In last week’s post, I shared what happened when I let the distractions and stresses crowd out my normal practices for abiding in Christ. It wasn’t a pretty result. As part of my clean up process I assessed where I went wrong and what I needed to do to get back on track. And because God has a great sense of timing (and humor), my pastor preached on John 15:1-11 these past two Sundays and he asked me to share how I learned to abide in Christ and what helps me remain in the Lord. So I’m sharing with you what I told my church family yesterday.
Like many life lessons, I learned the most about abiding in Christ during a difficult season of my life. I was working at a church doing a job I loved. However, what should have been a beneficial situation, resulted in me neglecting my own personal relationship with Christ. Instead of being full of joy and producing much fruit, I felt empty and spiritually dried out.
Eventually, God brought me to a clear fork in the road where I had to choose between obedience to him or staying in my job. I chose to leave and follow him. That decision of obedience put me in a front row seat to see God moving in my life and in the lives of others around me. And the experience profoundly changed how I abide in Christ.
In a second, I’m going to share five easy tips to help you cultivate a stronger connection with Christ. I’ve even made you a handy little checklist so you don’t even need to take notes! So be sure and grab that freebie before you leave. Or, get it now by clicking the image or button below.
But before we get to those five tips, I want to share a shift in mindset that can have a profound impact on your relationship with God.
Choose the Splash Zone!
If you’ve been to Sea World, you know the people sitting in those first few rows—the Splash Zone—have an entirely different experience than those who sit farther up in the bleachers.
Well, when it comes to Jesus, you definitely want to be in his splash zone. Because, it isn’t ice cold sea water in which you’re drenched. It’s his Spirit, mercy, and grace.
I came to understand that when Jesus linked obedience with remaining in his love, he wasn’t making a statement of conditional love. The Scripture reveals God’s love for us while we were yet sinners (see Romans 5:8).
But my time in Jesus’ splash zone made clear to me that when I walk in obedience I’m better able to perceive, and then depend on, God’s love and his presence.
Obedience goes hand in hand with dependence, at least for me. I hardly ever feel capable of doing what he calls me to do. That feeling of inadequacy leads me to depend on him, not myself.
I’m terrible at memorizing Scripture, but I do have 2 Corinthians 12:9 down because I repeat it to myself as a reminder so often. In that verse, Paul records Jesus saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” So, I lean into his strength and move forward in all my weakness trying to obey his commands.
Five Ways I Cultivate My Connection to Christ
Over the years, I’ve observed several things that help and hinder my abiding in Christ. When I regularly engage in the helpful acts, I see God produce fruit consistent with his Spirit. When I let too many hindrances crowd out those helpful practices, I end up with an overgrowth of weeds that reflect my human nature rather much fruit reflecting God’s Holy Spirit.
Some of the measures I’ve found helpful include:
1. Create anchor points throughout my day that put my focus on Christ.
These activities fit into the normal pattern of my day but are intentionally designed to incline my attention to God’s presence with me. These are simple things like praying before I get out of bed, listening to praise music or sermons while in the car or doing chores, and saying goodnight to God as I nestle in to go to sleep.
2. Set up little reminders of God’s presence with me in my physical environment.
A scripture verse tacked up on the wall by the washing machine, for example, or pictures and mementos remind me of times when I was vividly aware of God’s presence, grace, and mercy in my life.
Funny story: After I shared my ways of abiding with Christ with our congregation, I returned to my seat and my boys accused me of lying in church! “We don’t have a lot of “churchy stuff” all over our house,” they pronounced.
We have some of crosses and a few Bible verses around the house but those weren’t the only kinds of reminders I had been talking about. The most precious reminders of God’s presence with me are mostly little things that don’t have an obvious connection to Christ but which speak volumes to me about his love, grace, and provision. For example, a photo of me and my best friends at our annual Christmas brunch, a picture of a sunset over the Gulf that a member of one of my Bible studies gave me as a gift, note cards tacked to my bulletin board over my desk, and many other mementos.
As I took my boys on a tour of our house and pointed out the various treasures, I told them the story behind each one. They had their eyes opened to how Christ is with us in all kinds of situations, not just the “churchy stuff.”
3. Cultivate relationships with people whose lives produce much fruit.
I want to regularly spend time with those who can teach me to walk closer with God. They do this by providing an example but also by speaking truth into my life.
4. Spend time in the Scriptures with a proper attitude.
How I approach my time in God’s Word dramatically impacts my abiding relationship with him. Because my ministry requires me to study the Bible daily, I don’t lack for exposure to this book. But if I don’t intentionally approach those times in an attitude of prayer and seek to hear from God, those sessions become merely intellectual exercises. In those situations, instead of cultivating intimacy with Christ, Bible study becomes just one more item on my to do list.
5. Come together with my church family for worship.
Like Step 3, gathering with other believers helps me connect more closely with the Lord. If I’m feeling down and disconnected, when I look upon the faces of others in worship, I’m reminded of the reality that God is with us at all times.
The writer of Hebrews also recognized the importance of corporate worship.
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” —Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV
Leave the Fruit Production Up to God
When I’m abiding in Christ, fruit just seems to appear. When I’m not, I can be trying with all my might to produce something good for his kingdom and all I seem to get are weeds. So, I try to keep my focus on obeying him and abiding in him, and let him be in charge of fruit production. And that, in a nutshell, is how I learned and continue to learn to remain in the True Vine.
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