While having my devotions the other morning, I was reading in Matthew about the torture and death of Jesus. I finished reading, then started into my customary time of prayer when I realized something that gave me pause. I had just read about the most heroic, horrific, and important death in the history of humanity, and I did so in as casual a way as if I were reading the sports section of the newspaper. Immediately after this realization, I began to feel guilty that I no longer had the visceral reaction to this sacrifice that I am probably supposed to have. But that guilt was quickly followed by an honest truth: How can I conjure up a feeling for something I am so familiar with?
When you've spent an enormous part of your life in church and reading the Bible, much of it starts to take on what I like to call the "sheen of inevitability." The first time you encounter many of the stories and characters of the Bible it is all so exciting and inspiring and impactful. But then, as you spend years reading and hearing about those same things, it is only natural for what once impacted you so greatly to take on a kind of "ho hum" quality. We skim over Abraham's near sacrifice of his son, forgetting the horror of what God asked him to do. We fly through David's lamenting for his newborn son's life, knowing that his death rests firmly on David's shoulders for his sin with Bathsheba. We casually sip our coffee as we read about Jesus being tortured to death so we could experience a grace we don't deserve.
Lately I've been pondering the whole notion of abiding in Christ. Jesus seemed to put a huge emphasis on us abiding in Him, and I wonder if this somehow holds the key to keeping our relationship with both Him and His Word fresh and vibrant. Typically in my life, when I have experienced this lack of freshness to the Scriptures, it has come at a time when I was simply going through the motions of Christianity. If God's Word doesn't quicken something within me, chances are I have slipped into the drudgery of following a religion as opposed to having a relationship with my King.
At the same time, when I think of my most powerful moments with God and His Word, it has typically come at a point where I was in greatest need of Him, of His deliverance and of His peace in my life. I approached the Scriptures as a drowning man, not as a man sipping tea on a yacht. But of course, life is made up of an ebb and flow of storms and calm winds, choppy seas and beautiful sunsets on glassy water. Are we then doomed to only finding true fullness in the Bible when things are bad in our lives? I don't think so. I think Jesus gave us the escape route to the religious doldrums.
"Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, neither can you, unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who remains in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit. For without Me you can do nothing. If a man does not remain in Me, he is thrown out as a branch and withers. And they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:4-7).
My backyard is a forest. It is filled with trees of all shapes and sizes, and together they are beautiful. It is my happy place. But if you look closely, you'll see that not all of the trees are healthy and thriving. Some are flourishing, some have random branches that no longer bear leaves, and some are dead. They still stand there, reaching to the heavens; they still look and feel like trees, but when summer comes and the trees around them bear much fruit, those trees stand out as an eyesore. And they need to be cut down.
In the same way, God has made it clear that His church is His happy place. But He has also made it clear that He wants us to bear much fruit, and if we don't then we're simply dead men walking, and for the health of others within God's forest, we need to be cut down. I have no idea what the equivalent of this is in the spiritual realm, but I do know that I don't care to find out in my own life! I want to be a tree that is always vibrant, always flourishing and always a pleasure for my Father to look upon. And when I start to feel like my branches are no longer bearing fruit, when I find myself sleep walking through religious exercises, that's when I know that I have stopped abiding in the true vine.
The reason our darker moments are so potent for rebuilding our relationship with God is because that is when we are at our most raw, and therefore fully cognizant that we are fairly powerless, feeble people in desperate need of a savior, a friend and a Father to help and protect us. But then His help comes, and we fall back into our routines and grow comfortable that we're doing a really good job with this whole life thing. Meanwhile, in the distance, another storm is brewing that will eventually throw us overboard and cause us to cry out yet again for help.
But what if instead of basking on our boat in times of plenty and falling out of the boat in times of struggle, there were a third alternative? What if there was a place we could live at all times, through the calm and the storm? What if that place is the place Jesus has been calling us to all along? He modeled it already to the man upon whom He decided to build his church, Peter, when he called to him from the raging seas. What if our natural place should always be outside of the boat and on top of the water?
Peter modeled in a moment where Jesus wants us to live our whole lives. For a few moments, Peter walked on water. He was no longer in the safety of the boat, but he also wasn't drowning in the water. He was abiding in Jesus. As long as he kept his eyes, his mind, and his spirit on Jesus, he remained in a place of risky safety. As soon as he stopped abiding, he began to sink and required a touch from Jesus to pull him back out of it. And Jesus' response wasn't a pat on the back that Peter had done something amazing for a few seconds. Jesus was actually frustrated with Peter! "Oh you of little faith," he admonished, "why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:31)
To anyone else of us in the world, walking on water for a few seconds would constitute the highlight of our lives in Christ. But Jesus seems to imply that this is where he expects us to live, even going so far as to say Peter's faith was weak. I wonder how often He gets gently frustrated with us as we climb in and out of our boat, sopping wet or smugly content, when the whole time we're missing the entire point of this life of faith. Jesus wants us to walk on water with Him. He wants us to live a life of faith with Him. But ultimately, He wants us to abide in Him. It's His happy place, and it is meant to be ours as well.
Darren Wilson is the founder of WP Films and the creator of various films, including Finger of God, Father of Lights, and Holy Ghost. Darren's new film, Holy Ghost Reborn, is now available, as is his newest book, Finding God in the Bible, at his website at wpfilm.com.
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