“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:5
A few years ago I was in a season of great discouragement. It seemed that my labors in the last few years had been in vain. In our assorted outreach efforts I had been sowing seed in obedience, but had not yet seen any fruit. I cried out to the Lord...
Completely separately from this (or so I thought), my wife and I had been praying broadly for Iran. Through the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs, we were encouraged to begin to intercede regularly for Iran - for the spread of the Gospel, for protection for Iranian believers, and for a great move of the Lord among Iranians. I also asked the Lord to bring Iranians into my path who would be receptive to the Gospel.
That very week that I began to pray these two prayers, something strange happened. I was in my office on campus (I was a part-time geography instructor at the time, a position associated with my role as a Ph.D student), and there was a knock on my door. In walked an Iranian student who was new in our department. He timidly asked if he could speak to me for a moment as he closed my office door behind him.
Nervously, he asked me if I could take him to church! I was dumbstruck. For weeks, we had been praying for Iran. That week, I had just begun to pray specifically that the Lord would connect me to an Iranian who was open to the Gospel. Just the day before before, I had cried out to the Lord and asked Him to bear fruit through me. Now there was an Iranian student standing in front of me asking if I would take him to church with me! Confused, I asked him if he was a believer. "No", he answered, "but I would like to learn about it." Later, he told me that I seemed so taken aback in that moment, that he thought he had made a huge mistake and had offended me!
The Bible tells us that though one plants and another waters, it is God who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Nevertheless, he did wind up attending church with us that weekend. During the praise and worship, he seemed deeply moved by the lyrics and the outpouring of genuine worship. Afterwards, we took him to lunch and answered his questions about what he had just experienced. We learned about his family and his upbringing, and about how his Father (a Muslim), had read him stories about Isa (Jesus) from the Incil (the Gospels) when he was young. We explained to him how Jesus came as a sacrifice for his sins.
The following week, he returned to church with us and I was granted the privilege of praying with him as we kneeled together at the altar. With tears in his eyes and joy in his repentant heart, he gave his heart and life to the Lord.
This is such an amazing story to me and one that has deeply influenced my approach to ministry. Prayer is the cutting edge of effectiveness in ministry. The Bible tells us that though one plants and another waters, it is God who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). Jesus tells us that He is the vine, and that we are his branches. Our job is to abide in Him...HE will bear the fruit through us.
To abide in Him - through reading and reflecting on His Word, through our prayers and through our praise and worship, through just soaking in His presence at times, and also through our participation in Christian community and through our acts of service. These are our responsibility. To sow seeds in obedience and water when we are able. But the fruit, the fruit comes from Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
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