Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

 

Foundation for fruitfulness

grapevine

by Dennis Pollock

Our Lord Jesus guaranteed us that if we would abide in Him we would bear much fruit. There is a holy and mysterious process by which this fruitfulness is manifested in our lives, and that process always begins with a specific foundation. Spiritual fruit never appears by accident. It follows divine law and principle, and a certain sequence that cannot be ignored or neglected. There is a verse, written in red in the Bible, which sums up the means by which the Heavenly Vinedresser prepares His branches for maximum fruitfulness. Jesus declared: "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (Matthew 10:27).

There are four key concepts here: darkness and light, and ears and housetops. First, Jesus told the disciples - as He is telling His disciples today - that He will speak to them and tell them things in the dark. Darkness refers to hidden, quiet places – places where we can be alone with Him. It seems He prefers to speak to His children where there are as few distractions as possible. Life is filled with potential distractions that can keep us from hearing the voice of God. Televisions kept on all day long, phone calls that come at the most inopportune times, the Internet constantly calling us to come and while away hours and hours on things that do not profit… there are so many ways to be kept away from fellowship with God. Is it any wonder there is so much superficiality in Christianity today, when so few are willing to put away all distractions and go into the dark to meet with their God?

Those unwilling to get in the dark are going to miss much from God. There are things He will only say in the dark,  things you will only discover in the hidden place. Like that clock on the wall that you never hear during the day – but plainly notice its quiet ticking at night when all is still – so is the word of the Lord. God's voice is almost never blaring and overwhelming to the point that we cannot miss it. We can very easily miss it when we refuse the quiet and dark place, and spend all our hours in the cacophony of noise, busy activity, a packed social schedule, and the pursuit of wealth and pleasure.

Jesus practiced this in His own life and ministry. The Bible tells us: "He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed." Many people like to say that, while they don't make set times for prayer, they pray constantly all through the day. That sounds pretty spiritual, but when you get to the heart of it, what it comes down to is that perhaps four or five times a day they utter one-sentence outbursts to the Lord: "Thank you, Lord for this beautiful day," "Father, please provide a parking spot close to the store," "God, please help me to find my lost keys!" Certainly this is far better than never thinking of God at all during the day, but it does not replace the need for withdrawal into the quiet and dark places for concentrated fellowship with our Creator.

Those who hear Christ's voice in the dark are commanded to speak His words in the light. This refers to the public places. We are not to be like the monks in their monasteries, reading, praying, meditating, lighting candles, but never sharing our faith. That may make for a hassle-free life, but it was never Christ's intention, and it certainly was not the pattern Jesus laid down for us. The same Jesus who withdrew into the wilderness to hear His Father's voice would soon be back out in public preaching to the thousands, sharing with His disciples, and fending off challenges and criticisms by His enemies. Jesus ate with tax collectors, spoke with immoral women, and touched the skin of lepers. Our Lord was no monk! Neither are we to be. Fellowshipping with God on Mount Sinai might have been a great get-away for Moses, but he was never allowed to stay up on the mountain. After his time of refreshing and instruction, he must go back down the mountain to face the whining, complaining, rebellious multitudes over whom God had made him shepherd. What we hear in the dark must be spoken in the light. What we "hear in the ear" we must "preach from the housetops."

Secret Weapon

Though we have already seen the example of Jesus withdrawing from the crowds in order to seek His Father's voice and presence, there is another aspect of His life that conforms to this pattern as well. The first thirty years of Jesus' life were spent in the dark! Theologians refer to the hidden years of Jesus. We know that He "grew in favor with God and man" and that He slipped off to go to the temple at age twelve in order to discuss the Scriptures with the theologians of Israel. But what was He doing during all those years? The Son of God, the Creator of the earth, was living on His created planet, and went entirely unrecognized And why did the Father allow His Son to stay so apparently inactive during that time? There is a passage in Isaiah that is most illustrative concerning this. God tells us precisely what was happening during Jesus' "silent years." We read these profound words:

“Listen, O coastlands, to Me, and take heed, you peoples from afar! The Lord has called Me from the womb; from the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name. And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver He has hidden Me.” (Isaiah 49:1,2)

God was fashioning the instrument that would save the world, and He did His work in secret! While the Israelites went about their lives, and argued about when the Messiah might appear, a secret weapon was being fashioned. A Jewish boy in Nazareth was becoming a man. A weapon of mass destruction was being prepared to bring down the strongholds Satan had been laboring for millennia to establish, and to bring deliverance and salvation to the sons and daughters of men. In the shadow of God's hand Jesus was being prepared to launch a three year blitz of ministry such as the world had never seen, to be culminated by His death on the cross for the sins of the world and His resurrection from the dead three days later. As Jesus went about all Israel teaching as no man had ever taught before, He was preaching from the housetops things He had heard whispered in His ears in the dark, quiet places of the sleepy little town of Nazareth.

Other Examples

Jesus not only employed this principle in His own life; He applied it in His training of the twelve disciples. When He chose the twelve, we read, "He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach" (Mark 3:14). The disciples' responsibilities were twofold: spend time with Jesus, and then go out and preach. Without the first there could be no second. In the earliest phase of their training it was pretty simple: just hang around Jesus. Listen to what He says, watch what He does, and let His ways sink down deep into your spirits. Hear Him debate with the Pharisees, watch Him closely as He raises dead Lazarus, pay attention as He refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery, listen to Him describe the ways of the kingdom in His sermon on the mount… "He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him…"

But as powerful and awesome as it was to spend time with the Son of God, it was not enough. The time came when "He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two… So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them…"(Mark 6:7,12). What had been heard in the dark was now being proclaimed in the light.

The Bible is filled with examples of men who were trained in obscurity and then went out to publicly declare what they had heard and learned. Elijah arising out of nowhere to confront Ahab and the Baal worshippers, Paul spending time in Arabia before going on to his amazing apostolic ministry, and David writing psalms and worshipping God on the hillsides as he watched his father's sheep are all examples of what it means to be fashioned by the Creator while hidden in the shadow of His hand. The principle never varies: from dark to light, from whispers in the ear to preaching from the housetops, from private to public. The exact circumstances may vary widely but the basic pattern never does. John the Baptist, too, followed the same pattern as the One he announced: "So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Luke 1:80).

Whitefield

To go to a non-Biblical example let us consider one of my personal Christian heroes, the English evangelist George Whitefield, who ministered in Britain and America in the 1700s. This fiery evangelist probably preached personally to more people than anyone ever had in the history of Christianity up until that time. Benjamin Franklin said he was so eloquent he couldn't help but enjoy his preaching even though he had no interest in the evangelical Christianity Whitefield espoused. Tens of thousands came to hear him preach. An American farmer reported that when someone came to his house to tell him Whitefield was going to preach that day in town, he dropped his farming implement, got his wife, and hurried to town on their one horse. As they approached the town they noticed a vast plume of dust rising 300 feet into the air. It was being thrown into the air by the hundreds of horses and buggies that lined the road, all coming to hear Whitefield preach. Ferries were hurriedly carrying crowds across the nearby river. With only a few hours notice, three to four thousand people gathered to hear the English evangelist.

In his early days after his conversion, Whitefield had given himself to a serious study of God's word. His biographer, Arnold Dallimore writes:

There he is at five in the morning. He is on his knees with his English Bible, his Greek New Testament, and Henry's commentary spread out before him. He reads a portion in the English, gains a fuller insight into it as he studies words and tenses in the Greek, and then considers Matthew Henry's explanation of it all. Finally there comes the unique practice he has developed: that of praying over every line and word of both the English and the Greek till the passage, in its essential message, has veritably become part of his own soul…When, in later chapters, we see him preaching forty and more hours a week, with little or no time for preparation, we may well look back on these days in Gloucester and recognize that he was then laying up a store of Biblical knowledge on which he was able to draw amidst the haste and tumult of such a ministry.

What we have been talking about is preparation. God does not always require classrooms and lectures and multiple choice tests; what He does require is time with Him in places where there are few or no distractions. We may not all have the luxury of getting completely away from everybody and everything, but we can and we must find ways and times to be with our God. And this is not a message for preachers only. Jesus calls every one of us branches. We are all called to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" and to produce much fruit. Let us then pay the price and take the time to seek the face of our God. Let us still ourselves before our Holy Creator and hear His voice. For man does not live by bread alone but by words that flow from the mouth of God as we wait on Him in the quiet places.

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