Think about the last time you went crazy with an ice-cream sundae—or pizza, or for you more diet-conscious types let’s make it a salad. Why did you pick the toppings you did? How would other toppings have affected it differently? Literally savor the moment before going on.
Now: What’s going on in your life right now that you wish wasn’t so difficult or complex—where you wish there were a few less “toppings” piled on?
We’ve spent a lot of time here exploring how Jesus can use us to pour our lives into others around us, and help them move deeper into what God’s calling them to. But as we do, it becomes even more important for us to stay connected to Jesus. Even when things go well, our commitments can be demanding and even draining—physically, mentally, emotionally, and certainly spiritually.
Robert Gelinas, in the much-vaunted-here Finding the Groove, put it this way: “[W]e strive for bare minimums instead of what is truly possible, namely, unending, unbroken communion with Jesus. We were designed to live with God for all time, for God is with us all the time. But when time has us, grace is suffocated.”
And we have even better sources to draw from. Let’s revisit one from last week:
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples” (John 15:1-8, NET).
Let’s take this idea of remaining and see how it applied to Jesus’ disciples even 2,000 years earlier. We’ve probably marveled at Jesus’ followers, and often not in a good way. How could they have missed so much when Jesus was right there in front of them? But if we’re honest and believe what Jesus tells us, we’re guilty of the exact same things. So let’s move past our own “dullness of heart” and look at both sides more clearly:
• What steps to growth, as it were, do you see in this passage?
• What things—even good things—can pull us away from Jesus?
• At what point do you usually realize you’ve stopped “remaining”? Why then? • When has Jesus prepared you to see him more clearly, even if you didn’t know at the time?
• How did staying connected to Jesus—even if you didn’t feel connected—help you get through that time?
A big key to remaining is… well, remaining. Not running around “doing stuff for Jesus,” but just remaining in His presence long enough to actually know something about Him and His desires, before doing His work—and long before we go adding any “toppings” to it. Keith R. Anderson and Randy D. Reese, in Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide for Seeking and Giving Direction, suggest “Certainly the discipline of creating time for reflection is a lifeline for spiritual health. Without times in quiet, thoughtful reflection, our spirituality remains shallow, anemic and misguided.”
How do you connect most easily to Jesus? On the other hand, what spiritual disciplines don’t come easy at all? Either way, how can we bring more Christ-connections into our daily lives, and into our worship time as a church? Here are a few suggestions; try one, or try something else God’s putting on your heart. But try to remain, and may God honor and bless your time with Him:
• Take your own personal “walk to Emmaus.” Take an extended period time to take a walk on your own, pouring out what you’re feeling to Jesus. Put it all out there, so that Jesus has room to deal with your own “dullness of heart” and help you see past your hurts and struggling and instead see him.
• Do you have a regular devotional time with your family? Start one, or change it up. Use your time in God’s Word as a catalyst to see how God’s working in your lives, rather than a task to complete. Make most of your time about sharing what God’s doing or trying to do in your lives.
• Here’s a different approach toward your time together with friends: Instead of focusing on sharing about your own lives or on pushing each other forward (good things, but….), spend some time this week each sharing how you’re seeing God work in the other person. You may very well point out things to one another that you’re “too close” to see for yourselves.
• If you have a small group or ministry team, take a retreat as a group, and get more connected with Jesus and each other. Set aside a chunk of time—you should have at least an hour of pure alone time. After your time alone with God, gather back together and share about what you experienced during your time of sacred solitude. Also discuss how you can make a more regular time of this, both individually and as a group.