Lifting Each Other Up
John 15:1-2a—I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away [variant translation—lifts up]
How many times in life and ministry have you felt like you needed to be “propped up on the lean-in side”? I am going to use the variant translation along with many Bible examples to show that our Beloved-Gardener knows just how to stake us up for fruit-bearing. The Greek word airo is normally translated as “takes away” but also permits the rendering “lifts up” which seems to be permissible here.
As our loving Father-Husbandman, He knows when we need to be lifted up. He is all-wise and able to establish us for more fruit and more beauty. It is clear that every plant that the heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted as Jesus said (Matthew 15:13). Here, however, we are referring to a true branch that is weak, stumbling, ignorant, or downtrodden. In the midst of God’s fury is His flock. Nahum reminds us, “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him” (Nahum 1:7). Paul repeated this idea to Timothy when He was instructing him on how to deal with approved and disapproved workers (II Timothy 2:19). God always has a remnant, though few at times, and He knows how to stake them up for the next right step as they move toward more fruitfulness. Authentically weak yet humble branches in Christ can certainly count on the Father’s support.
Even the dynamic ministry of Elijah was threatened by the derailment of depression, but God gave him rest, food, and a friend (I Kings 19). Elijah was God’s branch, he was fruitful, but he was weak, and God lifted him up. God truly knows the true from the false, and He knows our frame that we are but dust. Therefore, He grants mercy and grace beyond measure (Psalm 103:11-14). Pastor, nobody knows you like God. Feel free to be transparently honest before Him.
Who could forget God’s “stake servants” in the early church? Here is a noted list of “refreshers.”
Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus (I Corinthians 16:17-18), Onesiphorus (II Timothy 1:16), and Philemon (Philemon 1:7) are all mentioned by Paul as support people who lifted his spirit as well as those he ministered to.
Of course, there is Barnabas, a Levite whose very name was translated “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). He notably became that hinge person between Saul, the converted terrorist, and the apostles in Jerusalem. After many years of encouraging Paul, he was called by God to partner with Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:2). This should remind us of Joshua, Moses’ servant (Joshua 1:1), who was called into leadership after Moses. God’s support people accompany us on our journey to fulfilling our calling. Paul listed many of his friends who were “stakes” in his ministry in the last chapter of Romans.
The Father not only provides people to support us, but He also designs a process by which He brings us to full maturity. In the case of Saul becoming Paul, the Father took him through stages to full stature and fruitfulness (Acts 9-13).
Stage 1 – Repentance and faith-change
Stage 2 – Enlightenment—learning of Jesus
Stage 3 – Ministry training—basic involvement
Stage 4 – Leadership development skills begin to surface
Stage 5 – Separation and re-evaluation—time and testing
Stage 6 – Leadership in ministry—the leader leads
Stage 7 – World vision—open to God’s placement
We are His workmanship. God ordains the man for the work and the work for the man (Ephesians 2:10) and works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). To our beloved Husbandman, the process is as important as the end product, so let’s not despise the good hand of our Lord as He leads us, and let’s not get down on ourselves because we seem so very weak and appear to be bearing little, if any, fruit.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe says it like this, “Because we walk by faith and not by sight, the Lord rarely allows His servants to see all the good they have done. Elijah would learn that 7,000 people in Israel still had not bowed to Baal and worshipped him. No doubt Elijah’s ministry had influenced many of them. Because we have neither God’s unlimited view of events nor His unlimited power to act, we must be careful about jumping to conclusions that question His sovereignty. Our limited perspective rarely allows us to see just how much God is in control of every situation (Wiersbe Study Bible, p. 506). I might add, we must be careful not to listen to our enemy about our seeming failures. The Lord is faithful to remember everything we did in His Name (Hebrews 6:10).
Here are a few turning points in my journey to fruitfulness where God used someone, even anonymously at times, to lift me up.
Mrs. Burke warned me about a pathetic relationship.
Jack gave me a book about brokenness and the Holy Spirit.
God gave me just the right verse for assurance of salvation.
Two lady staff members gave me a book about my union with Christ.
An elderly lady (Sarah) role-modeled the Christ-life for me and my wife.
A veteran missionary (Joe) clarified how Jesus was not only my Savior but my life.
Revival from a neighboring church spilled over and changed our church forever.
Veteran revival ministers became mentors in corporate revival.
Oliver taught us to pray with Christ obviously present and actively in charge.
All of these and countless more were the loving hands of our Husbandman bearing us along to more fruit. Known to God from eternity are all His works (Acts 15:18). We are included, and we are in awe!
To feel inadequate is normal even when we sense a calling.
When Moses said, “I can’t,” God said, “I Am.”
Draw near to God with transparent honesty.
God uses normal things to strengthen us for spiritual work (rest, food, friends).
Thank God for the “refreshers” and be a “refresher” to others.
The process is as important as the end product.
Take some time to inventory some staked-up turning points in your journey.
Worship and be in awe! (Maybe even write a note, make a call, or send a text to say thanks to some of those timely servants.)
A Touch of Tozer
The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature, He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.
That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end in the negation of every moral judgment.
The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 88