It is a joy to welcome our friend and writer Margaret Kemp to Monday Musings today. I know you'll be encouraged and challenged as you read about her faith journey in the joys of branching out in the life of abiding in Christ.
For Christmas, my husband gave me a piece of very special artwork painted by our friend Monica Wood. It‘s a pair of canvases which, when hung together, make a complete picture. The painting is entitled “Branching Out.” The canvas on the left depicts a fragile, flowering branch reaching upward. Hung alone, this painting wouldn’t be very interesting. But the canvas on the right, which is hung slightly lower, shows the rest of the limb to which the little branch is attached, and on that tree limb sits a pair of bluebirds. The painting has a soft wash of colors in the background, and the brilliant bluebirds do seem to make a sweet and loving couple. Now, I’m partial to bluebirds because bluebirds are often used as a symbol of happiness. But it wasn’t the bluebirds that drew me to the painting when I first saw it. Rather, I loved the way the two canvases fit together. It reminded me of the verse in John 15:5:
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
If the branch is disconnected from the vine, it will soon die, because all of its nourishment and strength come from the vine. But if it stays connected to the vine, it will grow and flourish and reach higher towards the sky. The little bluebirds of happiness may even hop up and build a nest there. I’m reminded that if I want to be fruitful, if I want to do anything of lasting value, if I want to live a happy, productive life, I have to abide in the True Vine.
Since I’ve been struggling with serious illness, I’ve given a lot of thought lately to the way I spend my time. Being sick has reminded me that our days on earth are numbered, and I feel an urgency to use my time wisely, not only because I want my friends and family to have good things to say about me at my funeral, (though I have certainly thought about that!) but mostly so that in the end the Lord will say to me, “Well done, Thy good and faithful servant.” I don’t mean to be morbid, and I don’t expect to die any time soon, but I realize that none of us is guaranteed that we will be here tomorrow. We must “look carefully then how (we) walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
There are a lot of things on my Bucket List that I hope to achieve in my lifetime,--- goals I wish to accomplish before I die. Recently the Lord has been teaching me a couple of things about those goals. First of all, if I try to accomplish anything in my own strength, it’s not going to happen. I need to stay connected to Him, to draw from His supernatural enabling power. I need to rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom in the choices I must make and for strength to succeed. Otherwise, I’ll be like a severed branch, soon to wither.
Second, if I’m abiding in the Vine, my goals are His goals. My purpose is not to promote myself or to gain praise for myself. My goals should be to call attention to God and to be a blessing to others.
“Abiding in Christ” can seem like such a nebulous concept. So what does “abiding” look like, in practical terms? Of course, it means staying connected through prayer----praying about every decision, praying for wisdom, praying that He will give direction. It means taking the time to be quiet and listen to the still, small voice speaking to my heart so that I’ll know what’s right for me. It means studying the Bible so that I’ll be familiar with His goals, so that my heart will desire the things He desires.
Beyond that, I think it’s a mindset; I am not an individual floating through life on my own, seeking to please myself. I am part of a bigger plan, an eternal plan. My life has eternal purposes. And also, I’m part of the body of Christ; I’ve been gifted so that I can serve the body.
If I’m abiding in Christ, He’ll show me how to use those gifts to bless others and glorify Him. If I were, for example, writing or singing or painting or dancing, it should be with the intention of bringing delight to God and displaying God’s majesty to the world. If I’m hostessing or organizing or decorating or cooking, my primary wish should be that others would be blessed.
In using my gifts and seeking to accomplish great things, there are two pitfalls I need to avoid.
The first pitfall is the tendency to want to accomplish things so that I can achieve personal success. In the Christian life, it’s not about me; it’s all about Him. When I present my body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), that means I’m committed to living for Him. That means I’m willing to be a servant, to perform tasks that don’t get any kudos. Sometimes, to accomplish His kingdom purposes, He calls me to be the support team, to be the prayer warrior, to be the behind-the-scenes worker who doesn’t get any attention. I need to be OK with that.
Can I confess something? I know that God is the Potter and I am the clay---I’m familiar with that Biblical analogy---but sometimes I don’t want to be an ordinary clay pot. Sometimes I’d rather be the beautiful vase. I see people who are immensely gifted, who are front and center stage, who are “beautiful vases.” I compare myself to them, and I see myself as not measuring up. I have a little bit of Spiritual Gift-Envy. I’m aware of this tendency, and I constantly confess and realign myself to God’s goals. I remind myself that “It’s not about me.” I need to pour my heart and passion into whatever task God gives me to do.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23
The other pitfall is the tendency to refuse to use the gifts He’s given. Sometimes it’s because of laziness or selfishness. I might know that I have a particular ability-let’s say it’s teaching-, but when I hear that request for volunteers, even though I feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that inner voice that says, “This is something you should do,” I might I turn a deaf ear. Sometimes, it’s fear of failure and lack of faith that keep me from using a particular gift. Or maybe I feel that nudging in an area where don’t feel particularly gifted, such as hospitality or administration. (After all, just because I don’t think I have the gift of hospitality, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t expect me to be hospitable.) But I don’t want to “go out on a limb” and get stranded there! That’s when I need to remember that the One who calls me is all-powerful, and His grace is sufficient for me.
11 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Great things can be accomplished by a soul that is totally relying on God’s strength and power.
In her book, Your Beautiful Purpose, Susie Larson says, “But never for a moment think that you can accomplish great things apart from God. And yet, live expectantly knowing that nothing is impossible with Him.”
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
This year, I am branching out! I want to be like that little twig in the painting, reaching for higher and loftier things, straining upward to achieve the purpose for which I was called. I believe that happiness and joy will take residence in my life as I stay connected to the Vine. I am spending more time in prayer and in the Word so that I can derive power and spiritual nourishment from the Lord.
As I go about my day, I’m going to be aware of God’s presence and His plan for my life. I’m going to be open to opportunities to use the spiritual gifts He’s given me. I’m going to lay aside my fears and begin some new endeavors, by His direction, in His strength, for His glory.
Branching out and abiding in Christ,
Resources: Images Pinterest, Monica Wood
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