Find out how we can still cultivate a heart of thanksgiving in the middle of drastic unrest.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Today’s episode of rooted and overflowing features a conversation with mental health professional Carmella Hill, also known as The Mental Healthologist. Topics of the discussion include practical tips and resources to help us maintain our wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to listen, or visit Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, or Stitcher.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
This month I’m kicking off a series of blog entries entitled “A Devoted Life.” Throughout this month and sprinkled through the year this will be a place to unpack scriptures that encourage a life that is devoted to God, through Jesus Christ. Over time the idea of devotions, having devotions, has gotten away from the church. Without getting into speculation as to why we’ve gotten away from it, this is a great time to reacquaint ourselves with the practice of setting ourselves, our minds, and our attention on Christ.
To start, let’s explore what it means to abide with the Lord. When we decide to devote ourselves to Christ, it takes effort on our part. It requires us to be deliberate in setting ourselves apart for and to Jesus Christ. Within the verses of John chapter 15 are three temptations that Jesus was equipping the disciples to overcome in order to abide in Him: 1) the temptation to reject the teachings that did not reveal Christ as Savior, 2) the temptation to grow strange toward each other, which is to not show fellowship or love, and 3) the temptation to shrink back from their responsibilities as apostles when times got hard. Each of these instances can likely ring true in our personal lives. And now, just like then, Jesus’ words are meant to give us strength, confidence, and power to live a holy life in a fallen world AND bear fruit while doing it. Of course, this ability is not something we accomplish on our own.
In verse 4, we see where Jesus says “abide in me.” To abide means to endure without yielding or giving up, to accept without objection, and to remain stable or fixed in a state. When you look at a vine you see that it grows from the root and grips its foundation and then there are many, many branches that come from it and they wind, climb, and coil within themselves and other branches. On the branches you’ll find either flowers like the morning glory, fruit like grapes, or vegetables like the cucumber.
When you break a branch from off of the vine, it dries up. The branch does not have the necessary nutrients to live. It’s just all by itself, subject to being blown away or picked up and thrown away or even burned up, as it’s illustrated within chapter 15. But when the branches are connected to the vine it continues to grow and flourish. It gets nutrients from the root and yields its crop. People can pick the crop and because the branch is still connected to the vine, more will grow. This illustrates the value of being connected to Christ in order to remain strong. When we help people, do our jobs, do our schoolwork, and do it all in our own strength, we get burned out, frustrated, confused, and out of sorts. All kinds of ugly just sets in because we tried to do something and Jesus already said we can do nothing unless we’re abiding in Him.
When we abide in Jesus, the vine, we will always have what we need to bear fruit. Fruit is the evidence of and benefits for being connected to Jesus Christ. The fruit we can display includes transformed personalities, Godly temperament, honest and moral conversations, good works, the display of being devoted to God in prayer and reading His Word and being in His presence. We cannot do these things on our own or according to our own righteousness. We need Jesus to survive and thrive in this life. I encourage you today to connect or reconnect with Christ and stay connected…Abide in Christ.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
As a young girl, growing up in Dayton, Ohio, God favored me to attend Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, under the leadership of Dr. Charles S. Brown and his lovely wife Mrs. Joan S. Brown. I have many beautiful memories at Bethel. Memories that I cherish to this very day. From time to time I will share them here, along with wonderful memories I made while attending Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and even now at Mt. Zion Church of God in Christ in North Carolina.
Bethel was known for singing soaring anthems, peaceful chants, and contemplative hymns, all with a splash of gospel flavor. Among them is a song composed by Margaret J. Douroux, PhD, entitled “Give Me a Clean Heart.” You can learn more about Dr. Douroux, this song, and her tremendous contributions to sacred music by clicking here.
The smoothest and richest alto voice in the choir at Bethel when I was about 10 years old was from the person of Sis. Wanda Bryant. I cannot hear in my mind another voice leading the chorus and singing the verses to “Give Me a Clean Heart.” The verses from this song highlight verses from Psalm 51 and stands among countless compositions that beckon us set ourselves before the Lord in prayer with a request for Him to do what only He can do to purify our hearts and help us persevere in serving Him.
Before I go on, I’ll share a summary of why Psalm 51 was written. This psalm is one of lament and was composed by King David. After David’s unlawful encounter with Bathsheba and after murdering her husband to cover it all up, Nathan the prophet confronted David about it. You can read about it from the Bible here. David came to grips with the error of his ways and repented. Thus, we have Psalm 51.
This time of the year brings a time of retrospection for most people. We celebrate and are thankful for what went well. We also think about what did not go well and what we want to do to make sure we have a better year. For a person of faith, this retrospection includes our walk with God. Our lives are affected by many outside variables. Changes in our health, work, relationships, unfulfilled dreams, money concerns, general overwhelm, grief, and more can move us out of step with God. We daily run the risk of becoming cynical to the point where we no longer trust God deeply. We only trust Him in theory. We trust Him on the surface so that we can save Christian face with ourselves and others who know we serve and (gasp!) lead in ministry.
Whether it’s the end of the year or the beginning of the new year, while the pace is a little slower, take this time to sit before the Lord with Psalm 51. It is one of many psalms of lament in the Bible, but somehow over time this one has stood out when we find ourselves needing to seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing from sinful thoughts, deeds, and motivations. Many of us are not enjoying this life that God has blessed us with because we just haven’t come clean with Him. We haven’t stopped to take stock of our individual life’s direction. We’re just going through the motions hoping God is pleased with us. When God cleanses our hearts and minds, we get renewed joy, peace, vision, wisdom, stability, and strength to live our best lives and enjoy what God has blessed us with while we serve Him.
The Lord knows how to search our hearts for what displeases Him and doesn’t serve us well. Let us let King David’s script be our guide in prayer as we enter the new year (the new decade!) and let the Holy Spirit do the work while we trust God and live.