Friday, November 15, 2013

Life Cycles--Work and Rest

Today is the final day in our 45th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Ezekiel 43-45; John 15; Psalm 135.

Have you ever felt that people were putting so much demand on you to produce that you felt dried up inside?  I can think of some times like that in my life, when pressures to perform outweighed my ability to meet people's expectations.  In times like that, I found myself using my personal prayer and Bible reading time to work on Sunday sermons or studies for the groups I was leading.  Instead of taking care of myself and my family, I allowed the constant phone calls to dictate my schedule, creating a situation that was ripe for burnout.

Maybe you've gone through times like that as well.  Jesus gives an answer to this condition of overwork in John 15:1-5 (ESV.)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

 Basically, Jesus is saying that if you want to produce, you've got to rest.  Working without resting produces nothing but fatigue and an inability to get your creative juices flowing.

In order to get to a place of abiding, first you need to be pruned.  Just as the vinedresser cuts "suckers" off of vine to give it energy to you need to produce good fruit, you may need to prune some things from your life that have been taxing your reserves.  

A year ago, I dropped several things from my schedule, that were all good things, but that were putting too much of a demand on my time.  For years, I'd been hosting a weekly meeting of local clergy at my church--I decided that someone could take a turn at hosting it.  I still attended the meeting, but I no longer had the responsibility of hosting it--freeing my schedule if some other need arose.  I'd also served on the Fluvanna-Louisa Housing Foundation for years, and at the time was co-president of the organization.  Though we were doing good work, I had to realize that they could do good work without me.  Five years of service was enough, so at the end of the foundation's fiscal year, I stepped down from my role.  There were a couple of other things that I backed out of at the same time.  I can't tell you the amazing feeling of freedom there was, in the ability to say, "No--somebody else can do that."  Maybe you need to exercise that freedom as well.  Maybe you need to let God prune some things from your life.  Only once you've been pruned, can you get to the point of truly abiding.

Abiding, or resting, in Christ means taking time to enjoy His Word.  It means regularly relating to God in prayer.  It means allowing the True Vine to nourish your spirit.  This can be through devotion times and corporate worship, small group meetings and solitary pilgrimages.  

For the Christian, abiding in Christ doesn't always have to be something that seems spiritual.  Because the Spirit of Jesus inhabits us at all times and in all activities, abiding in Christ can mean a fishing trip or hiking in the woods (my two favorite leisure activities).  Or, for you it might mean watching your grandchild play ball.  Maybe it's a romantic dinner with your spouse or a weekend shopping trip or bowling with your buddies.  When the Christian does these things, our recreation becomes holy re-creation of our souls.

Then, once you've been refreshed by the process of abiding, you can begin to grow.  God's Spirit shows you areas where you can branch out in new directions.  He places ideas and desires in your heart, and gives you the strength you need to make these things realities.  

As you grow in the direction that God leads, He asks you to bear fruit.  Fruit that can only come from a well-nourished branch.  Fruit that can only come once you've allowed Him to prune you, once you've rested in God, grown by His grace, and been made ready to produce.  The fruit that you bear might be some new work that God has called you to do.  Or, it could be some new character trait that God has whispered into your heart--things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

There's a rhythm to life--a rhythm that leads us from our time of work, through a time of pruning, to abiding in Christ.  Then, from our time of abiding, the Spirit leads through growth to fruit-bearing.  Once again, after a cycle of production, God allows us to be pruned again, and it goes on and on.  Just as there are cycles in the agricultural year, there are cycles in our lives.  What cycle are you in now?  Which direction are you headed?  I hope that you'll realize when it's time to transition to the next phase, because lingering too long in any one of these will stunt your growth and hamper production.  Jesus wants us to bear fruit for Him--but not just any fruit.  He wants us to bear healthy fruit that will endure.

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