“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1, ESV).
When Jesus refers to Himself as the “true” vine, He is talking about more than accurate information. “True” here carries the same sense as the phrase “true friend”—meaning real, genuine, authentic, on hand to support you with substance.
So what about the vinedresser, our heavenly Father? He tends His garden lovingly and perfectly. It’s His job to keep life flowing through us, and He can be trusted to put the right things into place to make them grow. Therefore, as we abide in Christ, attached to the vine, we don’t have to stress or worry about our lives. We are given true life-flow from Jesus and are caringly tended by our Father.
If we are grafted into the vine, shouldn’t we bear fruit naturally? We know we are saved and secure in Christ and graced by the Father’s love. How could fruit not come from this?
Again Jesus supplies the key word: “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” (John 15:4). Here is another phrase that sets off alarms in a lot of Christians: “Unless you abide in me.” Some followers grow fearful when they read this. They create dos and don’ts that actually cut them off from true life.
It’s true that Jesus’ statement here is conditional, meaning that we have a part to play. But the other part of the equation is this: Jesus abides in us—and His presence in us is steadfast, stalwart, immovable: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When Christ says, “Unless you abide in Me,” He is not referring to our salvation—because our salvation was secured by Him on the cross. He is speaking of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—our witness, our righteous walk, our joy and peace.
There is no better example of God’s moving mightily in a city than the account told in Acts 11:20-21: “Men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks . . . telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
Such a harvest occurred that Barnabas was dispatched from Jerusalem to check things out. “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad. . . . And a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (verses 23-24).
Who were these men who launched such a mighty church that it eventually surpassed the mother church in Jerusalem? We don’t know their names. We don’t know their methodology. But we do know a couple of things: They spread “the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “The Lord’s hand was with them” (verses 20-21).
This turned out to be the first truly multicultural church, with multicultural leaders, according to Acts 13:1—Simon the Black, some Jewish leaders, some Greeks, Manaen, the boyhood friend of Herod (which would have made him suspect to everyone!), and others. Yet they worked together in a powerful model of cross-cultural unity.
The Jewish-Gentile hatred of the first century was even greater than our racial strife of today. God met this problem head-on, for He was building His church His way.
Racial feelings in New York City are worse now than they were ten years ago. A harsh spirit prevails in many churches. We desperately need the love of God to override theses tensions, as it did in Antioch long ago.
No novel teaching is going to turn the trick. There are no trendy shortcuts, no hocus-pocus mantras that can defeat Satan. One man told me, “You know, you ought to think about getting a topographical map of Brooklyn so you could figure out the highest point in the borough. Then you could go there and pray against the territorial spirits.”
Others are saying, “The key to releasing God’s power is to sing through the streets of your city. Put on a march, make banners, and declare God’s sovereignty in a big parade.” Still others say, “Rebuke the devil, face the north, and stamp your feet when you do it. That will bring victory.”
Let’s forget the novelties. If we prevail in prayer, God will do what only He can do. How He does things, when He does them, and in what manner are up to Him. The name of Jesus, the power of His blood, and the prayer of faith have not lost their power.
Jim Cymbala began 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 and a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
In Mark 8, Jesus once more fed a crowd—this one numbering 4,000 people—with just seven loaves and a few fish. Again, the disciples took up several baskets of leftovers (see Mark 8:5-8). Yet Christ discerned that the disciples still didn’t accept His miracle-working power, so He asked them, “Have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17).
I picture the disciples after this second feeding, sitting dumbfounded. They must have thought, “This can’t be happening. If Jesus truly is God, why would He choose us to share in such incredible power? We’re just uneducated fishermen. Why would He walk out onto the water to get into our little boat instead of revealing this miracle to a group that’s more worthy?”
You’ve probably wondered the same things at times, about yourself: “There are billions of people on this earth. Why did God speak to me? Why did He choose me?” The reason is that it was an absolute miracle. Your conversion was totally supernatural. It wasn’t just one unexplainable natural event—no, there was nothing natural about it.
Why? Because there is nothing natural about the Christian life. It is all supernatural. It’s a life dependent upon miracles from the very beginning (including your conversion). And it simply can’t be lived without faith in the supernatural.
The power that keeps you in Christ is totally supernatural. The world lives in darkness, but you have the light all because you live in the realm of the supernatural. There’s nothing natural about your body being the temple of the Holy Ghost. Nothing is natural about being the abode of the supernatural God of the universe.
Yet this is often where hardening occurs. People begin to attribute God’s supernatural workings in their lives to the natural. It is dangerous to forget His miracles. It’s frightening to look back at divine wonders and say, “It just happened.” Every time you take the super out of the supernatural, your heart hardens a little more.
Dear saint, you simply must accept this by faith: The same supernatural God who fed crowds of thousands with just a few loaves will work supernaturally in your crises also. His miracle-working power will deliver you from all bondages. It will empower you to walk in freedom. And He’ll use your weakness—indeed, your very lowest state—to show the world His miracles of keeping power.
Hard times are guaranteed to come upon all who follow Jesus. Yet when those times come we’re to say with confidence, “Do it again, Lord. You’ve worked miracles before in my life. You’ve delivered Your servants supernaturally throughout history. Let your strength be made perfect in my weakness.”
God told Israel, “You didn’t believe Me when I said you had nothing to fear, that I would fight for you. You completely forgot that I bore you up like a child and cared for you. You never did trust Me, even though I went before you, gave you a cloud to shelter you from the blazing sun, gave you a fire by night to light your way and bring you comfort in the black night. Instead, you voiced your doubts, slandered Me, and made Me out to be a liar” (see Deuteronomy 1:27-35).
You can be saved, Spirit-filled, and walking holy before God, yet still be guilty of unbelief. You may think, “I don’t have any unbelief.” But do you get upset when things go wrong? Are you fearful of failing God? Are you restless, afraid of the future?
The believer who has unconditional faith in God’s promise enjoys complete rest. What characterizes this rest? A full, complete confidence in God’s Word, and a total dependence on His faithfulness to that Word. Indeed, rest is the evidence of faith.
You may wonder: How does a believer’s heart become hardened in unbelief? We see a shocking illustration in Mark 6. The disciples were in a boat headed for Bethsaida, sailing in the darkness. Suddenly, Jesus appeared, walking on the water. The twelve thought He was a ghost and shook with fear. But Christ assured them, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50). Then He stepped into the boat, and the wind ceased.
The next verse says everything about the disciples’ hearts in that moment: “They were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened” (6:51-52). (The Greek meaning of hardened here indicates “stone-like, blind, stubborn disbelief.”) We are being reminded that these men had just experienced an incredible miracle. They had seen Jesus feed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fishes and He had used the twelve to do it. When Mark tells us the disciples “considered not” this miracle, he means, “They couldn’t put it all together.”
Hardening comes when you take the super out of supernatural. These men didn’t have the faith to believe what they’d just seen Jesus do. Within twenty-four hours, they had dismissed His miraculous feeding as some kind of natural event. They still had doubts about Christ’s supernatural power.
You may remember the Old Testament story of the Israelite spies sent to scout out the Promised Land. They came back saying, “Yes, it’s a land flowing with milk and honey. But it’s also full of giants and walled-up cities. We’re not able to go up against these people. Compared to them, we’re mere grasshoppers” (see Numbers 13).
Now, these men didn’t accuse God. They never said, “God isn’t able. He isn’t strong enough.” They dared not voice such unbelief. Instead, they focused on themselves, saying, “We’re not able. We’re like little bugs in our enemies’ sight.”
Yet that is not humility. And it isn’t innocent, harmless talk. Rather, it’s an affront to the One who is the Light of the world, who commands us to believe, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
You see, when you complain of your inabilities and weaknesses, you’re not putting yourself down. You’re putting down your Lord. How? By refusing to believe or walk in His Word. That is sin against the Light. And it brings on darkness.
The Israelite spies were so focused on their inabilities, they were ready to quit. They even talked about going back to Egypt. What was God’s response to their fears and unbelief? “The Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?” (Numbers 14:11). God charged them with one sin: unbelief.
Today, the Lord is asking His people the same question He asked Israel: “When will you believe what I promised you? I said My strength would come to you in your times of weakness. You’re not to rely on the strength of your flesh. I told you I would use the weak, the poor, the despised of this world to confound the wise. I am Jehovah, everlasting strength. And I’ll make you strong through My might, by My Spirit. So, when will you act on this? When will you trust what I say to you?”