When he asked me to consider being part of the class, I grilled him with a thousand questions. Was I being groomed for something? Would I be expected to sit on a committee when the course was complete?
I responded as though the pastor was a salesman phoning at dinnertime; my conditioned response was to slip on protective gear and defend myself against pressure to say yes.
So it felt strange to leave the leadership training retreat free to step out of the role I assumed I was being trained for. I couldn’t believe it at first; I wrestled all the way home with the reasons I still thought I should do it.
I hardly know how to respond when someone’s goal is not to get me to agree to his plans for me, but to free me to enter God’s plans for me.
It’s sad that it felt so odd; one might expect it to be our normal experience in the church. The church, after all, was never meant to be a factory, recruiting a warm body to work each station on the assembly line. It was designed as a garden. (And, in case you wondered, we’re not even the gardeners. John 15:1,5).
Though I’ve read them and memorized them , the strength of the words startle me: “. . . apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) When I’m face to face with someone asking me to do something, it’s hard to remember (let alone believe!) that that extra thing I’m trying to fit in because I can’t say no is nothing. Not, in the big picture, helpful. Not fruitful. Nothing. Worse, it distracts me from the unique God-fuelled life I’m called to live that would bear fruit – in me and in others. I am totally impotent apart from God.
On the flip side, I’m guaranteed fruitful if I remain in him. “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit. . .” (John 15:5).
This two-pronged promise of John 15 is simplifying my life. Does a particular choice flow from my abiding in Christ? Will it help me live more deeply in Him? If so, I go for it. If not, it’s nothing – fruitless, and a distractor. It needs a no.
I’m discovering, too, that fruitfulness is not about just the “big” stuff or the “spiritual” stuff, but about whole lives lived in Christ’s love. A bike ride or pizza with a friend can be just as important parts of helping me make my home in Jesus’ love as can prayer and solitude. And what flows out of abiding is equally varied: the joy of working hard at something I’m made to do; the freedom to savour a mug of tea and the lights of the city; the rich grace of loving another into the fullness of her story.
I’m just learning to live this way, but I don’t think you’ll want to miss trying it yourself. It’s good. Guess that’s why the One who loves us recommended it.