Friday, November 18, 2011

Sap Rising

Before the church service ended, she began sobbing. Her husband reached over and enfolded her in his arms. Her soft wails could be heard over the service. A final prayer, a final song, still she cried. It was the Sunday following a powerful week at our church. It was our first 24/7 prayer event and God was moving. Prayer team members and artists had developed creative and inspiring prayer stations. The beautiful, tranquil setting invited resting in God's presence and meeting Him in new ways. He was doing business with us all.

The service over now, people made their way outside. But I remained, captivated by this dear woman and her loving husband. The pastor approached them for a brief moment but then let them be. “God is doing a sacred work,” I marveled to myself, “right here, right now.” I was moved at the wisdom of people who knew not to interrupt it. Rather than rush in prematurely with noble attempts to make it all better, everyone seemed to know that God was doing business with her. Sacred business. Life-changing business.

Transformation is God's sacred work in us. It's a process. God's in it for the long haul with us. His work sometimes comes in spurts where He does huge business all at once, but generally, transformation comes about slowly as we spend more and more time with Him. It doesn't often happen on our time table. I'd prefer that it happen much more quickly in me than it is. In fact, over the years, I've often tried to hurry it along with what I think are the right things to do. All good things and good disciplines, but I was doing them for the wrong reasons. Without really knowing it, I was expecting them to change my heart from the outside in. I'd created a burden of expectations and became tied up with guilt over all the things I should be doing and what I thought I should be like as a Christian.

One day I realized that what I was doing amounted to trying to tape fruit onto a tree. I was starting with the fruit and trying to make it real in my life by adding on all the “proper” Christian behavior. Pass me the tape, I'm going to be a good Christian!

We can get it so backwards sometimes. We look out there into the future and ask, “What's my goal? What does Christian maturity look like?” Wanting something measurable, we easily think of behaviors pertaining to things that are right and good. A “mature” Christian would... fill in the blank. And then we focus on adding on all those things to our “outside,” taping on the fruit of what we want to someday be.

But taped on fruit falls off. Taped on fruit withers and rots. It doesn't last because it's not connected. It hasn't been grown from within. There are no fruit factories where fruit is assembled or manufactured. Behavior can be taped on; qualities form. Fruit forms. Real fruit is a result of sap rising within the tree, flowing through the branches and out to the ends where there emerges a blossom, then a bud, then the fruit. God forms His fruit in me. The more I am with Him, the more He works in me to produce His fruit. The more I bring my very truest self to Him and trust Him with who I really am, the more genuine my relationship is with Him and the more He can work in me. He can work with my junk and my ugliness, my bad moods and selfish desires, when they're honestly brought before Him. What He can't work with is pretense, my manufactured efforts covering up a hiding heart.

He is the vine, I am the branch. By abiding in Him the sap rises, so to speak, and He brings about fruit in my life. (John 15:4) “Abide in Me and I in you,” He says. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15: 5) Taped on fruit doesn't transform me. God transforms me. It takes trusting all of Him with all of me. As I spend time with Him, leaving my tape behind, wanting simply to know Him more, He changes me. From the inside out.

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