I never again want to see the look I saw in the eyes of my precious little girl the night she suddenly came under attack from a sickness that made it difficult for her to breathe. She’d completely lost her voice, too, but she didn’t have to say anything because the panic in her eyes told the whole story. Doing her best to sleep, she lay in our bed and I lay right beside her with my hand gently on her back. “In the name of Jesus,” I said, “little lungs, you be free and be clear.” I must have said those words a hundred times or more in addition to the many scriptures I read over her through the course of that night. I wasn’t scared at the presence of sickness in my home. I knew better than to yield to fear. But I was, however, frustrated by the total lack of power I sensed in my words and my prayers over her. My words were good, but something was missing, and I knew it.
All through that night, the Lord was so merciful to us and to Jessie. After a visit to the family doctor the next day, she bounced right back and began doing much better. But I was still very aware that something was seriously wrong, not with her but with me. I needed to be able to lay hands on my daughter with confidence, knowing that what was in me was greater than what was against me. Over the next twenty-four hours, I came face-to-face with the answer to my problem, and I’m thankful it didn’t take any longer than that to see how to fix this serious lack of power.
Several months before this ordeal, the Lord had begun to deal with me about spending a little extra time with Him and His Word. For me, this meant one very clear thing: I was going to have to turn the television off. Without realizing it, I was watching two or more hours of TV every day, and most all of it was at night when I got into bed.
You see, by the end of the day, I would be so tired in my mind and in my body that all I wanted to do was turn my brain off and “check out” as they say. I distinctly remember reaching for the remote on several occasions and hearing that familiar voice on the inside say, “Jeremy, it’s time to press in.” I knew exactly what it meant, but in my mind, opening the Bible meant I would be preparing messages, which meant I’d be working; and I was too tired to work. Time and again, I ignored the voice. Then, one day in October, I went to have lunch with my grandfather. As we sat there and talked, he began to tell me how the Lord had been correcting him about how much TV he, too, had been watching. He told me that he wasn’t going to be feeding on anything but the Word of God night and day with the same sense of urgency and expectation he had decades ago. Clearly, he had heard the exact same voice I’d heard; only he responded to it much more promptly than I did. I left lunch that day knowing this was God once again speaking to me. Before I got home, I called Sarah and told her we’d be shutting off the television and the movies, and we’d be getting into the Word again. I deleted all the TV and movie-watching apps from my iPhone™ and iPad™. I was serious… sort of. Despite my best intentions, three days later, I had added back all the apps and was lying in bed again, tired from the demands of family and ministry, trying my hardest to drown it all out with an hour or two of television.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I was still reading my Bible, and I was still praying; but the Lord was calling me deeper, yet I wasn’t yielding. In the time that I was spending in the Word, I was led again and again to John 15:7-8: Jesus says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” I knew Jesus was calling me back into a life abiding in Him, but my flesh was determined not to go there. Then came that night in December when Jessie, my sweet little girl, could barely breathe; and though my confession was good, I felt powerless against the attack. The next day I asked the Lord what the problem was. I heard that voice again. “Jeremy,” He said, “you’re trying to bear fruit without abiding.” That was all I needed to hear. I turned off anything and everything that was not going to feed our faith, and this time I did it for good.
Several other significant challenges arose during the same time that Jessie got sick, and I began to see clearly why Jesus had started months before that calling me back into the abiding place. He knew that I was going to need to bear some pretty big fruit, and there was no way I’d be able to do that without abiding in Him.
To abide simply means to stay, remain, or continue in one place. Jesus said in John 15:4 wuest, “Maintain a living communion with Me.” This train of thought began in John 15 by Jesus identifying Himself as the vine and us as the branches. As long as the branch stays connected to the vine, it’s going to bear fruit because in that connection is a living communion between the two. Everything that branch needs to survive and bear fruit is flowing to it from the vine. But in the moment the branch is disconnected and that communion is lost, so is all the life that branch needs to survive. Jesus said it this way: “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself” (John 15:4). You’ve never once seen a dead stick lying on the ground with a ripened piece of fruit on the end. For that branch to have any fruit on it, it must stay connected to the tree. Jesus went on to say, “neither can you [bear fruit] unless you abide in Me.” A Christian that won’t abide in Jesus is as powerless to bear fruit as the stick that’s been disconnected from the tree. But if you will abide, then you will abound. It really is that simple. Praying for the sick and seeing them recover is major fruit. Stopping a deadly disease in its tracks with our God-given authority is the kind of fruit we are called to bear and the kind of fruit that glorifies God. But expecting to bear these kinds of fruit without maintaining a living communion with Jesus will serve only to frustrate our faith.
To abide in Jesus is to stay in His Word and to let His Word stay in you. The first thing we did after we turned off the television was turn on the preaching. I am of the opinion that every believer should be listening to at least one faith-filled, Jesus-magnifying, anointed sermon every single day. Making this adjustment is easier than you may think. You could easily listen to at least one whole message just in the time you spend getting ready for school or work, driving to and from the house, or getting ready for bed.
At the beginning of 2016, Sarah and I committed to giving a tithe of our time back to God. He so graciously gives us twenty-four hours every day, so we are giving ten percent of that to prayer, to reading our Bibles, and to listening to men and women of God preach the Word with passion, boldness, and sincerity. Making this simple change has not only increased our faith, but it has also introduced a whole new level of peace and calm in our home. With a five-year-old and a two-year-old in our house, we welcome all the peace and calm we can get.
In these verses, Jesus not only instructs us to abide in His Word but to also abide in His love. This, of course, is accomplished in part by reading and meditating on scriptures that reveal the unsearchable depths of the love that God has for us. But according to Jesus, we maintain a living communion with His love by loving others. Here it is important to note that everything Jesus said in John 15 led into one very powerful statement in John 16:1 kjv: “These things have I spoken to you, that you should not be offended.” One of the meanings of the word offended is “to be separated.” Is that not a picture of what happens to people who were once close to each other but have allowed something to get between them? If their differences are magnified and allowed to grow, the space created by offense will sever their living communion and the relationship will be fruitless. It is especially sad to see a husband and wife that were made one in the sight of God allow offense between them that gives way to separation and divorce. It is literally a tearing apart, and the fruit they were called to bear together will never be born. With the fruit that we know we are called to bear, Sarah and I have resolved together to give no place to strife in our marriage. There will always be opportunity for it but, for the sake of our children, our ministry, and our calling to each other, we refuse to allow anything to create space between us. I have found that since I started giving more of my day to God’s Word, my love for my wife is fueled by a deepening revelation of God’s love for me.
Jesus said in John 8:32 that a disciple is simply someone who will abide or continue in His Word. After preaching what many of Jesus’ disciples considered to be a hard word, John 6:66 says, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” When I read this, I have to ask, what did they go back to? And what would I be going back to that would be worth severing my connection with Him—more mindless TV watching? When Jesus turned to the twelve and asked them if they were planning on bailing out, too, Peter answered Him in verse 68 saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
After you’ve had a taste of the fruit that comes from abiding in Jesus, you’ll say the same thing to Jesus that Peter did: “There is no place I’d rather be, Lord, than right here with You. And I am determined that by Your grace and by the help of His Spirit, I am never again going to allow anything to create space between You and me. I have entered into the abiding life, and I am not coming out.”