A few years ago, we met together as a team on a retreat outside of our city. A friend came to help guide the team through a series of discussions, several of which were challenging because they were touching on some of the points where we hadn’t yet agreed and confirmed together how we would work together as a team, something I had hoped we would be able to dig into during our time at this retreat.
I don’t precisely remember how we ended up in the topic, but toward the end of the meeting, our friend who was leading the meeting asked how we were doing in prayer as a team. We sort of all looked at each other and described how we found it to be challenging to find a specific time to meet together and to coordinate schedules amongst all of us, but we definitely wanted to do this more. But we knew we weren’t doing very well in this area of our lives and our friend who was leading said something simple along the lines of, “Well, I think we found our next steps for the group.”
He was right, but it was difficult to hear. For myself in particular at that time, I was supposedly leading the team, but in addition, this was supposed to be the core to who we were as a team, people who led others to follow Christ, but we didn’t have a great practice in how we were doing it corporately ourselves. There could be a lot that we could say about why that was, but after removing all of the excuses, the truth was that we weren’t really doing what we would have hoped that the people we were working with would do.
I’m thankful to say that has changed. A small group of us have decided to meet daily during the week for prayer and encouragement, whether in our regular meeting location or out on a prayer walk in public, praying for others on the streets.
I don’t know very many other situations nor other teams very well, but I have a sense that this is a common need amongst many groups. Whether they be ministry teams or just families and friends, we have a need, before all other solutions, to remain connected to Jesus. Not in a flippant, “Yes, of course that is important…” kind of way, but in a “Yes, this is what we are doing to remain in him…” kind of way.
In John 15, we see Jesus having an intimate discussion with his disciples shortly after the Passover dinner. The time was short as Jesus will from this point, within the next few hours, be arrested, beaten, and hung on the cross.
Yet Jesus teaches them that they must remain in him. Here is what he says:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15:1-8
As we think about our lives in Christ as individuals and our role in our work as a ministry team, it is very important that we remember that all things begin with Jesus as the lifeblood in all that we do. There is no replacement for our time and connection with Jesus.
Jesus essentially begins by saying that God the Father desires that we bear fruit. But if we as the branches do not bear fruit, he will cut us off from the vine. Even if we do bear fruit, he desires that we become even more fruitful, so he will prune us, guiding us so that we will become more fruitful.
Next, Jesus says that he has made his disciples clean but as his disciples, we are to remain in him and he will remain in us. If we do this, then we will bear fruit. But if we don’t, we will not be able to bear any fruit at all!
Jesus knew that his disciples would soon no longer be able to see him face-to-face, so how would they remain in him? The answer is that they must do it the same way that we must also do it today. We must spend time with Jesus in prayer, take time to worship him, read the Word of God, and otherwise find ways to spend time with him, asking him what he wants in each situation and listening to what he has to say.
However, experientially, I can say that this doesn’t “just happen”. We get caught up in daily life. We have things that need to be done. Family time, work and all of its pressures, errands, activities, and even time to rest…and before you know it, all of the time is taken and gone, leaving you hoping to do better tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
So, both for us as individuals as well as for us as ministry teams who are making disciples, I believe that we must schedule our time to spend with Jesus, remaining in him through scheduled and intentionally set times. Apart from our times with those we are ministering to and working with, we must read the scriptures, pray, listen, and align ourselves with the will of the Father, using this as a base from which we continue throughout the rest of the day, remaining connected to Jesus as branches connected to the vine, bearing fruit because the life of Jesus flows into us and through us.
So the question I want to ask is this: When is your scheduled time to spend with Jesus? Which days? What time? Individually? As a team?
Jesus explains that, if we remain in him, we can bear fruit. In fact, he says that we can ask anything in his name and it will be done. This happens because we have remained connected to him. His lifeblood runs through us. His words abide within us. We are connected to him so we understand his will and what he wants to happen, and this allows us to ask him to move and work and change things amongst us.
But if we are not connected to him, we can’t do anything. It was true of his disciples at that time, and it is true of us also today.
I know that all of us desire to bear fruit. It is the reason that we are doing what we are doing. It is the reason that we have rearranged and reconfigured our lives to do what we are doing today. Our desire is to bring glory to God and Jesus says that we will bring glory to God when we bear fruit. But the only way to bear fruit is to remain connected to the life that Jesus gives to us. Just as a vine gives life to a branch and allows it to bear fruit, Jesus gives life to us and allows us also to bear fruit in our lives.