new thing’. He is saying “if you don’t finish the meal that I have given you it will not lead to you absorbing it and then being able to use it for the benefit of others”. If we want to be fruitful stay and finish the meal that the Lord has given us until He says we are done - and we will absorb the word, it will become part of us and change us to be more effective for Him.
Similarly with abiding – it's not something that we can start and stop when we like – for it to have any meaning and God’s promises to have effect and for us to bear fruit we must continue at the table we must “dwell'' (continue) in the secret place of the most high to abide (continue) in the shadow of the Almighty.
Author: Chris Pearson
May God bless and enrich your life
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