WHEN YOU BECOME DISCOURAGED, WILL YOU WALK AWAY?
What do you do when your devotional times (daily time set aside for reading the Bible and prayer) are stale? What do you do when you stop getting a lot out of a small group? What do you do when church attendance feels more like an obligation than a blessing? What do you do when your mind wanders in prayer, or you feel like God already knows everything that is happening?
If God is ALIVE, then what should we do when we go through seasons of discouragement?
Core Text: Read 1 Corinthians 15:1–11
John 15:5 (ESV) — I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides [remains] in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Have you ever thought about how a branch bears fruit? Think about it. How does the vine-dresser determine which branches are healthy and which are dying? He can tell which branches are alive by examining which branches are bearing fruit. There's no such thing as a living branch that doesn't produce more life. It's either growing, or it's dead. There's no such thing as a living branch that simply stays the same.
Understanding Spiritual Life
John 15 uses horticultural language to describe our relationship with Jesus. According to this passage, what does it mean to abide and remain? And what are the implications of this for the way we relate to Jesus?
Fortunately, spiritual life is not something we are responsible to conjure up. Spiritual life and transformation resides in the Spirit of God and the Spirit of God resides in all who believe (2 Cor. 3:18, John 16:7-15; Phil 1:6; John 15:5). As long as the Gospel and the Spirit are alive in us, we will change, we will grow, and we will experience victory and vitality. Like a branch attached to a vine, our only responsibility is to remain connected to the source of life. In doing so, we ensure that our spiritual lives will thrive. If not, just like a branch cut from a vine, our spiritual lives will wither and die.
Jesus repeatedly compares our spiritual lives with agricultural life (Mark 4:13-20; John 15).
Mark 4:26–29 (ESV) — And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
A farmer does not need to train a plant how to replicate cells and convert sunlight, carbon-dioxide, and water into fuel. The work of a farmer is not to do the miraculous, but the mundane (tilling, sowing, watering, and harvesting). The plant contains everything it needs to grow through all stages (Mark 4:30-31). The farmer simply cultivates the environment required for life. The seed, and a lot of time, do the rest.
Living things require three things in order to thrive:
- a viable seed
- a life-giving environment
Our spiritual lives require the same three things:
- a viable seed (the Gospel)
- a life-giving environment (remaining in God's Word, remaining obedient to his Spirit, remaining connected to the church body)
- time (spirituality is not a sprint)
The Tell: Apathy
Apathy is a lack of enthusiasm, interest, or concern for the things of God. It is one of the first signs of spiritual death and decay. Apathy leads from a passion for God, to passion for any or everything else. This results in “dead works” and “dead hearts.”
In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul explains the works of the flesh:
Galatians 5:19–21 (ESV) — Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Have you ever done the right things with the wrong motivations? How does hypocrisy cause spiritual death? How is hypocritical living discouraging to your faith? How can we avoid this trap?
The Remedy: Remain Through
In John 15, the Greek word translated as “remain” or “abide” is meno. Another form of the word is hupomeno. Hupo is a Greek preposition that, when used as a prefix to meno, forms hupomeno, which means to “remain through” or “persevere.”
When Paul is speaking of love in 1 Cor. 13, he says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, ‘hupomeno’ all things.” Love doesn’t just remain, but it remains through all things.
A lot of time our apathy comes from simply being spiritually out of shape. It is no different than our fatty and flabby bodies. We don’t need a new solution, we don’t need a new fad diet, we just need to REMAIN — doing the few things that bring about health and growth.
This means that when my time in the Word is stale and I don’t want to sit and read or study or learn or listen, that, if I love God, I remain saturated in his truth despite my feelings otherwise.
It means that, when I don’t get along with people within my church, love would not shop for another group of believers, but love would “remain through” the awkward and disjointed relationships.
Remaining feels like the most unattractive non-solution to progress. When something isn’t working, we think that it is because our methods are broken. But every plant goes through seasons of loss and every plant experiences seasons of drought. Still every plant needs the same few things week in and week out regardless of the season to grow and mature: water, soil, sun.
Our greatest challenge in the faith is not conquering sin. That has been done for us in Christ (1 Cor. 15:56-57; Rom. 8:37-39). Our greatest challenge is to remain faithful to the basic practices and disciplines of the faith, even when we don’t feel like it.
God gives us three things to remain in. Each of these components is critical for our life as believers, like soil, water, and sun for a living plant.
REMAIN SATURATED IN GOD’S TRUTH
(Psalm 1) God has left us his Word in the scripture. We can make all the excuses we want about how it is difficult to read and understand, but he has repeatedly told his people that his law and his Word bring life. We must saturate our minds and hearts with his truths so we do not fall victim to the lies of the world (Rom. 1:24-25; 15:4).
How consistently are you saturated in the Word? Who or what encourages you to think and pray about his Word? Have you substituted God’s word for spiritual “junk food” like popular Christian books, blogs, and the opinions of other people?
REMAIN INTEGRATED WITH GOD'S PEOPLE
In 1 John 2:19, John is warning his congregation about false teachers by telling them that the false teachers were not “of us” for if they were truly “of us” they would have “remained with us.” If God was really speaking through these people, they would not have dissented and left; they would have stayed. If they had stayed, they would not have continued in their false teaching.
God uses other people to change, correct, rebuke, and shape us. He uses pastors, teachers, small group leaders, and other believers to challenge our thinking, to keep us accountable to our commitments and accurate in our theology. Every healthy believer is an interdependent part of the greater church. There are no exceptions. (Romans 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27)
How integrated are you in the church? Are you available, vulnerable, and teachable with others?
REMAIN OBEDIENT TO AND CONNECTED WITH GOD’S SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is our helper (John 16:4). We must not resist Him (Acts 7:51). The Holy Spirit will convict us of sin, he will prepare hearts, he will send us out, and he will lead each of us along the unique path that God has for us (Acts 16:6, 20:28; Matt. 4:1). It is possible to silence the Spirit of God through repeatedly rejecting or disobeying his prompting (1 Thess. 5:19). It is also possible to be empowered by God’s Spirit through prayer (Rom. 8:26; Eph. 6:17; Luke 11:13).
How vital is your relationship to the Holy Spirit? How might you be rejecting or disobeying his prompting?
What is the inevitable fruit of “remaining”?
Galatians 5:22–25 (ESV) — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Which of these fruits have you seen the Holy Spirit develop in you over-time as you have remained? What does it means to “keep in step with the Spirit”?
THE BOTTOM LINE
God is working in you. He is going to see it through to completion (Phil. 1:6). Your job is to keep in step with his Spirit and “remain through” the entire refinement process. You were saved by faith in Jesus, not by any good deed. It is God who holds us and preserves us to the end, not ourselves (John 10:27-28; Ph. 2:12-13, Eph. 4:30; Heb. 4:14-16; 1 John 4:18).
Hebrews 12:2-3, 11 (ESV) — ...looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted... For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
The Challenge: Daily Prayer
Truth-filled & Truthful Conversations with God
The key to a vibrant prayer life is feeling the freedom to be completely “truthful” with God about how you feel, and then learning to petition him with “truth-filled” requests and praises. Read the Psalms, such as Psalm 2, 9, 13, 32 and 37, and you will see David was very transparent and “truthful” with God. He aired all his frustrations and brought before God all his struggles. This way, David went through his most difficult times with God, rather than allowing hardship to drive a wedge between him and God.
While he is honest about his feelings and desires, you also see David constantly remind himself of what is true about God (Ps. 22, for example). Sometimes we unload how we truly feel (truthful), but do not ask him the truth-filled requests. Other times, we stoically or begrudgingly request of God what we know we are allowed to ask for, and never admit how we are truthfully feeling. In a vibrant life-giving relationship the more “truthful” and “truth-filled” our conversations with God, the less likely we are to grow distant from him.
Pray 20 Minutes Every Day this Week
Begin with reading Ephesians 6:11–18 to guide your prayers. Ask God to strengthen your faith in the areas you feel weak. It is not only profitable but biblical to ask Jesus for help in your unbelief (Mark 9:24). When you have exhausted Ephesians 6:11-18, move on to Romans 8:5-7 and Galatians 5:22-24 to pray about setting your mind on the things of the Spirit.
Do it every day. Wait to see what God does.
- Pray Eph. 6:11-18 - when you are feel weak, discouraged, or under attack
- Pray Matt. 6:9-13 - when you don’t know how to pray
- Pray John 17 - when you have lost your passion for God’s mission
- Create your own prayer list of passages that keep you rooted in God’s perspective (use the free Echo Prayer app to organize your prayers and reminder yourself to pray)