The practice of waiting and listening can be very frustrating…but highly effective.
Anyone who has been around me any length of time knows I love lists. Tasks to be done and written steps to the goal help me feel secure and efficient. Because of this, I understand folks who come for ministry, looking for lists of things to be done to overcome an obstacle or heal a relationship. Also because of this, I have great empathy for them when I share that the greatest portion of our time together will involve waiting and listening.
In the first ten verses of John 15 Jesus discusses the mechanics of “bearing fruit” in our lives. If I were giving a seminar on “bearing fruit”, I would talk a lot about strategies and steps; to be practical, I would provide seven practices or disciplines (anything more than seven seems too hard), complete with a workbook and handouts. However, when Jesus talks about “bearing fruit”, He just creates a visual image of vines and branches and simplifies the entire process of bearing fruit to one principle: “Abide (remain) in Me.”
Arg! What does that mean?! And what is the role of prayer and Bible study and church attendance and…..? Allow me to provide an illustration that a small group at church generated in response to these questions:
Abiding in Jesus is like piloting a sailboat. Walking down the pier, having never studied a single principle about sailing, but assuming that once you step down into the boat it will all come naturally and easily is a guaranteed disaster. The best thing to do would be to study some manuals and take a sailing course facilitated by an experienced instructor prior to “setting sail”. However, even if you acquire all this knowledge, the boat is not going to move – you will need wind. And in the apparent absence of wind, you (if you are anything like me) will be tempted to blow into the sails. Yup, you will stand to your feet, take deep breaths and blow as hard as you can, over and over again, trying to fill the sails with wind. Eventually, exhausted and disappointed, you stop – and ponder giving up. So many people said sailing was exciting and adventurous, even fun. Nope, not so much.
However, as you sit there quietly pondering your next move, you hear the sail ripple and flap. In response you look up and see that a simple shift of the sail might well catch this unexpected breeze; so you employ the knowledge you have about the mechanics of sailing, quickly shift the sail and suddenly it fills completely and the boat begins to move. Now you begin to experience what others have talked about.
In my ministry I am fully aware of the necessity of studying God’s Word and being an active part of the Body of Christ; I teach and encourage both. However, I have also learned some of what Jesus was teaching in John 15. Blowing hard into the sails does not make the boat more; waiting and listening for the wind is always more effective.
“Abide in me…apart from Me you can do nothing.”