When I was in 3rd grade we lived in Seaford, Delaware and I played on a little league baseball team known as the ?Seaford Angels.? Actually, I only played a little over half the season because about that time my dad accepted a call to become the pastor of a church in Dover, Delaware?which meant we had to move. Now?up until my last game with the Angels neither I nor my team did very well. I never got a hit. My fielding was poor?and unfortunately that was a reflection of the entire team. In fact, we lost every game! Saturday afternoons while the team that beat us was rejoicing and heading to the snack bar for celebratory milkshakes, we ?Angels? would always just hang our heads as we gathered our equipment, and headed home.
That?s the way was it was every weekend?until the game before we moved. That day things were different…because for some reason everything seemed to fall into place?at least for me. I mean, my fielding was great. In fact, nothing got by me. I played right field and caught several flies. I scooped up the grounders that came my way and hurled them into the infield just like a pro. Plus, I batted 1000. Every time I got up I got a hit: two doubles and a single. I even successfully stole third base once. In fact, I remember my coach coming to me saying, ?Adams, its your turn to bat again?but you?ve done so well?how about giving another kid a chance?? Knowing the importance of humility I said, ?Sure, coach, give the kid a shot!? I guess you could say that on that summer day back in 1961, I was ?in the zone? athletically. We even won the game!
Now, the reason I remember that ?in the zone? day so very clearly?the reason it stands out in my memory?is because it doesn?t happen very often. It?s the exception rather than the rule in every sport I?ve tried: golf, tennis, football…Monopoly. I guess I?m just not that athletic of a guy.
But, what about you? Have you ever been ?in the zone? in sports or at work or some other aspect of life? Has there ever been a time when everything just ?clicked??
I bring this up because when it comes to living the Christian life there is a ?zone? we all can be in…a zone that makes it easier for us to live as our Lord calls us to live. As you?ll see in a moment, Jesus refers to it in our text for this morning when He says,?Abide in Me…and I will abide in you.? (John 15:4) This mutual ?abiding? ? this ?in the zone living? is what we?re going to focus on today. In fact, pray for me?I really want to be ?in the zone? as I preach this message because this is a very important lesson?it?s something all of us need to understand.
Before we read our text though, let me give you the setting. Jesus and His disciples have just finished the Passover meal. In verse 31 of chapter 14 Jesus says to them, ?Come, let us leave? and they do. They exited the upper room and walked through the city of Jerusalem heading for the Kidron Valley and the Garden of Gesthemane. As they did they no doubt passed the door that led to the Holy Place in Herod?s temple. That door would have stood out because it was decorated with an impressive sculpture of a giant golden vine that wrapped all around the door frame. This vine was to remind worshipers of the nation of Israel?which the Old Testament repeatedly describes as God?s vine or God?s vineyard. Listen to how Calmet?s Dictionary describes this special vine-covered door: ?In the temple of Jerusalem, above and round the gate, seventy cubits high, which led from the porch to the holy place, a richly carved vine was extended as a border and decoration. The branches, tendrils and leaves were of finest gold; the stalks of the bunches were of the length of the human form, and the bunches hanging upon them were costly jewels. Herod first placed it there; rich and patriotic Jews from time to time added to its embellishment, one contributed a new grape, another a leaf, and a third even a bunch of the same precious materials…this vine must have had an uncommon importance and a sacred meaning in the eyes of the Jews. With what majestic splendor must it likewise have appeared in the evening, when it was illuminated by tapers!?
Well, I think it was as Jesus and the twelve passed this famous vine that He stopped and gave His seventh and final ?I AM? statement. As He stood in front of this huge vine sculpture He said, ?I am the TRUE Vine and My Father is the Gardener.? (John 15:1) And?I?m sure all conversation stopped at this powerful statement…because the force of His words were, ?You all know how Israel is pictured as a vine that is meant to produce refreshing fruit for this lost world. Well, I am the fulfillment of all that symbol suggests.?
Okay?with that in mind, follow along as I read our text. We?re looking at John 15:1-17.
1 – ?I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Gardener.
2 – He cuts off?or lifts up?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.
3 – You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
4 – Remain in Me, and I will 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.
5 – ?I am the Vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.
6 – If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
7 – If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
8 – This is to My Father?s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.
9 – ?As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.
10 – If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father?s commands and remain in His love.
11 – I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
12 – My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
13 – Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
14 – You are My friends if you do what I command.
15 – I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master?s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you.
16 – You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit?fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.
17 – This is My command: Love each other.
Okay?before we go any further let?s take a few moments to explain exactly what we mean when we talk about ?abiding in Christ?? What is this ?in the zone? stuff all about?
Well, in my mind, where you ABIDE is where you STAY. To use some almost-contemporary slang, ?abiding? is where you ?hang? and growing Christians constantly ?hang? with or ?abide? with Jesus. The NIV translates this phrase, ?REMAIN in Me.? So abiding is?learning to remain in the ?zone??or the presence of Jesus?throughout the day. Now…of course, if you are a Christian, you are always in the presence of Jesus. As we said last week, through the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit, Jesus is WITHIN us always. The problem is that sometimes we forget to acknowledge His presence. Too often we begin our days in a mad rush, blazing about at breakneck speed, moving from one crisis to the next, draining ourselves of peace and joy until finally at the end of the day we collapse in exhaustion.
Well, in this text Jesus is telling us we don?t have to live that way. We don?t have to face the crises of life on our own strength. We don?t have to solve the difficult dilemmas of life on our own brain power. We don?t have to go through depression-filled days alone. No?we can go through every day IN THE ZONE…by acknowledging Jesus? presence and asking for His guidance and power.
Steve May says that one reason Celtic Christianity has experienced a resurgence of popularity in recent years is that their lifestyles were in many ways similar to our own, and yet they learned to incorporate Christ into every moment of their daily lives. Since Celtic communities were primarily agricultural, everyone: moms, dads, children, worked hard from sunrise to sunset. They didn?t have a whole lot of free time. They faced the challenges of harsh weather. They endured the stress of living in a predominantly non-Christian society. They lived with the risk of being raided by Romans, Irish, and Vikings. I mean, life was hard for these people! Even so, the writings of this era reveal a group of individuals who had discovered the joy of abiding in Christ.
They incorporated their Christian faith into every area of life. Every daily activity became a ceremony of celebration of the presence of God. For example, the Celts made their early morning face washing into a religious ceremony. Their writings tell us every morning they would splash their face with water three times and pray:
The palmful of the God of Life
The palmful of the Christ of Love
The palmful of the Spirit of Peace
Trinity of grace.
As they got their children dressed, the kids would pray:
Even as I clothe my body with wool
Cover Thou my soul with the shadow of Thy wing.
Like us, their lives were hectic; they didn?t have time for long prayers. But throughout the day each event…each chore…became an opportunity for prayer. As they kindled the fire, as they made the bed, as they baked bread or scattered seed…everything was offered in the name of God. And this is part of what Jesus is talking about. Abiding in Him is acknowledging His presence every moment of the day through prayer and private worship. Think about that for a moment. Imagine how much different our lives could be if we included Jesus in every activity of the day. Every event would become sacred. I mean, there?s nothing spiritual about washing your face or making a bed or driving to work or turning on a computer or crunching numbers…or waiting on customers…but each of these things can become sacred events that add a special depth of meaning and power and peace to our lives…when we acknowledge the fact that we perform them in the presence of Christ.
This week I started a new ?fun read book? that Bill Jones loaned to me. It begins with the story of a twelve year old boy named Billy who lives in Wales in the years just before WWI broke out. The book begins with Billy?s first day working deep in the coal mines. He?s very proud of this step toward manhood. Billy?s first task on this first day is to work alone in a side shaft far from the other coal miners…shoveling coal dust that had turned into mud into a dram or coal car. As a prank his supervisor leaves him with an oil lamp?the room?s only illumination?that only has about an hour?s worth of oil in it. When the oil in his lamp runs out the room where Billy is working is plunged into absolute darkness. He has no idea how to get out and he becomes afraid.
Then he remembers something his mother said to him before he left for work. She said, ?Billy, remember, Jesus is with you always, even down in the coal mine.? So, from then on Billy acknowledged Jesus? presence. He prayed to Jesus as he learned how to continue his work in the darkness by counting his steps from the coal mud he was shoveling to and from the dram. He sang hymns to Jesus and talked to Him as he worked in the darkness?and as he did this his fear was replaced with a sense of peace. He worked hard all day with vision no better than that of a blindman. He got a lot done?and experienced joy in doing so because he was ?in the zone? as he abided in Christ. At the end of his shift, when his ?prankster supervisor? came to pick him up he asked Billy if he was afraid after being alone in that darkness all day and he said, ?I wasn?t alone?Jesus was with me.? From then on his co-workers gave him the nickname, ?Billy-with-Jesus.? What a great nickname! Wouldn?t it be cool if people noticed your ?abiding lifestyle? and dubbed you ?Bob with Jesus? or ?Kevin with Jesus? or ?Sandy with Jesus?? What a compliment! Well, this is what ABIDING with Jesus means. Our Lord is saying ?Include Me in the details of your day, and I will fill your life with My peace and power.? This is an important principle for us to grasp because living ?in the zone? of Jesus? presence is the key to a meaningful life. Think of it this way. The key to a good marriage is communication and it?s the same in your Christian walk. Do you want to have a dynamic spiritual life? Spend time alone communicating with Jesus. Talk to him. Learn to listen. Do it all the time. As much as possible, pray without ceasing.
By the way, the journal Psychological Science recently published a study that shows that when people think about God, their brains respond differently…in a way that enables them to get through setbacks and overcome mistakes. This study is further proof of the fact that when we enter into ?the zone? of Christian living our lives work more effectively and more efficiently than ever before. And?as I said, that?s what I want us to talk about this morning because in our text Jesus mentions several ways we benefit from ?in the zone living.?
(1) First, our lives become more PRODUCTIVE.
Look at verse 5 where Jesus says, ?He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.?
Jesus is saying that if we learn to ABIDE IN HIM, our lives become fuller…more abundant…more productive. We begin to experience the FRUIT that only comes when we tap into the power of an ongoing relationship with the Spirit of Christ. When we do this we have more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control in our days and because of that every part of our life ?blossoms.?
For example, our careers?our jobs?are more productive. We become known as the best employees….the ones who consistently do the best work. When Orel Hershiser pitched the Los Angeles Dodgers through the 1988 World Series, the camera kept focusing on him between innings. He was in the most important game of his life, yet he appeared to be completely relaxed as he sat on the bench, his head leaned back, his eyes closed. No one realized it at the time, but later he explained to everyone that he was praying and singing hymns. In fact, on the Tonight Show he told Johnny Carson that praying in the dugout helped him stay focused during the game.
Forget for a minute that he was a sports celebrity playing in front of millions of people and earning millions of dollars. In reality, Hershiser was an employee working for a business, getting paid to do a job. While he was at work, he remained in the presence of Jesus. As a result, he was better at his job. Well, no matter what your career is, abiding in Jesus will help you be more productive as well. Employees who acknowledge Jesus? nearness get more done?and they do it better than anyone else. This is because when we abide in Christ, we put ourselves in a position for God to bless the work we do.
But that?s not all?abiding in Christ will make us better parents, spouses, and friends. In fact, Jesus says you can?t be the kind of person He has called you to be?the kind of person you really YEARN to be?without ABIDING in Him. Look at verses 4 and 5 again where He says, ?You cannot bear fruit unless you remain in Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing.?
You see?not ABIDING?refusing to invite Jesus into our days…our jobs…our marriages…our friendships?this is why so many of us are unproductive. It?s why we are weak. It?s why we fail in these areas. I?m reminded of the story of a time years ago when the Chevron Oil Company entered a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. It was a beautiful float but in the middle of the parade it came to a grinding halt and every float behind it had to stop as well. The problem was the CHEVRON OIL COMPANY?S FLOAT ran out of gas! The float?s designers had done everything well but they neglected to use CHEVRON?S vast resources of oil.The entire parade had to wait while someone ran to get a gallon of gas. Well, many of us are like that. We run out of spiritual gas because we fail to acknowledge Christ?s presence and power. We try to live the Christ-life on our own resources…and that is always a recipe for failure. Plus?when we don?t bear the fruit of the Spirit of Christ?people don?t recognize us as followers of the Christ. When we don?t manifest love and joy and peace and patience and gentleness and kindness and self-control…..people don?t believe we are believers.
You see, your FRUIT shows?PROVES?where you?ve been abiding. It indicates where you get your strength and wisdom and insight. When I was in 2nd grade and St. Patrick?s Day rolled around my parents dressed me in green from head to foot. They put me in a green suit with a green shirt, a green tie, and green socks. I was green from head to toe?in fact this is a picture taken of me standing against a green background. Shortly after I arrived at school, I was called to the principal?s office. I thought I must have done something wrong but he said he called me in because he wanted to congratulate me on my green apparel. He said he was green with envy because the only green thing he had on was a green daffodil that his secretary had hurriedly arranged for him…by picking one that was blooming in the school yard….and placing it in water laced with green food-coloring. You?ve seen that kind of thing before I?m sure?you put a daffodil in water and it will turn whatever color you put in the water. It?s color change shows where it?s getting it?s nourishment. Well the same is true of the Christ life. When we bear fruit?when we produce Christlike qualities….we show everyone that we have been in Jesus? presence. This is what Jesus was referring to in verse 8 when He said,?This is to My Father?s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples. So?to experience the BLESSINGS of the Christ-life…to be known for your love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control…you have to abide with Jesus. You have to draw your strength and world-view from time spent with our Lord. This is how to have a truly abundant?productive life.
BUT?Jesus reminds us here that if we are to reach our fullest potential when it comes to fruit-bearing, God has to prune us from time to time. Jesus says He is the ?Vine-dresser? and when He said this He was referring to the fact that all grape growers know the importance of pruning to increase production. Sometimes they wander among the vineyard pinching off a growing tip…so it will not grow too rapidly. Sometimes they cut off a foot or two of new growth to prevent the loss of an entire shoot. Other times they lift up a branch that is growing too close to the ground to prevent mold and allowing it to grow properly. Thinning the grape clusters themselves enables the rest of the branch to bear more fruit and fruit of a better quality. To the untrained eye doing all this looks cruel and wasteful, but to the experienced eye it is the only way to grow healthy, delicious fruit.
Well, the same is true of the Christian life. God has to prune us in order for us to grow and produce fruit for His kingdom. Our Father?s pruning process can be painful?but it?s always beneficial. Remember David?s words in Psalm 119? He said, ?Before I was afflicted, I went astray…but it was good for me to be afflicted?PRUNED?so that I might learn Your decrees.? Sometimes the pain of pruning comes because of our sin. Other times it is simply because we are bearing fruit but God wants us to bear more. There are times He allows trials and hardships to come our way so as to deepen our reliance on Him. The fact is God?s pruning is always good for us. It always takes the sinful parts of our lives away so that what is left is more like Jesus than it used to be. As we allow Him, God pulls us away from destructive relationships. He cuts away hurtful behavior and sinful qualities like gossip and lust. In this way He sculpts us more into the image of His Son.
Do you remember C. S. Lewis? The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? The movie version just came out in theaters a few months ago?and in it there?s a boy named Eustace Scrub. He?s a selfish and immature spoiled brat?and as part of his ?pruning? he gets turned into a dragon covered in scales. This trial humbles Eustace and helps him to mature. In the end Aslan?the Christ figure?uses his claw to cut the dragon skin off and what is left is a much more Godly young man. The cutting away of the dragon skin was painful?but beneficial. James 1:2 says, ?Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don?t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.? Remember?pruning is necessary to growth?and God loves us enough to do what is necessary for growth to happen. Plus?His hand is never closer than in those painful times of pruning! Through this pruning, God is the PERFECTER of our faith. As Hebrews 12:5ff says, ?My son, do not make light of the Lord?s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son….no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace…?
Abiding with Christ?including His times of pruning?makes our lives more productive.
(2) Here?s a second benefit of in the zone living: our prayers are more POWERFUL.
Look at verse 7. Jesus says, ?If you abide in Me, and MY WORDS in abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.? Now?many people misunderstand this promise. They think Jesus was saying, the sky is the limit when it comes to our prayer requests?that we can ask for anything and get it. With this immature mind set our conversations with God become nothing more than a series of ?gimmee?s?…gimmee this God…gimmee that God….and often the things we ask Him to give us are not the kinds of things we need. This concept of prayer turns God into nothing more than a genie in a bottle. But of course that wasn?t Jesus? intent. He was saying, that our most meaningful prayers come from HIS WORDS abiding in our thoughts. You see, when we abide in Christ, our desires become what they should be. Our desires become HIS desires. When we pray, we ask for HIS will to be done. Let me put it this way. We talk like the people we hang with. Their words become our words. It?s kind of like being a transplanted Southerner. I know many of you are. Uncle Sam brought you up here to ?yankee land.? And now you talk more like a Yankee…but when you head south to visit family….it doesn?t take many hours before ?YES? becomes a two syllable word again and your drawl returns. We talk like the people we HANG with?ABIDE with. So when we don?t abide with Christ and instead abide in the world?well we pray like the world. We pray selfishly…and materialistically. When Christ is not the center of our lives, we want what we shouldn?t want; we don?t want what we should want. When we?re not abiding in Christ, we pray for the wrong things. But abiding in Christ causes us to experience change from within. Our desires are completely overhauled. When we ABIDE in Jesus we experience an empowered prayer life as we learn to pray more deeply for the right things?blending God?s desires with our own. When HIS WORD abides in us?those same kind of WORDS come out in our prayers.
Let me put it this way. A child might ask for candy at every meal, but a grownup knows better. And, abiding in Christ helps us to grow up such that we learn to pray rightly such that as verse 16 says, God will give us, ?whatever we ask in His name.? People who pray with power?are people who live in the zone?they abide with Christ day in and day out.
(3) Here?s one final benefit of ?in the zone? living: deep relationships are POSSIBLE.
In verses 12 and following Jesus focused on the kind of friendships that come from ABIDING in Him. He refers to that wonderful caliber of friendship that is only possible between branches of the same Vine…friendships characterized by mutual sacrifice and love…friendships between believers who know the value of obeying Christ in all things. The fact is all people long for this caliber of personal relationship. We hunger for true friends?and abiding in Christ is the secret. This ABIDING is what draws us together?binds us together?as a church family. It?s why we have a SWEET SWEET SPIRIT here at Redland.
Chemists use the term ?affinity? to describe the attraction that causes atoms to bond with each other. In friendship affinity at its most basic level is an attraction between two people. You LIKE the other person. But there?s a deeper affinity than just liking someone. Affinity also refers to the common ground that people share. I mean, surface level affinity is when we share some interest or activity with another person. We like golf?they like golf. We like STAR TREK. They like STAR TREK. We like to play ANGRY BIRDS. They like to play ANGRY BIRDS. And, our lives are full?too full?of those kind of surface level affinity relationships. Well, the Bible says there is a more satisfying kind of relationship out there?it says there are deeper kinds of affinity possible. This is what Proverbs 18:24 is getting at when it says, ?A friend of many COMPANIONS may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.?
The writer is contrasting surface level relationships with closer friendships and warning that quantity doesn?t equal quality. This is the reason David and Jonathan were such good friends. As 1st Samuel 18:11 puts it, ?the soul of Jonathan was KNIT to the soul of David.? In other words they were close…because they shared a deeply held love for God. This was the basis fo their friendship. You know, we think the term ?soul brothers? originated in the pop culture of the ?60’s when actually it was first mentioned 2000 years earlier! Gary Inrig says, ?The quality of a friendship is nearly always determined by the quality of that which unites us.? This means that if our common bond is an activity like a sport of a business venture then surface level affinity will probably result. But if the common bond consists of deeply felt values a much closer bonding can happen. And that?s the kind of bonding that people who abide in Christ experience.
Lee Strobel writes, ?I?ve had all kinds of friendships in life but by far the most fulfilling have been those in which our commonality was Christ. It?s those in which we shared the substance of our souls, we had a joint allegiance to Jesus, we prayed together and gave each other Godly counsel and encouragement and our hearts beat in unison for kingdom activities.?
The best place to find a friend?is in a church full of people who live in the zone. It?s also the best place to find a spouse!
We?ve covered a lot this morning and in closing I want to ask you a question. As a Christian, does this ?in the zone living? appeal to you? Does it make you yearn for a more productive?ABUNDANT?life? Do you wish your prayer life could be more powerful?more like a REAL conversation between you and God Himself? Are you lonely for the blessing of kindred-spirit friendships? Well, if one or more of these questions apply to you?then I would suggest that you simply make a commitment to live in the zone from here on out. Bow your head where you are seated and re-commit your life to Jesus? lordship. He promises that if we open the door of our lives He will come in so do that. Invite Him in to that part of your life where you tend to leave Him out?commit to ABIDE with Jesus on the job…in your marriage…wherever. If you don?t have a church home and God is leading you to join Redland, come forward and ask to become a member. We would love to have you in our church family. And?if you don?t know Jesus?invite Him into your heart and life today. We?re going to stand and sing now?and if you have a public decision to make, come and share it with me or one of the other pastors.