“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” John 15:5
Practically speaking, how do we abide (i.e. remain) in Christ? In their book Resilient Ministry, authors Burns, Guthrie, and Chapman identity five characteristics that help pastors build and maintain a spirituality of depth and fruitfulness. Although their research focused specifically on pastors, I believe all Christians can learn from their findings.
- They build rituals. Rituals are highly intentional habits. Instead of relying on sheer willpower to grow, wise Christians will strategically build rituals into their days, weeks, and months that keep them connected to Jesus.
- They practice spiritual disciplines. To abide in Christ requires us to not simply form rituals, but rituals that strengthen us in the Lord and in his calling for our lives. From engaging the Bible, prayer, serving, fasting, giving, etc., the Bible holds our specific habits that will deepen our walk with Christ when done with a surrendered heart and a view to love God and serve one’s neighbour. Integration of these spiritual disciplines takes time, so patience is required. Like toddlers learning to walk, we should expect the process of learning to walk with God to be clunky, awkward, and full of missteps. But over time, slowly and steadily, practicing core spiritual disciplines will create spiritual momentum.
- They maintain accountability. Learning to abide in Christ is an individual and communal calling. Those who are sustain depth and fruitfulness in their Christian walk regularly invest in Christian community where they are supported, encouraged, challenged, and held accountable in their desire to combat spiritual drift.
- They grow through hardships. To remain in Christ and connected to him, we need to learn to suffer well. Pain, suffering, and hardship often present a spiritual crossroads. Will I allow my suffering to harden me towards God and others? Or will I seek to glorify God by learning to suffer well? Those who choose the second path are those who remain in Christ and allow the pruning of God to be a process of refinement and not hardening.
- They establish all activity in the gospel of grace. You cannot learn to abide in Christ through clench-fisted striving. Successfully and fruitfully abiding in Jesus often comes from a foundation of grace-filled surrender. The gospel is not “if you religiously perform, God will love and accept you.” The gospel is “you are loved and accepted in Christ. From that place of security and grace, learn to walk in a way that honours God and loves others well.” The gospel of Jesus frees you from the anxiety that a transactional/karmic conception of religious obedience creates. Those growing in depth and fruitfulness will live from a place of gospel grace and security.
Note: This reflection first appeared in the January 12th edition of the Nelson Star News.