One of my greatest joys over the summer months is spending more time than usual in very old books. Spurgeon, Owen, and Edwards have been my company this summer alongside more modern contemporaries. Reading has been a constant habit of mine since I was a small child, and it has provided a fountain of wisdom beyond which I could have ever hoped to have tapped into on my own strength.
The find of the summer for me has been a small book, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, on the extraordinary missionary Hudson Taylor. Taylor was the founder of the China Inland Mission and in God’s strength and provision, was responsible in the mid 19th century for leading hundreds of missionaries into China’s inland for the first time. It was written by his son, Howard Taylor, that ‘the life that was to be exceptionally fruitful had to be rooted and grounded in God in no ordinary way‘.
Taylor was a man who drunk deeply at the fountain of Christ. It was written of him that ‘he overcame difficulties such as few men have ever had to encounter and left a work which long after his death is still growing in usefulness’. In the foreword to Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secrets, it was said that:
‘Hudson Taylor had many secrets, for he was always going on with God, yet they were but one – the simple, profound secret of drawing for every need, temporal or spiritual, upon “the fathomless wealth of Christ”
‘Here was a man almost sixty years of age, bearing tremendous burdens, yet absolutely calm and untroubled. Oh, the pile of letters! any one of which might contain news of death, of lack of funds, of riots or serious trouble. Yet all were opened, read and answered with the same tranquility — Christ his reason for peace, his power for calm. Dwelling in Christ, he drew upon His very being and resources. . . . And this he did by an attitude of faith as simple as it was continuous. Yet he was delightfully free and natural. I can find no words to describe it save the Scriptural expression “in God.” He was in God all the time and God in him. It was that true “abiding” of John fifteen’.
The simple secret that Hudson Taylor’s learned was that without Jesus, we can do nothing. For all our scurrying and scheming and planning and harrying, without Him, we are spiritually paralyzed. It is abundantly clear that if He were to leave us to ourselves, we would become completely impotent. We would produce nothing of worth, because, ‘without Me, you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).
Jesus has declared that our productivity and our faithfulness is directly linked to our abiding in Him. As Christians, we will bear fruit only if we abide in Christ. The closer we stay to Christ, the more fruit we shall bear.
Sailboats and Powerboats
There have been many times where I would prefer to be under my own power, dependent on no-one else for success. We set up our lives in such a way that even if God doesn’t move in powerful and mighty ways that we might yet move forward. We seek to be powerboats, cutting through the waters in high velocity, throttle on full with our eyes only on how fast we can move towards a destination of our own choosing.
Jesus reminds us that we created to be sailboats. The simple sailboat does not bring glory to itself, but to the power of an unseen force propelling it along. It is dependent upon the wind for its power. The work of a sailing crew is to align the sails with the wind that will blow it. It is dead in the water unless the wind wills it to move. Jesus talks often about the Spirit blowing around like the wind. Our role is to discern where the wind is at work, not how fast we can get there.
When you look at the language the Pharisees use in Acts 6 to describe Peter and John, you can see the Spirit at work:
‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognised that they had been with Jesus‘
The power of Peter and John did not come from refined skills of leadership won through sheer determination and hard work. They were uneducated, common men who had spent an inordinate amount of time abiding in Jesus and being filled with the Spirit. They were sailboats into whom, and through whom, the wind of the presence of Jesus moved in irrefutable fashion.
They had become ‘rooted and grounded in Christ in no ordinary way’.
Rooted and Grounded in Christ
Everyone has a rhythm to their lives. A particular bent in the way we live our lives. Some of us hit the gym regularly, whilst others have a rhythm of coffee and friends. Most of the time, we don’t even think about the rhythms that we have; it sort of just happens to us. For many, though, the rhythms involves noise, busyness, stress and isolation rather than life-giving, soul-stirring habits of grace.
Jesus advocates an entirely new rhythm of life:
‘Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:4–5)
Abiding literally means to ‘remain, live or continue’; to abide in Christ means to live in Him and remain in Him. It is both something we possess and something we participate in. When we come to Christ, we are united to him by faith (John 14:2), we are in Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:17) and sealed in Him by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). This is a work that God has done in us.
However, abiding and remaining in Christ also means reorienting our lives and rhythms around Christ:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this, my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Fathers commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.
Having the words of Jesus abide in us, or as Paul echoes in Colossians 3:16, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’, is a key facet of abiding in Jesus. Meditation on His word to the extent that it fills our minds, directs our wills and transforms our affections for Him is crucial. Our relationship with Christ is intimately tied to how we dwell on the ‘fathomless wealth of Christ’ and allow that to govern our lives.
Abiding in Jesus means dwelling often on the grace that saved us and the extravagant love of Christ. We must never allow ourselves to drift from the daily contemplation of what Christ has done for us on the cross, the great scandal of the King of Kings redeeming and rescuing ‘sons and daughters of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2). We rest our lives on the love of Christ. This leads us to a place where the words, love, and joy of Christ fill us with great abandon and transform our hearts.
We abide through relationship and obedience. We pursue Christ as we have been pursued. We prune our lives until the noise and the business of life is drowned out by the word made flesh. We meditate on the words of Christ until it stirs our affections. We build into our lives habits of grace, rhythms that bring us closer to the great I AM.
It was Charles Spurgeon who wrote that:
‘Sometimes we think we are too busy to pray. This is a great mistake, for praying is a saving of time. If we have no time we must make time, for if God has given us time for secondary duties, He must have given us time for primary ones, and to draw near to Him is a primary duty. We must let nothing set it on one side’
There is the good news for those who are finding this a tall order: We love Jesus because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We didn’t choose him; he chose us and he chose us to walk out our faith in obedience to him (John 15:16). Apart from Christ, we cannot do anything (John 15:5). This is good news to the weary person who thinks he must muster up the strength to pursue and know Christ. He provides the grace and the strength. He provides the wind to power our sails.
Abide in him, and he will abide in you. He who began a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1:6). He who called you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Jimmy founded Stirring our Affections in 2016 | Married to Sarah, Pastor in Melbourne and eternally loved and satisfied by Christ