This past school year, I taught a unit with the theme “The Value of Life.” All throughout this unit, we discussed how we are influenced by the people around us, mainly our friends and family. My students agreed nearly every decision we make is influenced by our family. At first, some wanted to argue, but when I pointed out we do the opposite of our parents because we want to be different, they agreed this too was influence. We cannot escape the influences of those people around us.
As a matter a fact, one article I read explained that Motivational Speaker Jim Rohn believes we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. The article goes on to explain how successful people surround themselves with other successful people to encourage … you go it – success. It also explains we should make conscious decisions about the people we choose to hang around with,because of their influence.
I think we could all agree that we are highly influenced by the people we spend time with, whether it be five people or 40, but what does this have to do with abiding? Well… everything. When Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches,” there was a definite reference to relationship in that metaphor. There are three important points we can learn about relationships from this I AM statement.
1) Our first relationship should be with Christ.
The branches cannot live without the vine. The branches cannot bear fruit without the vine. If a branch is cut from the vine, it will eventually die. It is impossible for the branch to live without the vine. Do you see where I am headed with this? No matter how we look at it, we are nothing without Christ! He even reminds us in John 15:5 that “apart from me you can do nothing.”
So why do we constantly try? I know, me too. I am guilty. But I am learning – often the hard way – that this is the starting point for everything. No matter what the problem, we have got to start with building a relationship with Christ.
I give some practical ways to do that in my previous blog post. Read it, review it, write it down, or find your own way, but make a relationship with Christ the top priority. I mean, the article I referenced earlier said that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. I definitely want the only perfect person to ever walk the face of the earth to be part of that mathematical equation. Furthermore, in that same chapter of John, Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. This is the gospel. This is a promise that we will be taken care of.
And if you are at the point in your walk with Christ that you are like – yeah, okay, I believe in God but I just don’t know about this relationship stuff – I get it. I understand that sometimes all this relationship with God stuff is just a little too abstract. Well, I do challenge you to start reading the Bible daily – even just one verse – and start praying with purpose – even just one request. A relationship with God will become very real to you and you will begin to wonder how you ever made it without Him.
2) We should surround ourselves with “fruit-bearing” branches.
The word “you” in the world of grammar is both singular and plural (yes, I am disappointed too that y’all is not necessary), but I bring that up to make this point. When Jesus says, “you are the branches” I am pretty confident in the fact that “you” is plural. We are not on the vine alone. We are surrounded by many other branches.
So let me ask you this, are the branches surrounding you fruit bearing or ready for the fire? How do your relationships influence you? Do they help you abide daily or distract you from a bigger mission?
Like the people who find success by spending time with successful people, if we surround ourselves with those who bear good fruit, then we will also begin to bear good fruit. Furthermore on most of the vines I’ve seen, all the branches grow the same fruit. They are usually very similar. The same is true in our Christian walk. When we surround ourselves with like-minded Christians, we will all be working towards a common goal – to bring others into the Kingdom.
Also, when you have a social circle of Christians, they become our litmus test. Often times, even unintentionally, they hold us accountable. When we know they would not approve of our decisions, we rethink our actions. I know I have a girlfriend who has made comments about clothes she chooses to wear and the dress code the Spirit has led her to follow. Never once has she questioned my dress code. In conversation, she just discusses how she chooses what to wear, but after those conversations, I often remember what she said as I am making decisions about my personal dress code.
Plus, Christian friends help to encourage us. Some believers have the gift of encouragement, and that is great to have a friend like that, but a good deal of encouragement happens unintentionally as well. We see their faith, courage, grace, mercy, love – whatever it may be. We make note of how they react in many different situations, from the difficult to the joyous, and they encourage us to react in ways that reflect Jesus.
And most importantly, they are the voice of Jesus. Yes, Jesus will speak to us through Bible study and prayer. Those practices are essential, but when we have friends that have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of them, then when they speak, we often hear the words of Jesus. Whether it be through group Bible study or casual conversations, Christian friends give us one more way to hear the voice of Jesus. They have been influenced by Christ and pass that influence onto us.
3) We should avoid the fire and encourage others to do the same.
Yes, we need to surround ourselves with those who bear good fruit, but we need to make sure we are bearing good fruit as well. We cannot depend on others to do the work for us or even inspire us to get started. We don’t want to be a withering branch ready for the fire. John 15: 6 says “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” We have to be an example. We have to help set the standard.
Just as we draw life from Jesus and those Believers around us, others do the same. We influence them, negatively or positively. Others will look at us as either a branch bearing fruit or a branch ready for the fire. And because we never really know just how we influence people, we also can never really understand how we encouraged them to bear fruit – or to wither.
Later in John 15, Jesus tells us we should abide in His love. Yes, He wants us to feel His love, but more than that, He wants us to share His love with others – You know that good fruit we keep talking about, part of that is love and showing Jesus’s love in relationships. Lysa TerKeurst President of Proverbs 31 Ministries stated, “I want to live a life where people can tell that I’ve spent time with Jesus.” Can you say that about your life? I know I cannot always say that about mine.
But abiding is about just being – Just being with Jesus, Just being with others who are like Jesus, and just being Jesus to those who need to know Him. We cannot be all those things unless we have the relationships that point us in Christ’s direction.
Now, as a closing note, I know we have many relationships in our lives that we have no control over and those are usually the relationships that are the most trying. Don’t let that frustrate you. Commit those relationships to prayer. Love like Jesus would love, and make a conscious effort to have Abiding relationships when you do have a choice in the matter.