Bible Verse: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Scripture Reading: John 15:1-27

A trellis is a support system for a vine or plant that enables it to grow upward and bear fruit. For a grapevine to produce good grapes it must have a trellis to support and guide its growth or it will slump to the ground. When this happens the fruit tends to rot before it ripens. Grapevines in the wild will use just about anything – a tree or even a rock – as a trellis. It is part of their nature to seek structure.

Like a trellis, a rule of life supports and guides our growth. It supports our friendship with Christ so that we bear the fruit of his character and are able to offer his nourishing life to others. The purpose of the rule, in this sense, is not to be harsh or confining. It is to cultivate fruit. It serves as a pattern for life that enables us to experience the presence of Jesus in each moment of our lives, empowering us to become people who embody his love to others.

There is no such thing as a “magic pill” that can make you a great athlete or an accomplished musician, a master carpenter or a wise parent. The path to greatness, whether pursued consciously or unconsciously, is one that requires a rhythm of disciplined practice.

In the same way that no one becomes a great athlete or musician on the basis of a special talent alone, no one becomes like Jesus on the basis of a special gift of God alone. People grow – they become who they are – not because God zapped them while they walked across a field but because they make a conscious effort to respond to the grace of God and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, cultivate the gift they have received. Those who flourish in their lives with God have a Spirit-initiated rule of life, a rhythm of practices that enables them to welcome and respond to Jesus.

The growth of our spiritual lives is primarily God’s work. On our own, we can no more produce the fruit of Christ’s character in our lives than we can squeeze pebbles into diamonds (John 15:5). Yet despite our foibles and failures, God calls us to play a role in our transformation. He invites us to “work out” our “salvation with fear and trembling,” precisely because “it is God who works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). We cannot earn our life with God – it’s a gift. But we are to make “every effort to add to [our] faith goodness . . . knowledge . . . and love” (2 Peter 1:5-7, emphasis added).

In response to God’s lavish love toward us, we cultivate a rule of life, a rhythm of practices that will help us experience Jesus and embody his wisdom and love in every sphere of our lives.

— Ken Shigematsu in God In My Everything
Copyright © 2013 by Ken Shigematsu

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