Clinging to the Vine

Every year I believe the Lord gives me a word for the year—words like faith, or hope or trust.  And every year He allows me to witness and live through the meaning of that word.  For the year 2002, the word is intimate.  God’s desire for us is to experience a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Him, and I don‘t think there’s a better time than right after the Christmas season to reflect upon that idea.  When you stop to consider the very means through which God chose to become human, to identify with us, to humble Himself—how much more personal and intimate an experience can there be than birth? We can romanticize the scene with nativity scenes of a star-lit manger.  But as anyone who has ever witnessed birth knows, the reality is a painful, blood, sweat and tears experience.  God, the Creator of the universe, chose to humble Himself and come to earth in the same way that all of us arrived—from the womb of His mother.

God’s passion for us began as early as the dawn of creation.  You can read Genesis and see how He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The entire Bible is one long love story of God’s passionate pursuit of us, and of His desire to draw us close to Him in order to bless us.

Intimacy with God can be a bit scary, can’t it?  It reminds me of the story of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  Aslan the lion is an allegorical figure representing Christ.  One of the main characters, Lucy, asks Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, “Then he isn’t safe?”

“Safe?” said Mrs. Beaver.  “Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

No, God is not always “safe.”  He doesn’t allow us to remain as we are.  He challenges us to grow and to stretch and to deal with problems and issues head on. He takes us places we’re not sure we want to go.  But, as Mrs. Beaver said, He is good!  We can trust Him.  We can abandon our fears and go for intimacy with our heavenly Father, without fear of what we will have to go through or what will happen, because we can trust in His goodness.

I know the world is not a very safe place right now.  All of us feel the uncertainty, and all of us are dealing not only with world issues, but personal struggles as well.  The world and many of our lives are in crisis.  The answer to that, and to finding intimacy with God, begins with John 15, where Jesus said:  “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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit…Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:1-4).

Notice, the only responsibility of the branch (us) is to abide in Christ.  All the rest—the pruning, the cleansing, the nurturing, strengthening—all of it is the vinedresser’s (our Father) responsibility.  And that is exactly what He is doing in our lives.  Pruning our hearts through circumstances, hardships and changes, so that we will draw closer to His heart.

Jesus was born in just such a time as this—a time of upheaval, turmoil and danger.  But, come to think of it, since that day in the Garden when Adam and Eve disobeyed and paradise was lost, when hasn’t the world been touched by hardship and tragedy?

Life can be hard—but that’s why we need to cling to the hope that is in Jesus.  To all who are weary, frightened or unsure of the future, Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” and “Follow Me.”  Jesus is God’s love manifested to the world in human form.  He is the Father’s way of saying, “I love you, I want to bless you and I long to draw you closer and closer to Me, to give you a life of joy, peace and love.”

May we all cling to the Vine in the New Year!

Pastor Ray Bentley