The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. –Jesus (John 14:10).
This has been a bit of a lean summer season for the mission organization I help lead called ServeNow, which has resulted in us making some sacrifices and difficult decisions (which is hard to do when there are so many open doors and much more you want to do and could do!). But, as Scripture says: There is a time and a season (and therefore purpose) for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). When times are lean, there are some things you find that could use pruning; dead wood that needs cut off, and certain projects you hold off on. You also have some time to rest (if you can overcome feeling restless!), reflect, re-evaluate, re-adjust, refine, pray and plan for the future in ways you may not otherwise.
During this last week, I also sensed the Lord leading me to simply “worship him for who he is” and to spend time just “drawing close to him.” In other words, to trust that he knows what is needed, even before I ask (Matthew 6:8). This means I don’t need to keep “babbling” or only focus on what is needed, but rather focus on the Provider himself; he is our Father who cares for us!
As a result, I have had some of the richest, sweetest, most precious, tender, healing, peaceful, restful, reviving, refreshing extended times in his presence; just basking in and delighting in the beauty of who he is. Instead of panicking, furiously planning in my flesh or merely praying “Lord help us!” I’ve been thanking him for his goodness and trusting that his grace will be sufficient. When in that place, it has been glorious and his peace has been real even if circumstances don’t seem to change!
But one of the main things he has reminded me of during this time is the simple truth that the “secret” to the true Christian life, fruitfulness in serving him and effectiveness in ministry, is the lost art of “abiding” in him. The raw reality is that there is only so much you and I can do in ourselves, in our own strength, abilities and skills. Even the strongest, most intelligent, well-connected, successful people are limited, especially compared to an unlimited God! And in regard to eternal, kingdom significance, impact and fruitfulness, we can actually do nothing of lasting value, except for what is done in and through the strength, power, grace and wisdom of God. This is what so many of us miss about true Christianity: it is truly something supernatural (beyond human ability or skill), from beginning to end. While many of us realize this truth when God saves us, we are easily prone to forget and eventually try to live the Christian life in our own strength. Jesus put it this way, in John 15:1-8:
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.
There is so much in this, that it is beyond the scope of unpacking in this brief article. It is packed with truth that you can’t just quickly read through, you have to spend time meditating on and getting it into your system, because it is so opposite everything we know and how the world operates.
Even so, the main thought is this: God wants us to be fruitful. However, we can’t produce that fruit ourselves. In fact, our job is not to produce fruit, but simply to bring forth the fruit he creates in us as we stay closely connected to him, drawing from the life that flows from him to us out of fellowship with him.
This will either be freeing for you, or frustrating to you. It will be freeing if you are the type of person who is always striving but never feeling “good enough.” But it will be frustrating if you are the kind of person who has to be “in control” and the “driver” of progress in your own time and way. Just like a mother who becomes pregnant; they can’t rush the birth, their job is simply to bear the child in their womb as it develops and then bring it forth when the time comes (by the way, that process of bearing and bringing forth a child is not always a very pleasant or pain-free experience! There is discomfort, hormonal changes that lead to emotional mood swings and more. But once the child is actually birthed it all becomes worth it and joy is made complete!).
God wants us to be fruitful; but it’s his job to produce that fruit in us. Our responsibility is to abide in him, remain in him, stay connected to him, walk in close fellowship with him, stay utterly dependent on him and allow him to do his work in us and then through us.
This past week, one statement that Jesus made in the chapter prior to John 15 has struck me at a deeper level than ever before. In chapter 14 verse 10, Jesus says this: The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
Just think about that. Jesus never said or did anything unless it was directed or inspired by his heavenly Father. Jesus, while he was always about his Father’s business, actually was not doing it from a place of “working for God”, rather it was his Father who was doing his work in and through his obedient Son who walked in perfect fellowship with him! There is such a big difference between us setting out to “work for God”, versus God doing his work in us and through us! God is not looking for us to merely work for him. Rather he is looking for worshippers through whom he can do his work! (John 4:23).
How can we even begin to think we can do the works of God? By very definition, it is God’s work, God’s fruit, God’s kingdom and God’s glory! It is really evidence of pride, unbelief and lack of trust in a good heavenly Father when we take the things of God into our own hands and try to accomplish anything in our own strength. Not to mention how limiting and exhausting that is! By doing so, we can only do what we can do, and it is never good enough. As someone famously put it: when we work, we work. When we pray, God works!
Nevertheless, even prayer is something we tend to try to do in our own strength or wisdom, rather than recognizing that even in prayer we need Jesus to teach us how to pray, the Holy Spirit to inspire our prayers and the Father to answer those requests. It’s all of God, by God, from God and for God! The true Christian life is not us trying to do it ourselves; but the Holy Spirit in us and doing his work through us!
In Galatians chapter 3 verses 1-6, the apostle Paul states it strongly in this way: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
God does not work because we work or are good enough or deserve it; God works when we simply, solely, utterly, truly and deeply trust in him and depend on him with no “plan B.” Notice, it wasn’t simply that Abraham believed that God could do what he promised to do; Abraham believed God for who he was. It was the trust in the character of God that resulted in Abraham’s confidence in the promise of God! God is trustworthy, his word is true, because God cannot lie! (Hebrews 6:17-19; 2 Corinthians 1:20).
Nevertheless, even Abraham had a momentary lapse, not so much of faith, but in trying to “help” God and “speed up” the fulfillment of his promise to him. Abraham’s wife came up with her own scheme, and it caused Abraham to try and bring about the “work of God” in his flesh. The result was disastrous, with devastating consequences, causing much conflict and pain, even down to this very day! (See Genesis 16). How often we have this same tendency! But God is not looking for us to do his work; rather he is looking for us to trust that he will do his work in us and through us as we abide in him.
Jesus was once asked a specific question in regard to all of this. The context out of which this question was asked, was what Jesus said in John chapter 6: Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Naturally, the question Jesus was asked, was the following: Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
The answer? It was not what they or we would expect: Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
There is no other work other than to truly and trust Jesus! We can’t do the work of God, but through us, as we trust in him, God will supernaturally do his work in us and through us.
Here’s another example: when Jesus began his public ministry and called his first disciples, the first thing he said to them was: Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). This is profound, but we rarely, if ever, have paused to really think about what Jesus did and did not say here. Notice that the calling and responsibility of these men was to simply follow Jesus. They had to (and they did) leave everything they knew and were doing up to that point behind and learn from him. Don’t miss this; before they could even begin to enter into the work of God, they had to stop their own work. This would require tremendous humility; a posture of learning instead of being in charge. It would require starting over.
But the promise Jesus gave to them was that he would be responsible for making them into fishers of men as a result! Notice, it wasn’t for them to try to catch men; it was for them to follow Jesus and to allow him to make them into fishers of men! Essentially, Jesus was communicating this: I will transform you into someone you are not right now, and you will do things you never could do in your own strength. I will take you from fishing in the natural, to doing a supernatural work in you and through you, to “catch” people for the sake of my kingdom! But you…you must follow me!
If you want to enter into the supernatural reality of God, if you want to experience him using you and working in you and through you, you have to stop trying in your own wisdom, strength or abilities. That doesn’t mean he won’t utilize the skills or abilities he has given you; but he will supersede and do something beyond your own abilities…if you will allow him.
Our responsibility is to draw close to Jesus. Then he will begin to draw others to himself, through us. Our responsibility is to stay focused on him and in fellowship with him. He will then demonstrate his faithfulness and fulfill his promises! Our responsibility is to abide in him and to remain in him. As a result, he will begin to produce fruit in us and make us fruitful. Our responsibility is to trust him, and if we do that, he will display his power! Our responsibility is to rest in him (cease from our own scheming, striving, struggling and stressing). He will then do his work in us and through us.
God wants us to be fruitful and bear much fruit. Yet, when we run ahead of him and try to accomplish things for him, we actually limit what he could do through us. In our own strength, we will simply mimic and counterfeit the fruit that only he can produce in us. We don’t need to work for God; rather, what we need is for God to do his work in us and through us, for his glory!
In John 5:19 Jesus said this: Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.
If Jesus, as the perfect Son of God, did nothing outside of what he saw his Father doing and what his Father did in and through him, then how much more should we! As he remained in perfect fellowship with his heavenly Father, he simply joined where he was already working and allowed his Father to work through him. It is this attitude, as imperfect, yet redeemed sons and daughters of God, that we must also assume if we are to truly be fruitful and know the supernatural power of God at work in us and through us.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. –John 14:12-14