(Presented by Lisa Bishop)

It is so vital that you and I are intentionally investing time to be in God’s Word, immersing ourselves in the truth of the Bible. Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that when God sends out his Word it always produces fruit. When we read and meditate on God’s divine instruction, the truth of who God is and his character, who we are in him and the life he has empowered us to live…as we invite and surrender to the Holy Spirit at work in us, we are guaranteed a productive return.

There are so many investments we make today, with our time and resources, with our finances. And we will not always get the return on investment we hoped for. BUT… the investment we can count on is spending time with Jesus, letting God’s Word penetrate, renew and transform our hearts, minds and ways of being and living. God promises that his Word will accomplish all he wants it to, and it will prosper everywhere he sends it.

One of the verses I have memorized over the last several years is 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Paul tells the church in Thessalonica to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as they are doing.” He is making an assumption about believers in Jesus, that they are in fact encouraging one another in God’s truth. That should be true of us, that we are encouraged and built up in our faith and we are an encouragement to others. Which means we need Christian community. (As a side note – if you are not part of a Bible preaching church and small group Bible study may I kindly encourage you to participate in one!) To be encouraged and built up in our faith, it is necessary that we are part of a Christian community. It is also essential that we make it a daily habit of abiding in Jesus.

What does it mean to abide in Jesus?

I was listening to a podcast and the speaker said, your life is a reflection of who you spend the most time with. In other words, tell me who you are hanging out with, and I will tell you who you will become. He was saying that the people we surround ourselves with on a daily basis will influence our lives, our thoughts, our behavior and actions.

Think about the three to four people you spend the most time with. Do they encourage you in your faith and to exhibit Christ-likeness? When people spend time with you, are they encouraged to love and follow Jesus?

Our lives will reflect who we spend time with. And the most important relationship that you and I as believers have is our relationship with Jesus. When we spend time with him, when we abide in him, our lives will reveal and exhibit Christ. And when we display Christ in our lives, we are living out our purpose, our highest and greatest calling. We are putting his glory on display and drawing people to him.

And when we abide in Christ, we live our lives set apart, we bear fruit.

Jesus said, “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.” (John 15:4-5).

Jesus paints the metaphor of abiding and compares it to a vine and branches. Parts of California are known as wine country where there are miles of vineyards. When you look at the vineyards you can see thick vines with several branches growing off of them. The branches that are healthy and connected to the vine have beautiful and juicy grapes growing from them. There are also some branches of grapes that have broken apart from the vine and have started to wither and shrivel up. They are no longer good for producing what they were intended to produce.

When Jesus uses this picture of a vine and branches and abiding, he is saying that he is the vine and we are the branches that must remain connected to him if we want our lives to produce healthy fruit. The word abide means to remain, not depart, stay connected to.Jesus says when we try to live life apart from him we can do nothing … we become useless, like the grapes that are no longer connected to the vine. But when we stay connected to him, we gain our strength, nourishment and direction from him, our lives will reflect him, and we will bear fruit. Some of the fruit in our lives that will be evidence of abiding in Jesus is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control as we see in Galatians 5:22-23.

When we exhibit this fruit in our lives, we look and act differently than the world around us. We live like Jesus. As 1 John 2:6 says, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way he walked.”

When the world tells us to hate our enemy, abiding in Jesus teaches us to love our enemy.

When cultural norms are gossip, anger, and slander, Christ within us displays love, kindness, and forgiveness. When all around us we see self-indulgence, people putting themselves before others, doing anything to get ahead, and envy, abiding in Jesus trains us to put others first. We exchange jealousy and resentment for honoring one another. Instead of stirring up strife and conflict, we will be peacemakers.

And when it comes to remaining connected to Jesus, I can pretty much guarantee that if you are feeling stressed, worried, angry; if you find yourself lashing out at a co-worker, friend or spouse, if there is bitterness, unforgiveness, or hopelessness in your spirit, you have temporarily stopped abiding in Jesus. That is not an accusation. In our humanness we will all be faced with times when we are stressed, bitter, despairing. But we cannot be in despair and abiding in Jesus at the same time. When we abide in him, truly abide and ground ourselves in him, as Psalm 16:11 says we will experience fullness of joy. This is a daily, often minute by minute practice.

Now let me be the first to say that my life does not always reflect abiding in Jesus. There are many times when I have temporary abiding amnesia and I can be prone to impatience, self-sufficiency, anger, self-righteousness and self-centeredness. I can be lured into worry and anxiety which are evidence that I have forgotten to trust in and remain in God. I am assuming you are like me. If so I want to remind us that Jesus does not require perfection. He does require devotion to him. When we find ourselves reflecting more of our old nature rather than our new nature in Christ, consider it an indication that we have forgotten to abide.

It reminds me of the check engine light that goes on when the car is not functioning as it was meant to. Something needs to be attended to, adjusted, realigned. What are the check engine lights that may be occurring in your life right now? What may be indicators that you are not fully relying on, connected to and trusting God and remaining in his love? Is it fear of the future? Impatience? Worry? Anxiety? A habitual sin that you are caught in? Where have you forgotten how to abide?

I recently returned from a three-week trip to Africa. Two days before my trip home, without warning, the airline cancelled my return flight. They didn’t even notify me. I just happened to hear about cancelled flights from a friend. As I learned of several airlines cancelling flights, I panicked. I forgot to stay connected to Jesus. Instead of remaining calm I became flustered, impatient, irritable and I had a few choice words that I will spare you. I was with a good friend who witnessed my reaction. After several failed attempts to book another flight later in the week, I was finally able to secure a flight home. I felt relieved. Yet, after I reflected on my reaction in the moment of panic, I had regret. And as my friend lovingly pointed out to me, I wasn’t fully trusting in and relying on Jesus. I had temporarily disconnected and relied on myself rather than keeping grounded in Christ. The fruit produced was impatience, fear, and a short temper rather than the fruit of abiding—remaining patient and calm and trusting everything would work out.

Is there an area of your life that you are not experiencing the fruit of abiding? Where are you relying on your own strength? Where have you disconnected from the vine? Remember that Jesus says that apart from him we can do nothing.

We learn another indication of abiding in Christ from 1 John 3:24: “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.”  When we keep God’s commandments we know that we are in him and he is in us. Now as I mentioned earlier this is not a call to perfection but it is a call to live a life worthy of the gospel which means we will strive, by our will and the power of the Holy Spirit to obey God’s commandments.

1 John 5:3 we read:: “This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome….” Our obedience to God shows our love for him, and his commands are not burdensome.

If you are honest, if I am honest, sometimes it can feel as though God’s commands are a burden. We like to cherry pick the parts of God’s Word that we want to follow, leaving behind and ignoring other parts of God’s Word because they don’t serve us and our desires in the moment. We think that our way is better than his way.  Sometimes we can view God’s commands through the lens of restriction rather than through the lens of God’s protection.

The truth is that God is a loving Father and he gives us instruction because he is our protector. He created us, loves us, withholds no good thing from us and gives us his absolute best.

What commandments of God have you dismissed? Where have you been taking matters into your own hands? In what areas have you been acting straight out of rebellion and disobedience, foregoing abiding in Jesus and obeying his instruction and going your own way? Remember “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.”

And here is the incredible truth about God: when we have been living independent of Jesus, 1 John 1:9 says that when we acknowledge our sin and confess it to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us!

Receive God’s forgiveness! When we don’t we are prone to live in shame and guilt. The first step to receiving his forgiveness is confession and repentance. Acknowledging our sin, how we have missed the mark, is a key part of abiding in Jesus.

When we acknowledge our sin to God we take the action of reconnecting to him.

So abiding in Jesus means we are spending time in his Word, mediating on truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. We follow God’s commandments and confess when we don’t. We live as Jesus lived.

A final area of abiding that I want to briefly touch on is found in 1 John 4:12. “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

When we love one another, people see Jesus. I ran across a Facebook post from an acquaintance. He said – “I, admittedly, struggle with my faith.  Most often it is when experiencing other people of faith not living according to the Bible. They live in their own ways and not in ways that reflect Jesus.”

First let me say that you will be discouraged if you follow people and base your faith on the way people live and not on completely following and immersing yourself in Jesus. At the same time, you and I as followers of Jesus have an obligation as we live from the privilege of being called children of God. And that privilege, that calling, is to live and act like a child of God. When we do not act differently from the world, when we are quick tempered and quick to anger rather than slow to anger, compassionate and abounding in grace and love, we give people a very poor image of Jesus.

You are Christ’s ambassador and God makes his appeal to those who do not know him through true followers of Christ. That is a high calling. People will come to know Jesus when they see you and me living as Jesus did. Loving as Jesus did. Empowered by his Holy Spirit. Let’s commit to living in a way that puts the glory of God on display, staying connected to and abiding in Jesus.

There is nothing more fulfilling in life than being a faithful follower of Christ. Trusting in him, relying on the wisdom, guidance, counsel and strength of his Holy Spirit. We won’t do it perfectly, we will all fall short of God’s glory. Thankfully we have Jesus who reconciles us to God, who is quick to forgive and give us abundance of life as we abide in him.

Spend some time today letting God examine your heart and life. Use Psalm 136:23-24 as a prayer to Jesus.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Point out anything in me that offends you,

and lead me along the path of everlasting life

Acknowledge the ways you have relied on your own strength. Confess the areas of your life that have been disconnected from him and have become dry and unfruitful. Express your desire and need to be close to him and experience his presence. Confess relationships where there is evidence of unforgiveness or bitterness. Acknowledge where you have strayed from God’s instruction and forgotten his faithfulness.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you live in obedience to God, to follow his commands—that your life would bear fruit for his glory.  Simply say, Jesus, I need you! When you do, you will experience fullness of joy in him and your life will be an appeal to others to come to know the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.

You are deeply loved by God and he loves hanging out with you.