Fired by love's urgent longings, I am his rocketman.
Nothing?

Nothing?

In the Gospel of John, we read “… apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  What an unusual thing to say and a curious thing to think about.  I confess this verse has provoked a number of responses in me as I have considered it at different points in my life.  At times, I have been struck by the idea that it makes no sense.  After all, I am a human being, made in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139)  Even on a bad day, I can do a lot of things.  When I think about it from this perspective, I cannot make heads or tails out of the meaning of this verse.

More recently, I have been pondering what I can do to help family and close friends respond more fully to God’s call on their lives.  Sometimes, I think I can see that the Lord has more for them if they can find a way to open themselves just a bit more to his love.  When I consider what I might say or do to help, I realize how little I can do to effect substantial change in their lives.  And, therefore, as I muse on what Jesus said in this context, it’s pretty easy for me to understand part of what he may have meant.

So upon reflection, I am good at taking out the trash, mopping the floors, cleaning up after dinner and a thousand other things, some useful and some not so helpful; but when it comes to changing hearts and bearing fruit in the things that really matter, there’s not much I can do; truth is, apart from him, there is nothing that I can do.

John’s Gospel also contains the following: “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.” (John 15:4)  By definition abide means to continue in a place, to stay, dwell, hang around, remain or to tarry.  Jesus uses the simple image of the branch and vine. We might be more familiar with the image of a branch and tree.  We understand that a branch must stay connected to the tree for it to remain alive and bear fruit.  Similarly, if we are to bear fruit in the things that really matter we must stay connected to the Lord.

What does it mean for me to abide in him and for him to abide in me?  How do we live in him and how does he live in us?  “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us his own Spirit.  (1 John 4:13)  We live in him by the power of the Holy Spirit and he lives in us by the same Spirit.  This is not just an objective point of faith, but rather a lived reality.  Jesus really does dwell in us through the Holy Spirit.  When we invite him to live inside of us he makes his home in us.  (John 14:23)  However, just because he makes his home in us, doesn’t mean that we abide in him.

To abide in him, we must make our home in him.  We have to visit with him, keep him company, sit in his presence, wait with him and stay with him.  As he said, “where I am, there will my servant be also”.  (John 12:26)  It is not enough just to provide a space for him; we have to invest the time necessary to develop a relationship with him.  Otherwise, we are more like a hotel than a home.

If we are going to abide with Jesus, we need to spend time getting to know him; we get to know him through prayer — spending time in his presence –his presence dwelling within us.  There are no shortcuts here.  Jesus is real; the Holy Spirit is real. Jesus lives inside of us through the Holy Spirit.  We can get to know him and experience his indwelling presence within us if we generously, habitually and willingly spend time alone with him in prayer.

When Jesus first began preaching to the crowds, he told them to repent and believe the good news, the kingdom of God is at hand. (Mark 1:15)  The kingdom of God is indeed at hand.  It is very near to you and to me.  In fact, it’s hidden in plain view, right in front of us, but we can’t see it.  We can’t see it because we walk by sight and not by faith.  We trust more in what we think and see, rather than in what God tells us.

We long for love, joy and peace — most people would give anything for more love, more joy and more peace.  We spend all kinds of money, time and energy to achieve an elusive happiness that we can never quite attain.  Yet these very things are promised to us as “fruit” of life in the Holy Spirit. The scriptures promise us that we are meant to live in love, to experience deep peace that transcends understanding and a joy so intense that it is indescribable.  Many of us would be happy with just a touch of these traits every now and again.

The uncomplicated truth is that everything good that we desire in life, both for ourselves and those we love, is hidden in Christ.  It should be such a simple thing to ask that he reveal himself to us.  But we have a strangle hold on a  deep resistance to asking for help, even from God.  We prefer to do it ourselves; maybe we believe that we are supposed to do it ourselves.  Whatever the reasons, when it’s all said and done, we lack power to unlock the Kingdom of God.  Only Jesus can do that for us — for apart from him, we can do nothing.

A few years ago, one of my daughters attended World Youth Day.  One morning, she was in a large field with thousands of other young people waiting for Mass to begin. She realized that she did not have her back pack, which contained her passport and other important things.  Apparently she set it down somewhere along the way and had no idea how to relocate it.  She sent me a text asking me to pray that she would be able to find it.  When the text arrived I was at the local airport waiting to board a flight.  It was early in the morning and I was praying while I waited for the time to pass.  As I read the text, in my spirit I knew exactly what I should pray for; so I asked the Holy Spirit to send someone to find the back pack and bring it to her.  This was a very simple prayer that took a second or two to utter and then I confidently went back to being aware of the Lord’s presence inside of me.  About ten minutes later I received another text from my daughter telling me not to worry she had her pack.  Later, I learned that a complete stranger found the pack and delivered it to her.  The backpack had nothing on it to identify her and the young man who brought to her had never seen her before.  The Lord just made it happen.

About two weeks ago, this same daughter came up to me after Sunday Mass and asked me if I had been praying for her recently.  I said, “I pray for you all the time, why”?  She asked me if I had been praying for some thing special to happen and I said, “not that I am aware of, why”?  Then she explained that the Lord spoke to her at Mass.  He didn’t speak to her in an audible voice, but she heard his voice interiorly.  I suggested that she write down what he said to her so that she wouldn’t forget it and she assured me that she will never forget what he told her.

I mention these two events because both demonstrate to me how much God loves my daughter and how willing he is to reach out to her.  I pray for her and I want good things to happen for her, but I have no real power apart from him to make them happen.  But God does have the power and his actions in her life give me confidence and encourage me to have more hope that he will take care of her and bring about substantial and lasting good in her life.  So I have reason to trust him to do the things that I can’t do and to believe that in him I can and will bear fruit that lasts.

What do you think about this verse:  “… apart from me you can do nothing”?  How does it apply in your life?

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Comments

  1. Mark,

    GREAT POST! Thanks. I love your honesty when you say, ” When I consider what I might say or do to help, I realize how little I can do to effect substantial change in their lives.”

    I love it. Yup. there is little effect we have …. unless (as you say) we learn to abide in Christ.

    I love the way the Lord spoke to your daughter.

    Thanks,

    Sam

    • Thanks for your comment Sam. I looked at a number of the comments to your last post. You stirred up a lot of responses. I really like that. By the way our first grandson was born just about two hours ago.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I hear this daughter is wicked cool! :) Awesome post!

  3. Yes she is

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