“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” (John 15:1-5).
On Jesus’ final night with his disciples, after they finished supper, he asked them to walk with him so that he could impart one last teaching. “Rise, let us go from here” (John 14:31). As they walked, Jesus summed up our relationship to him and the Father. The vine is Jesus — the source of all life flowing into us — and we are the branches extending from him. Overseeing all this life-flow is our heavenly Father, the gardener who tends to our growth. Could there be any more serene image of our life in Christ?
Yet, also embedded in this analogy is a different kind of image: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away” (15:2). Many Christians flinch at this verse; nobody likes the thought of being “taken away” by God. This verse is reason enough to cling to a performance-driven religion, a system by which it can be measured whether we’re bearing fruit or not.
Our compassionate, loving Lord, however, is more than a life source to us — he is the life source. Other “vines” may promise life but none contain true life as he does. Christians may seek life from sources that seem good and legitimate — ambition and drive, success and comfort — but these vines in themselves are lifeless. Jesus wants us grafted into him so that we may drink deeply of his abundant life every day.
The vinedresser, our heavenly Father, tends his garden lovingly and perfectly, putting the right things into place to make them grow. But the good vinedresser also prunes — and that can be painful. However, Jesus makes it very clear that as we abide in him, the pruning will bring forth fruit that is glorious and could not have been produced on its own.
Jesus gave his disciples these beautiful, parting words: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (15:11).
The apostle Paul, writer of most of the New Testament, made an extraordinary admission in Romans: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Notice the key phrases:
The Spirit helps us to do prayer, to get away from the bustle of life and get alone with God. He reveals our critical need of daily grace by contrasting God’s strength with our human frailty. He draws us gently to our Source and helps our hearts to sincerely bow, believe and petition at God’s throne.
Many times, we face situations in life that are quite complicated and we are unsure what we should pray for — there is no obvious right or wrong choice. Maybe an opportunity arises for a short-term mission trip or a rebellious child gets into trouble with the law. What is God’s will in those situations? How should we pray? That is where the Holy Spirit helps us by revealing God’s will and granting us the faith to pray in the right direction.
The prayer of faith moves mountains (Mark 11:23-24; James 5:15). The Spirit alone makes the power of God so real to our inner person that we are enabled to ask, seek, and knock with bold assurance. This is another reason why the deepest truths and secrets of prayer can never be learned by lectures, teaching tapes, or books.
Prayer is learned by praying, and the heart usually learns faster than the head. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). The Holy Spirit marries prayer and faith together within us, and brings about life-changing results.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
In Joshua 7, we find the entire nation of Israel wailing in prayer. The village of Ai had just defeated them and put them to chase. As a result, Joshua called an all-day prayer meeting and the people gathered before God’s mercy seat to seek him.
The defeat by Ai had totally baffled Joshua. The Israelites had just come from a huge victory over mighty Jericho, and tiny, insignificant Ai should have been an easy victory. Yet now they were defeated and he couldn’t understand it. Joshua prayed, “Lord, why did this happen? Your reputation as a deliverer is going to be reproached.”
This prayer may seem spiritual but the Lord was not pleased with being blamed and he stopped the meeting cold: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them” (Joshua 7:10-11).
The implied meaning is, “You can pray all night and all day but until you deal with your sin, you’re going to keep falling before your enemies.” The sin the Lord was referring to was Achan’s disobedience of the clear word of God by committing theft (see 7:1). And now the Lord told Israel, “Get up off your knees. I won’t hear your prayers until you remove the accursed thing from your midst.”
When Scripture says, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23), it’s referring to more than public exposure. It involves every area of your life, including prayer and fellowship with him. Jesus said the Father demands righteousness under the New Covenant as well as the Old: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
You may believe you’re infused with Christ’s righteousness. You can pray for hours, study the Bible daily, and minister to the poor. But if you harbor sin against someone, you’re wasting your energy. Is there someone in your life you need to forgive? Are you angry with someone? The Lord is ready to answer your every prayer today and He wants to bless you as never before. But you have to believe his Word fully and accept what he says about sin. Then you will know God is hearing your prayers and he’ll come to you quickly!
“For the Lord loves justice, and does not forsake His saints; they are preserved forever” (Psalm 37:28).
Once God touches and possesses someone, it’s for a lifetime. The Lord will never surrender to Satan what is his. You may falter, fail or fall into devastating sin, but once God possesses you, he will never, ever give up on you. Also, when he possesses you, he prepares you for ever-increasing usefulness.
Think back to the time when God came to you and supernaturally touched your soul. He called you to himself and filled you with his Spirit, while making a commitment to you: “I claim you; you are my possession.” Suddenly, God took control of your life and nothing was going to change that fact. You became God’s purchased possession: “The church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
The Creator of the universe bought you with the price of his own blood and nothing has power over that blood. Satan himself may ensnare you in a hellish trap and yet, just as he thinks he has you, God says, “No, devil, you can’t have him. He’s mine. I’ve purchased him and you must release my property.” God is preserving you, preparing you for his best.
David was a God-possessed man. Even though he was a giant killer, an anointed psalm writer, and a great king, he battled a fierce compulsion in his heart. At the very height of God’s blessing and favor, he was overtaken by a violent attack of lust. He fell into sin with another man’s wife and even had the woman’s husband murdered in battle. David suffered dire consequences for his sin but God preserved him through the ordeal. In fact, David was prepared for even greater ministry after his fall. His voice was heard throughout the land as never before and today we read his anointed words in the Psalms. The truth that God revealed to David through his trial is still being preached today.
Remember, the Lord will never give up on you no matter what struggle you face. You are the Lord’s, so receive his love, power, forgiveness and freedom! “For the Lord will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance” (Psalm 94:14).
The prophet Ezekiel testifies, “He brought me through the waters” (Ezekiel 47:3). In a vision, God took the prophet on an amazing trip through water. Carrying a measuring rod, the Lord paced off 1,000 cubits, about one-third of a mile. The Lord and Ezekiel then began walking in the water, which was flowing about ankle high.
The Lord kept urging the prophet onward, deeper and farther into the river. After another 1,000 cubits, the water came up to the knees — and it was still rising. Do you see what’s happening here? Ezekiel was walking into the future, right into our time.
Christians today live in the final 1,000 cubits of the river in this vision. We’re in the very last measurement of water and Ezekiel says that when he stepped to the edge of this measure, the water was too deep for him, too overwhelming. “I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim” (47:5). In other words, the water was over his head.
All the Old Testament prophets had a limited vision of Christ. Jesus himself tells us, “Assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it” (Matthew 13:17). The Lord reveals in this prophetic vision that in the very last days, the church of Jesus Christ will be more glorious, more victorious, than in its entire history. The Lord’s true body isn’t going to weaken and sputter; it’s not going to dwindle in numbers or decrease in power or spiritual authority. No, his church will go out in a blaze of power and glory. And it will enjoy the fullest revelation of Jesus that anyone has ever known.
Ezekiel writes, “Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many” (47:10). Ezekiel is saying that a body of believers will swim in rising waters of the Lord’s presence and God’s presence among his people is going to increase until the very end.
In the midst of all the death and destruction we see happening, the Lord’s prophecy thunders, “My river is going to rise and everything will live where my river flows.” You see, the river of life, which will crest just prior to the Lord’s coming, brings life wherever it goes.