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Spiritual Retreat Aimed at Reducing Anxiety and Depression

Introduction: 

ESV Matthew 14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,

There are times in our spiritual and life journeys when we need to step out of our regular lives and go to be alone with God.   This is what a personal spiritual retreat is all about.  This particular guide is for a spiritual retreat aimed at reducing anxiety and depression.   Use this guide as a gentle coach to keep you on track and make the most of your time.    The guide will have many suggestions about what to do.  Choose the things that your soul tells you will help you and be led by God’s Spirit in choosing.  Sometimes what we need to do will not be the easiest thing but it can be the most healing activity. 

General guidelines

I.   Keep to a schedule and routine.   It has been proven that have an outline of activities and scheduled events during the day will provide a sense of structure and this reduced anxiety.  So even though this is a self imposed schedule, you need to commit to it and generally keep it.   This will also give your retreat a sense of purpose. 

Write up your schedule now

Ideas of Activities My chosen Activities Time
Wake up & Prepare for Day
Prayer & Meditation
Walk
Journaling
Lunch
Reading & Study
Walk
Nap or unstructured time
Prayer & Meditation
Journaling
Dinner
Treating Myself to “Fun”
My reflections on the Day
Time to sleep

II. Choice of Spiritual Activities and Exercises to do during your retreat

I.  Centering Prayer is a method of prayer, which prepares us to receive the gift of God’s presence, traditionally called contemplative prayer. It consists of responding to the Spirit of Christ by consenting to God’s presence and action within. It furthers the development of contemplative prayer by quieting our faculties to cooperate with the gift of God’s presence.

Centering Prayer facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer — verbal, mental or affective prayer — into a receptive prayer of resting in God. It emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God. At the same time, it is a discipline to foster and serve this relationship by a regular, daily practice of prayer. It is Trinitarian in its source, Christ-centered in its focus, and ecclesial in its effects; that is, it builds communities of faith. 

Christian Contemplative Prayer

Christian Contemplative Prayer is the opening of mind and heart – our whole being – to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions, whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, thinking, feeling and choosing; even closer than consciousness itself. The root of all prayer is interior trust and contentment in God. Though we think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is a prayer of silence trust, contentment, and peace, an experience of God’s presence as the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment.

  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself.  Remember that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Remember that God loves you more than you could ever imagine.  Breath deeply and slowly.  Allow your muscles to relax. 
  2. Choose a sacred word or phrase  that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you (i.e. “Jesus is Lord,” “God loves me,” “Jesus is my Savior,” “God is my daddy,” “” “God is my peace,” “God’s Spirit is in me,” ).
  3. Let these words be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you.   Picture yourself sitting at the  Jesus. 
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred words, your anchor.

II. – Prayer of Release

Phil 4 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The prayer of release can be done by sitting with our eyes closed and making our hands into fists with our palms down towards the ground.   Sit before the Lord and imagine the anxieties of your heart flowing through your arms into you hands.  Feel these anxieties making your hands heavy.  Name them one by one.  Then when you have named every anxiety slowly and deliberately turn your palms up towards heaven and raise your hands over your head.  Now open your hands and release these to the Lord.  You may want to release each one by name.  Lord I release to you ……   After this exercise thank the Lord for taking your anxieties and then go into a season of contemplative prayer.

III. Focus on the Good

At times our lives have overwhelming problems.  Sometimes these areas of pain are chronic and unending.  Many times we convince ourselves that there is nothing good in our lives.  This is never reality.  It is important to remember the good that God has allowed into our lives when they have been filled with chronic physical and/or emotional pain.    

List every positive event and good experience that has ever occurred in your life.  Be objective.  Don’t allow your feeling to block the reality of things.  Let your cognitive mind review your life and make an objective judgment on the good that has been in your life. 

Once you have this list read it six times.   Read it slowly and try to bring back the memories of these events.  Allow yourself to move back into those moments which you judge to be most good.  Rest in those moments and allow the feelings of those times to flood into your heart. 

Spend some time in contemplative prayer after you do this. 

Write down any impression you have during this exercise.

IV. Directed Journaling

Journaling has been proven to reduce stress.   It is a matter of making our inner world come into the outward world.  It is a way to feel heard by myself and if I journal before the face of God to also feel heard by Him. 

There are many different ways to journal.  If we have a lot tearing us up inside then it is best to sometimes just go with the “emotional vomit” journal in which we just dump all of our stuff on paper.  The purpose of this “emotional vomit” is the same as a physical vomit.  It empties the system of all the stuff that is poisoning us and allows our system to stabilize.  We should just write out our thoughts, feeling, and fears.   We should not worry about grammar, style, or if it makes sense.  Just let it all out. 

We can also journal to answer our own questions

  • What should I do right now to make things better?
  • What could I do to reduce my anxiety?
  • How could I be less depressed?
  • What do I believe God would want me to do in these circumstances?
  • What would my most wise, mature, and stable self tell me to do right now?
  • Imagine yourself five years in the future and you meet your future self.  Get a clear picture of this in your mind.   You find out they have successfully resolved the issues you now face.  Ask them to tell you, “How did you do it?’  What do they tell you?

Other Questions:

  • What can I learn from this?

    When faced with a challenge or difficulty, see what you can learn from it.
  • What can I do today to grow myself?

    Even small improvements made each day can have massive impact on our lives over time.
  • What should I stop doing today?

    Just for today, find one bad habit you can commit to stop doing. All bad habits are eliminated by consciously eliminating them from our lives, one day at a time.
  • What kind of impact do I want to make today?

    People who leave lasting legacies choose to impact others positively, every day of their lives.
  • What am I grateful for today?

    Being grateful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we lack, is the key to well being and abundant living.
  • How will I measure success today?

    Are your criteria for success empowering you or setting you up for failure? Set achievable success goals and over time you will build an amazing life.
  • How do I choose to feel today?

    Many people allow external circumstances and people to determine how they feel. Taking back control over your feelings gives you a confidence in living that is priceless
    .

The key to good journaling is that it is allowing us to know our feelings, our thoughts, and our answers to the issues that face usIt allows us to find the most sane, stable, and spiritual self that lives inside of us. 

V.  The Serenity Prayer

Stand and pray this prayer six times.  First face the north, then the east, then the south, then the west, then look down, and finally look up.   Do contemplative prayer after this exercise. 

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen. –Reinhold Niebuhr In loving memory of
Fr Bertram Griffin — 1932-2000
Requiescat in Pace
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3, 5-6  

VI. Meditation

To Meditate Is to Be

Filled With God  By Peaches Lukens

The Hebrew word for meditation is “hagah”, meaning “to ponder”. In Christian meditation, the goal is not to empty the mind, but to fill it with God. We take in a small portion of God’s Word slowly as though we were savoring fine food. Letting it be absorbed into both mind, heart and spirit. The Words of God have power and life them just as food does. We allow the Holy Spirit of God to nourish us from within and speak to us in a unique way when we slow down, become still and listen.

Before you begin this practice. Find a short passage in the bible that you would like to take in on a deeper level. Open your bible to that passage and lay your bible in your lap or before you. Keep a journal and pen nearby.

“Teach me and I will be quiet.” Job 6:24

Find a quiet place and position yourself before God in humility and reverence.

“Peace. Be still”. Mark 4:39

Our minds are abuzz with thoughts and activity. We quiet the mind and relax the body in order to better receive God’s Words to us today.

* Sit with your back erect, but comfortable. Rest your hands in your lap (on top of your open bible if you can).

* Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose slowly and exhale out your mouth. Do this 3-4 times.

* In your mind, begin repeating the phrase, ‘Peace. Be still’. These are the words our Lord used to calm the sea. We will use them to calm the body and mind. Repeat the phrase over and over. When you catch yourself thinking of other things, simply return to repeating the phrase. You will meet resistance and hear yourself say that you can’t focus. Do not fight with yourself. Simply return to the phrase and the mind and body will soon comply. Stay with this for 20 minutes. You may find it takes 15 minutes to quiet yourself. Persevere.

“My Word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

The words of God have power and they set out to accomplish something within us. They challenge us to repent, lift us to rejoice, prompt us to  change. Receive God’s personal word to you.

* Read the passage you have chosen out loud and very slowly. Read it through two times. Lean into it. Do not try to grasp it or grab it. Let it come to you. Let God come to you. Sit quietly for at least a full minute.

* Reflect. Read the passage again out loud and slowly. “What are you saying to me Father through these words?” Be attentive to any word, image or verse that seems to stand out from the others. Note what comes to you in your journal and take time to “ponder” why God has highlighted these particular word(s). Do not rush through this. God has something to impart to you and you don’t want to miss it.

*Respond. Read the passage again even slower. “How do you want me to respond to what you are saying, Father?”. Converse with God within or through journaling about how you feel led to respond to what He has spoken to you.

* Rest. Read the passage one last time. Now rest in what God and you shared.

Stay with this passage for a week. Come to it daily and take it in deeper by following the practice listed above. The Word will change you. If you desire to memorize scripture, this is an effective way. By taking the word in slowly and consistently for a week, it will come to your remembrance almost effortlessly.

Here are a few passages to begin with:

James 1:2-8

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

Hebrews 12:11-12

2 Corinthians 2:14-17

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

The Goal of a Spiritual Retreat

  • To nurture your soul
  • To gain perspective
  • To gain self knowledge
  • To be comforted by God’s presence
  • To gain God’s wisdom
  • To gain God’s power
  • To enjoy the fellowship of Jesus Christ
  • To be filled with the Holy Spirit
  • To gain the strength to repent
  • To gain the strength to persevere
  • To rest in God
  • To know God

What did you gain from your spiritual retreat?   What theme did God seem to reinforce as you came before His face?

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What is love?

This is a first century Christian description of love from a converted Jewish Rabbi.

“(4) Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud (5) or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. (6) It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. (7) Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT]

The Greeks had several words for love

Eros – A love for the beauty of something or the quality of excellence.

Phaedrus 249E: “he who loves the beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it.” Plato, Trans. Jowett

Phila – Friendship – “things that cause friendship are: doing kindnesses; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done” (Aristotle; Rhetoric, II. 4, trans. Rhys Roberts).

Storge – Unconditional love of the family.

Agape – Giving unconditional family love to people who are not family

“To love is to will the good of the other.”

[Thomas Aquinas], Summa Theologica (1265–1274), II-II, q. 26, art. 6

John, the best friend of Jesus of Nazareth said:

“(8) But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … (16) We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” [1 John 4:8, 16 NLT]

Jesus of Nazareth, believed to be the Messiah by Christians said concerning love:

“(43) “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. (44) But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! (45) In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. (46) If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. (47) If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. (48) But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” [Matthew 5:43-48 NLT]

in 1977 using factor analysis of 1500 items related to love, John Lee categorized 6 major types of love:

  • Eros Love – erotic desire for an idealized other
  • Ludus Love – playful or game-like love
  • Storge Love – slowly developing attachment
  • Mania Love – obsessive and Jealous love
  • Pragma Love – practical love
  • Agape Love – altruistic Love (Selfless devotion)[1]

It would seem right to add to this “Philos” love so that the area of friendship is covered effectively

So what is love? Clearly it is a word used to explain a wide range of emotions and actions. Clearly there are many different shades of love and applications. One thing that would be important is when we use the word love that we try to describe or define exactly what shade or flavor of love we have in mind.  

Dr. Thomas Aquinas seems to have hit upon a key element that should be part of all the different types of love, which would to will the good of the other.

Jesus the Messiah summarized the heart of this saying

“(13) There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [John 15:13 NLT]

The idea of God being love in the Christian tradition is seen that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah, God laid down his life to give life to others.   This is the heart of the Christian story that has touched so many lives and motivated so many to imitate such love in sacrificial service to others.

On example of this in modern times can be found in Christiana Noble and her work with orphaned children in Vietnam ( https://www.cncf.org/ ).

This Valentines day, I would urge you to watch the movie “Noble” about this amazing woman and how the influence of God in her life motivated her to reach out to the children that are hurting. No better way to see real love in real action! (https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/noble_2014/ )

To live a successful life is to learn to love well. Failing to love well is true failure in life. Love is the most important of all the virtues. To the degree we attain love we have fulfilled our potential for having a good and useful life. Therefore, striving to better understand love would seem to be an essential aspect of learning to live effectively. [2]

So this Valentine’s Day seek to learn to love well!

I would recommend you get my book “Learning to Love in 27 days” as a great devotional to share with one you love.

[1]See this excellent discussion. https://ayosage.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/the-7-types-of-love-revised/

[2] http://www.iep.utm.edu/love/

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Lion of the Tribe of Judah

“(26) And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, (27) for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” {Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT}

“(26) BE ANGRY, AND [yet] DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, (27) and do not give the devil an opportunity.” {Ephesians 4:26-27 NASB}

“(4) Tremble (Be angry), and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still. Selah.” {Psalm 4:4 NASB}

“(4) Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. Interlude” {Psalm 4:4 NLT}

Should circumstances arise to call for anger on your part, let it be as Christ’s “anger” (Mark 3:5), without sin.

Those circumstances are where injustice to God’s glory or to human dignity have not been able to be resolved, carefully and prayerfully, by any other means.  Godly anger must be motivated by a love of God and others and an expression of a hatred of true moral evil.  It can hate the sin while loving the sinner.  It is controlled, focused, and not abusive to others. 

Our natural feelings are not wrong when directed to their legitimate object, and when not exceeding due boundaries.

Because of this indignation at dishonor done to God, and wrong to man, is justifiable anger. But we must be able to use our anger as a tool to accomplish God’s will and not be the slave to our anger with it controlling us.  When our anger is out of control it is never godly anger.

Godly anger is also short lived and does not turn into bitterness.

“(31) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (32) Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” {Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT}

So, godly anger is like a nuclear power plant where the radioactive energy is under control and used to bring life to a city.  While ungodly anger is like a nuclear bomb that explodes without control and brings death. 

The first person we should express our anger to is God in prayer.  

As Bill Gaultiere explains:

“Maybe it’s when a friend hurts your feelings, someone criticizes you, your child disobeys you, you make a mistake, or your driving your car and you get cut off…

Imagine yourself in that stressful situation…

Then pray with the Psalmist:

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me…

Take up shield and buckler;

Arise and come to my aid…

Say to my soul, “I am your salvation”…

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord

And delight in his salvation.

My whole being will exclaim,

“Who is like you, O Lord?” (Psalm 35:1-3, 9-10).

When we keep praying in the Psalmist’s way we’re being honest about the situation we’re in and how we feel. We’re not stuffing our emotions and getting depressed or resentful, nor are we going to the other extreme and speaking or acting out of anger in ways that hurt people. In fact, to help us release our anger we may need to use some other Psalms that have intense angry prayers.”[1]

We can also see that godly anger normally includes taking a step back, pause, time out, and processing time to think instead of being just a reaction to something or someone. 

There is a danger that we will “baptize” our ungodly anger and use it to religiously abuse others and live in self-righteousness.   So, we must be very careful not to use “godly anger” as a way to justify or sinful anger.

Anger can be one way we can be like Christ Jesus if it is truly guided by love and God’s spirit.  Yet, this requires us to be very mature emotionally and spiritually, and very careful to be involved in honest self-examination to avoid self-justification to see ourselves as righteous. 

So, be angry when you must be as a last resort but make sure you don’t sin and avoid bitterness at all cost.

Prayer

Lord, help me not find ways to feel self-righteous when I lose my temper.  Help my focus be on showing mercy, grace, love, patience, and forgiveness to others and not be in an attitude of judgment on them thinking that I am better and brighter than they are all the time.  When needed help me hate evil and express godly anger in a focused controlled way, first in my prayers, and then in careful, prayerful, and thoughtful ways for the common good of all and your glory. 

Amen

[1] https://www.soulshepherding.org/angry-prayers-can-bring-peace/

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Slow to Anger

“(19) Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (20) Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” {James 1:19-20 NLT}

One of the key factors that lead to conflicts is that we are inclined to want to have others listen to us and don’t really desire to listen to others.   It is difficult to hear things that we don’t agree with.   Yet, one of the first things I can do to defuse a conflict is to go into “listening mode’ and strive to really understand the other person.   Listening is not agreeing but it is honoring the other person enough to try to see through their eyes.

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 
– Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

When we are ready to judge and condemn the other person, “listening with compassion” means that we remember our own faults before we harshly criticize another. 

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” 
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

We have to look out for the self-righteous statement.  “I would never do that” even if we only say it to ourselves, since this invites to go react in moral outrage and superiority to the other person.   

We need to just uncritically hear and attempt to actually be open to understanding the other person’s point of view.  When we can “Echo” their view back to them in our own words and they agree we have understood then we have been effective in listening.

The next step in keeping ourselves out of destructive arguments is to always carefully and prayerfully think about what we will say in response and how we will voice our disagreement.  We need to state what we say as “I think” and “I feel” instead of stating our point of view as “the facts” and avoid accusing the other person with a lot of “You always” statements.   Express your perspective without threats, condemnation, sarcasm, mocking, cursing, or yelling.   We will be heard better if we approach things from one of love and peace.

“(1) A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” {Proverbs 15:1 ESV}

Being slow to anger depends on us seeing how it is just one letter away from “danger”.  Weighing the cost of getting angry, the damage we may do, and the very real potential that instead of accomplishing God’s will on the earth, we will do harm instead.  While it is possible to be angry and sin not, it should be a last alternative instead of a first one. 

So taking a pause from a discussion, to process the problems, and plan for solutions will normally accomplish more than us losing or temper.

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“”My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”  John 15:8

The heavenly Father’s goodness, greatness, and grace is proclaimed and manifested before all creation when the life of the VINE Jesus flows into believing disciples and they bear the fruit of lives filled with actions, attitudes, and words of true love.   

The ultimate evidence that I truly have become a disciple of the LORD Jesus with a living relationship with HIM is when HIS unconditional and sacrificial love for others is seen in me (John 15:12).

The purpose of my life is to reflect the character, competence, and compassion of the God as manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ.  As I become an imitator of HIM by having HIS life flow into me and bear fruit through me, I reach the full potential of my life.  

This is a far cry from the purpose of my life is to find personal peace and prosperity since to love as the Lord Jesus loved means that I will have to sacrifice my personal peace and prosperity for the good of others and HIS kingdom.  I will have to take up my cross and follow HIM.   

I am tempted many times to live for my own glory and not to see the Father be glorified in me.  I want my goodness, my greatness, and my grace proclaimed.  I don’t want my good deeds seen as the life of Christ Jesus in me but as a demonstration that I am better and brighter than others.  I want to build my own ego through acts of self righteousness instead of having Christ’s righteousness flowing through me that people might see my good works so that they may give glory to my Father in heaven.   

As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount; “”Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

When I was in Bible college a few of us came to the realization that the purpose of life was to “glorify God” and not just to “win souls”.   Our schools one focus was just on seeing people become believers so that they could go to heaven.   We were spiritual “fire rescue people” who were snatching people out of the flames by preaching the gospel of grace to them.   The only thing that mattered is that they become “believers in grace” that they might escape hell fire.  Now my school had little vision of really making them disciples except that they also could become “fire rescue people”.  The focus was a spiritual type of humanitarianism and not about the greatness, goodness, and grace of the heavenly Father being seen before a watching world.

So as we read passages from Paul; “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  1 Corinthians 10:31  We could see that our only concern should not just be  evangelism but to “glorify God”.   Yet this truth just became for me evidence that I was “better and brighter” than those who were “fire rescue” Christians.   I had become part of an elite group of those who knew the real purpose of life.  So instead of this truth leading to the glory of God it led to me glorifying myself for having greater knowledge than other people.  It is so easy to even have truth misused in my life.

As Pastor John Piper says; “We live to make Christ look magnificent!”   As John the Baptist said must be true of my life; “HE must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  On the day of judgment the LORD will not be focused on how much we knew but on how well we had shown our love for HIM by demonstrating HIS love to others.

“”But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'”Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.””  Matthew 25:31-46

To really be a true disciple I have to have deeds of love which comes from the abiding life of the VINE Jesus flow into me and out of me for the purpose of all creation seeing reflected in me the goodness, greatness, and grace of the heavenly Father.   This is why I war born and reborn.  This is suppose to be the ultimate concern of my life, to see the heavenly Father glorified. 

Prayer

Good, great, and merciful Father in heaven who has brought infinite grace to me in my Messiah Jesus, forgive me for my pride, self centeredness, and spiritual blindness.   Forgive me for even turning truth into something that serves me, to exalt me, instead of serving YOU.   Give to me the gift of humility.  Save me from my pride.  For YOUR glory save me from myself. 

Broken as I am, still allow YOUR life LORD Jesus to come flowing through me.  Good Father prune me that I will bear more fruit.  Allow me to be a true branch with true union with YOU and bring acts of love through me that the Father might be glorified in some ways through the tangled messy life I live.  

LORD, have mercy, lift me up, cleanse me, and make me a fruitful branch.  Amen

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“”If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  John 15:7

This abiding, remaining, and sojourning in the VINE Jesus is connected to HIS words remaining in us.   This would imply that one of the ways that I am connected to the Living Lord Jesus is through HIS words which are found in the gospels.   Part of being a believing disciple is the desire to master and be mastered by the words of my Master Jesus.  

What does it mean to be a believing disciple?  

“Typically in the Jewish world, a disciple would voluntarily join a school or otherwise seek out a master rabbi; however, Jesus seeks out and chooses those whom he wants as his disciples (Mk 1:172:14Lk 5:1–11; cf. Mt 4:18–21). A dedicated disciple was generally expected someday to become a rabbi himself, yet Jesus teaches his disciples that he will always be their rabbi and they will have a lifetime of discipleship (Mt 23:8; cf. Mt 10:24–2537Lk 14:26–27Jn 11:16). Jesus’ disciples are bound to him and to God’s will (Mt 12:46–50; cf. Mk 3:31–45). They are called to a lifetime of work and service (Mt 16:15–19Mk 1:17Lk 5:10),” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament words: Zondervan)

A disciple was one who had found a “master teacher”; who one was so awed by their lives and wisdom that they wanted to think, feel, and act as a clone of that person.   There as a deep admiration, love, devotion, and following of this teacher.  In Jesus’ case HE chose those who would be HIS most intimate followers and they responded to this call by following, learning, and striving to imitate HIM.  

So abiding in the LORD Jesus, is actively engaging in the teachings and life of HIM so that they saturate my head, govern my heart, and guide my hands in all that I do.   It is to have the life teachings of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit deeply abide in my soul so that out of these words of Jesus, my world view, attitudes, goals, hopes, and dreams are created.   John Piper says:

“What that means for letting the words of Jesus abide in us is that we do not just read the Bible, and do not just memorize and meditate on the Bible, and do not just listen to preaching and teaching from the Bible. It means that we seek the words of Jesus as living words — words that come not in the abstract but come from the heart and on the lips of a living Person whom we love more than any other person in the world.”

At this point the LORD Jesus gives an astonishing promise that the disciple who is so dominated by HIS words can ask whatever they wish in prayer and it will be done for them.  He had said this earlier. 

“”Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”  John 14:13-14

Now to ask in the “name” of the LORD Jesus is to make our prayers by HIS authority, for HIS purposes, and for HIS pleasure.  Whatever I ask for the will of the LORD Jesus to me done on earth as in heaven by the HIS Messianic authority.  In the context of John 15 it would be prayers to bear the fruit of love in every relationship in my life and to have the wisdom of Christ Jesus totally dominate my thoughts, attitudes, and actions.   So such a promise is not to be used for my selfish desires but for HIS kingdom desires in my life and the lives of others.  

So my prayers are focused on bearing “Jesus fruit” if I am abiding in HIM and HIS WORD.    Such prayers will be answered.   They are “Kingdom Focused Prayers” and deeply informed prayers guided by the wisdom and life of my Master Jesus.   

Prayer

Great Redeeming Creator in the Messiah Jesus, put in me a deeper awe of YOUR greatness, goodness, and grace.  Open my mind and heart to YOUR WORDS Messiah.  Let them deeply abide in my inner core and soul.  Allow them to guide my petitions and desires.  Allow me now to pray the prayers that will allow fruit to be released in my life.    Forgive me for thinking I don’t need YOUR WORDS but only my own words to govern my head, heart, and hands.  Forgive my pride, rebellion, and independent attitude.  Help me to see that without YOU and YOUR WORDS, I can do nothing that matters or will last.  Help me to have a humble, submissive, and dependent attitude that relies and rests in YOU moment by moment.  Amen

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“”If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”  John 15:6

There are those who never were in the Vine Jesus and so these are seen as useless branches whose only use is to put into the fire to burn.  This verse raises the question if some branches who were in the Vine Jesus were “cut off” because they were fruitless (John 15:2).  In this case we would have to see the branches not true believers but those that were formally connected through outward profession to the Vine Jesus but HIS life was never in them.  

The LORD Jesus warns us of such a reality when HE says:  

“”Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'”And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'”  Matthew 7:21-23

So there can be those who profess faith in the LORD Jesus, even do miracles in HIS name, but who never bear the fruit of character transforming love which is the fruit of KNOWING HIM.   Their hearts are still lawless and filled with rebellion even when they outwardly preach and minister in the name of the Messiah Jesus.  Without love, nothing they do profits them for they never had a personal relationship with Jesus the LORD.   Judas is of course the perfect example of this type of formal relationship which is really without life.   Such people do not lose their salvation for the Messiah Jesus says that he “never knew them”.   Christ Jesus has taught that HE does not lose any of HIS true sheep.  

“”My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. “I and the Father are one.””  John 10:27-30

The Messiah Jesus most likely had Ezekiel 15:1-8 in mind as HE taught these words. 

“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest? “Can wood be taken from it to make anything, or can men take a peg from it on which to hang any vessel? “If it has been put into the fire for fuel, and the fire has consumed both of its ends and its middle part has been charred, is it then useful for anything? “Behold, while it is intact, it is not made into anything. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it still be made into anything! “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘As the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I set My face against them. Though they have come out of the fire, yet the fire will consume them. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I set My face against them. ‘Thus I will make the land desolate, because they have acted unfaithfully,'” declares the Lord GOD.”  Ezekiel 15:1-8

Jerusalem, would again be facing destruction by fire by the Romans in 70 AD due to their rejection and murder of the Messiah.   So what happened with the Babylonians will happen again as the legions of Rome bury Jerusalem because of her sins.    So Lord Jesus’ teaching has both personal and corporate warning to it.   

Now the Messiah Jesus is teaching clearly that HE is the way, the truth, and the life and no one can be in fellowship with the Father but through  HIM (John 14:6).   This seems hard to believe that there is such a narrow way to have eternal life and salvation.   The reason is that we are worst then we think we are and outside of the LORD Jesus we cannot produce any true works of unconditional love.  Each of us are radically and massively moral failures.  As the Apostle Paul teaches reflecting on Psalm 51:1-6 and Psalm 14:1-7.

“as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,” “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”; “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”; “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.” “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  Romans 3:10-20

So because the Lord is just HE will render to everyone what their lives deserve, but what I deserve justly and rightly is to be thrown as a fruitless branch into the fire of hell forever.  This is true of me and of all humanity.  

So I am in desperate need of a Savior to forgive our sins and a regeneration of my  heart that I might produce real words, actions, and attitudes of love.   The LORD Jesus is that suffering Savior that has paid the price of my moral failures by bearing the just wrath of God for them on the cross and now as the risen LORD and Messiah can grant me forgiveness and an abundant life in union and communion with HIM.  I can be by HIS grace a fruitful branch sharing HIS LOVE in words and deeds to the entire world.  

But outside of a living relationship with Jesus there is only despair, death, and destruction.   The most vital issue of my life is “Do I know HIM?”  Paul will urge the Corinthian believers to “”Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”  2 Corinthians 13:5

So it is vital that I  test and examine myself to try to ensure my soul that I have a real relationship with the Living Christ Jesus for this is the most critical concern of my life.  The Apostle Paul will tell us:

“Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.””  2 Timothy 2:19

So while the LORD alone knows exactly who are HIS true branches I can by abstaining from wickedness and seeking to purify myself as HE is pure, demonstrate my  living relationship with HIM by faith.    May I keep this reality always fresh in my mind.  

Prayer

LORD,  let me know the truth as YOU know the truth.  I don’t want to just imagine that I abide in YOU while the truth is that I am cut off, fruitless, and damned.  Assure me through YOUR SPIRIT within me and by bearing fruit through me that I am “IN YOU”.   Lord cleanse me and help be bear more abundant fruit today.   Maximize my ability to produce words and actions of YOUR perfect love in my life.  Allow me to reach my full potential for YOU and YOUR kingdom.  Amen

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“”I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Jesus is the vine, the source of life, character, and true effectiveness and I am a believing disciple in union and communion with HIM.   HE has placed me into HIM

“”You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. “This I command you, that you love one another.”  John 15:16-17

I need to moment by moment remain in a trusting relationship of total dependence upon the LORD Jesus the vine.  I must recognize that I have no power, life, or ability to bear an effective loving life apart from HIM.   I have no ability to produce real good works outside of HIS life flowing through me.  Every action of love that I have ever done is really the result of the LORD Jesus’ work in me.  

The more I can really remember and rely on this reality then I can cooperate with this process of bearing the fruit of God’s love and love for God in my life.   I can glorify the Father and the Son for making this possible.  I can deeply believe that without the LORD Jesus I can do nothing worth doing for the kingdom of God.   My effectiveness is 100% dependent on HIM and HIM alone.  

The Apostle Paul seems to reflect on this same truth when he says:

“”I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  Galatians 2:20

My relationship with the LORD Jesus is then the most critical factor in determining my ability to live a life that has a legacy of loving word, deeds, and attitudes.  The more deeply I am “in the vine” and the life of the VINE Jesus flows into me then I will produce an eternally productive way of life day by day.  It all depends on my Messiah Jesus.  

So all my worship, prayer, bible reading, meditation, practicing HIS presence while living and working, needs to be aimed at experiencing the reality of the relationship HE has given me and recognize the wonder of my abiding life that is “IN HIM”.   To feel and seek to allow to flow HIS life in me to accomplish HIS will on earth as in heaven.  

Prayer

Good, great, and merciful Living Messiah Jesus, allow me to be a fruitful branch this day.  I don’t want to waste today by trying to bear fruit in my own strength.  I have no strength.  I have no life but the life YOU give me.  I am barren and broken outside of YOU.  I can produce nothing truly productive outside of YOU.  My one hope is that YOUR life will flow through me and produce in me words, actions, and attitudes of LOVE.  Regardless of what I do, if I don’t have YOUR LOVE in me it profits me nothing at all.  LORD, pour out YOUR love into me this day.  I cast my many care on YOU.   They are greater than my strength to bear them.  Carry them for me.  Lift me up, cleanse me, and make me a fruitful branch this day for YOUR glory and my good.  Thank YOU for having mercy on me.  Amen

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“”Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”  John 15:4

I am 100% percent dependent on the the Vine Jesus to bear spiritual fruit in my life.  This would seem to be the fruit of the Holy Spirit who is the presence of the Messiah Jesus in me.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”  Galatians 5:22-25

So what does it mean to abide, remain, or sojourn in the Vine Jesus?   The Lord Jesus provides us with a bit more insight in these words:  “”He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”  John 6:56

In the context of John 6 the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of the Messiah Jesus is to believe in HIM as the Messiah, the incarnate Word, and Son of God.

“Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.””  John 6:29

“”Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”  John 6:47

Now part of my practice as a believer is to receive because of my faith, the communion or Lord’s Supper as a way of remembering and participating in the act of salvation that Jesus accomplished by dying for my sin.  So the connection between the eating and drinking and remaining in the VINE Jesus by faith can be seen.   Part of my abiding in Jesus takes place in my worship of HIM both in private and with others. 

So I abide, dwell, and sojourn in the Vine Jesus as I have a relationship of trust in HIM to be my Lord, Savior, Prophet, Priest, and King.   This means that I do not turn away from HIS word or teachings and that I actively focus my faith, trust, gratitude, and loyalty on HIM as my one source of life and love.  Remaining in HIM would normally mean that I am connected to HIS body the Church through participating in loving relationship with other believers and participating in worship with them.  

Part of what it means to abide can be seen in the story of Martha and Mary. 

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.””  Luke 10:38-42

So spending time with the LORD Jesus, resting before HIM, and paying close attention to HIS words is part of the way we abide with HIM and HIS life flows through us bearing the fruit of love (John 15:3).    Like Martha, I can become busy with many good things that I think will serve the LORD Jesus but then fail to simply be with HIM to listen to HIM.   

Jesus is telling me that living a life of love, good works, self-denial, and mercy is just a natural process and is as easy and normal as a branch bearing abundant fruit who are attached to a vine.   It is the result of having a relationship of living faith with the VINE Jesus by dwelling in HIS words, worshipping HIM, and focusing on HIS suffering for my sins to give me forgiveness and eternal life.  

Prayers of faith through and to Jesus would be part of this abiding.  The one reality is that I do abide in the VINE Jesus and HE abides with me, but I need to get in touch with this reality in my experience to fully benefit from that reality and to practically bear the fruit of obedient love.  

All my effectiveness as a disciple of the Messiah Jesus depends on my abiding, remaining, and sojourning with HIM.  My success as a follower of Messiah Jesus depend totally on abiding in HIM.  This is the most critical reality to experience in my life.  

Prayer

Great Savior, Lord, Prophet, Priest, and King Jesus; teach me how to experience and benefit from abiding in YOU.  Let me see that without YOU I can do nothing of any worth.  So good LORD, who fully understands what it means to abide, please let me become a fruitful branch attached to YOU.  I am weak and easily distracted with many things like Martha.  Give me the heart of Mary that day that she sat at your feet listening to YOUR words.  Please bear your fruit of obedient love through me this day.  Without YOU LORD Jesus I can do nothing of any worth this day.  Bear YOUR fruit through me.  Amen

 

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