I pray daily for God to remake me. Be careful what you ask for...
Because He answers that prayer by sending me moments, circumstances, and situations that require me to "go against" my natural response or reaction and I fail. I succumb to how I always react, and I deny Him the opportunity to remake me. Self-disappointment sets in only to repeat the cycle of prayer, opportunity to be remade, failure in remaking, shame over and over again. The problem isn't that I'm not praying, the question is where is my heart residing?
And so it has been the past few months or so.
My writing has been tremendously inconsistent thus far in 2021. My heart has been residing in the world. Concern for the failing morality of our culture, a focus on one-world government, a declining economic system, rising inflation, and the list goes on. I'm chasing quotas, and coaching daughters through their first pregnancies, and capturing contingencies for life after career. I am consumed by dread of what's to come culturally, distraught for where I see our country going, and disdain for those taking it there. My heart is sad and for someone who writes to teach and encourage others (and myself) a tormented heart isn't exactly the proper canvas to create words from.
Numerous times since writing last, I have been presented with opportunities to respond to circumstances, situations, and conversations in the manner I pray for Him to help me with. Instead, more times than not, I chose reaction over response. I have been self-protective, hopeless, worrisome, agitated, envious, unloving, opportunistic, self-absorbed, and uncontrolled. All complete opposites of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (the fruit the Holy Spirit gives). Let's just say the past several weeks, my fruit has been rotten and in desperate need of some Miracle Grow.
Simultaneously, the gentle nudges from God to focus on Him and my purpose for His kingdom have been sweet pushes to refocus on what's good and true and noble and right. My best friend randomly and gently encouraging me by saying "Ami Dean, I miss your writing". A speaking engagement at Northwoods Church for a women's ministry randomly fills my calendar (watch that here). An invitation to guest on"The Unfolding" podcast with Meredith Foster from WBGL is extended (watch for that here). And a longtime friend randomly texts "Just a note of encouragement to keep writing..." And the sweetest nudge of all, my two-week-old granddaughter Klaire and my second sweet one to arrive in early July. I am learning grandchildren are the breathtaking illustration of God's grace saying "I have more for you to teach". And in the midst of it all, Jesus whispers a gentle reminder:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:1-8 NIV
This year my fruit evidence has been in direct correlation to my heart‘s residence.
Y'all, I seriously wrote about this very topic before in The Safety of Remaining. In times of stress, worry, anger, or another emotional high, we repeat what is familiar and what feels safe. This creates rumination of thoughts as well as negative patterns in reactions and behaviors. When our hearts are more concerned with things of this world, it won't be long before the things of this world ruin our hearts. Jesus asked us to remain in him and he will remain in us. Why didn't I stay put? Clearly, I need this lesson again so let's dive in but first some context.
This verse is only recorded in the gospel of John. It is the seventh and last of the "I am" statements. He spoke this to eleven of his disciples. Where was the twelfth? He had just left the last supper to betray Jesus.
I cannot help be caught up by Jesus' unwillingness to have an emotional reaction to what was happening around him and ultimately what was about to happen to him - his crucifixion. But he didn't give this instruction for himself. He was thinking only of his friends. He had just shared with them that he would be physically leaving them. Knowing how disturbed they would feel, He gave them this incredible metaphor of the True Vine as one of His encouragements.
Jesus wanted His friends, not only those eleven, but those of all time, to know that He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. His living energy—His spiritual reality—would continue to nourish and sustain them just as the roots and trunk of a grapevine produce the energy that nourishes and sustains its branches while they develop their fruit. Jesus wanted us to know that, even though we cannot see Him, we are as closely connected to Him as the branches of a vine are connected to its stem. Our desire to know and love Him and the energy to serve Him will keep flowing into and through us as long as we remain in Him.
Jesus went on to remove any misunderstanding about what He meant. He said that no branch can even live, let alone produce leaves and fruit, by itself. Cut off from the trunk, a branch is dead. Just as a vine’s branches rely on being connected to the trunk from which they receive their energy to bear fruit, Jesus’ disciples depend on being connected to Him for their spiritual life and the ability to serve Him effectively. The fruit we produce is that of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Our source of life and spiritual fruit is not in ourselves; it is outside us, in Christ Jesus. We can live rightly and serve Him effectively only if we are rightly connected to Him in a faith/love relationship. And we are as connected to him as we choose to be.
Then Jesus underscored His point even more strongly by saying, “Apart from me you can do nothing”. This illustration of the vine and branches is no thoughtless generality or a careless simile. It is absolute, stark reality. No believer can achieve anything of spiritual value independently of Christ Jesus. He also reminds us that there are some who are “in” Him who bear no fruit. But these are not, as some would suppose, true branches that just happen to be fruitless. All true branches bear fruit. Just as we know a healthy, living tree by the good fruit it produces, so do we recognize fruitless branches as having no connection to the True Vine. This is why Jesus tells us, “By their fruit, you will know them”. Those who do not produce good fruit are cut away and burned. The reference here is to apostates, those who profess to know Christ but whose relationship to Him is insincere. He neither called them, nor elected them, nor saved them, nor sustains them. Eventually, the fruitless branches are identified as not belonging to the Vine and are removed for the sake of truth and the benefit of the other branches.
So, if you are like me and you at times become discontented by the things of this world know this: you moved, Jesus didn't. You didn't remain, but he does. And, there is good news -
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. John 15:19 NIV
"The world" from a Christian perspective involves all people, plans, organizations, activities, philosophies, values, etc that belong to society without God. For the past 6 months, I have allowed my heart to reside in the world. No wonder I've been unable to write. For Godly production,
for kingdom work, and for peace in our hearts, we have to create an out-of-this-world life. When we trusted Christ, we moved into a new spiritual position: we are "in Christ" and "out of this world". Be mindful that you may be in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually. If you find yourself conforming to fads, fashions, and Fauci you may go along to get along but you will not find Jesus there. He refused to conform. He was light in the dark and salt to the decaying. He so dutifully remained in the father that he endured the world brilliantly. Create an out-of-this-world life through prayer, time with God, and get back to church! In doing so, you will enjoy bountiful fruit (the Holy Spirit kind of fruit) come fall.