A fruit illustration
Creating fruit is quite different from creating a table or a model airplane. In fact, the best tasting fruit comes about in a seemingly secondary way. To create an orange, for instance, I don’t take a few orange seeds and begin by pasting the flesh of the orange around them, and wrap it all up with orange peel. No, creating the orange doesn’t begin at all with the fruit itself. It begins, rather, with the soil.
After finding an appropriate plot of dirt to plant an orange tree, I proceed with making the soil good for planting. I till it to make it fallow. I may add some fertilizer, or particular elements the soil lacks, such as nitrogen or phosphorus (which, by the way, requires examination of the soil to determine what it may be lacking). This prepares the soil.
Then I plant my seed, but not just any seed. If I want oranges, I must plant orange seeds. I water, weed, continue to fertilize when necessary and before long a sprout appears. Over time, as I care for this sapling, pruning when necessary, an orange tree grows. After more time and when the appropriate season comes, this tree bears the fruit I desire.
I could have never created an orange by first focusing on the fruit. I had to focus on creating an environment in which the fruit could grow – that which may have appeared irrelevant to the production of oranges – in order to yield the desired fruit.
Now that illustration may sound simple, even silly. But how many of us desire spiritual results, yet never pay attention to the things resulting in fruit?
They recognized they had been with Jesus
“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled, and recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
Allow me to set the stage here in Acts. Peter and John were on their way to the temple for prayer, and they passed by a lame beggar. Peter called on the name of Jesus to heal the man and He did. Peter then preached his second sermon after Pentecost. Just then, the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees arrested them. The following day they brought Peter and John before the ruling council to ask “By what power or in what name have you done this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. – Acts 4:8-13
Had the apostles not spent the time that they did with Jesus, the ruling council would have soon confounded them. But they spoke with so much power and authority that it was the Sanhedrin who was confounded and amazed. Why? Because he who is taught in spiritual matters by Christ Jesus has a better gift than the tongue of the learned. And he who is taught in the school of Christ will always speak to the heart of a matter, though his words may not be polished.
They recognized that they had been with Jesus.
The key to our spiritual growth
I could stop with that one thought, which is quite a statement of their lives. “They recognized that they had been with Jesus.” But that won’t do.
I think the question begs itself, what does that mean? Or better yet, what does that look like? Is it my hurried 10 minute devotion and a prayer in the morning? Is it bringing my requests to God? While it certainly may include these things, what I have in mind here is something quite foreign to many Christians.
Time with Jesus, real time with Jesus, requires two primary components, you might say disciplines — silence and solitude. And in our hectic world, these elements seem quite foreign.
In his book “Intimacy with the Almighty,” Charles Swindoll writes,
I am more convinced than ever that there is no way you and I can move toward a deeper, intimate relationship with our God without protracted times of stillness, which includes one of the rarest of all experiences: absolute silence.”
Oswald Chambers writes,
Is silent prayer to us an experience of waiting upon God, or is it a “cotton wool” experience utterly dim and dark; a time which we simply endure until it is over? If you want discerning vision about anything, you have to make an effort to call in your wandering attention. Mental wool-gathering can be stopped as soon as the will is roused.”
Yet how often do we sit in silence before God? If it’s quiet for more than 15 seconds, people begin to get nervous and fidgety.
Jesus is our example
In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and wend off to a lonely place and prayed there.” In the middle of sentences loaded with action — healing suffering people, traveling from town to town and preaching from synagogue to synagogue — we find these quiet words: “in the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”
In the center of breathless activity we hear a restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of much involvement there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action there is contemplation. And after much togetherness there is solitude.
The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn.
In the lonely place Jesus finds the courage to follow God’s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work and not his own. He reminds us constantly: “I can do nothing by myself … my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5:30).
And again, “The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work” (Jn 14:10). In is in the lonely place, where Jesus enters into intimacy with the Father, that his ministry is born.
Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures.
The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.
I believe Nouwen hit on something critical to our lives as Christians. We must spend time with our Father – time alone, in silence and solitude. For without it, we can become so easily distracted by the world.
But when we do, when we go off to a lonely place and encounter the Father, we return changed. Maybe we don’t notice. Maybe it’s not even readily apparent to those around us. Maybe it’s just slight. But rest assured that any encounter with the God of this universe results in a readjustment of our lives.
They recognized that they had been with Jesus.
I can’t state this with absolute certainty, but if I had to guess, I would say that Peter and John weren’t thinking about the time they had with Jesus during their event. They were simply responding as an outflow of the power within them through the Holy Spirit that came from their time with Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but that’s the sort of testimony I want for my life. When others encounter me, I would love nothing more than for them to recognize that I have been with Jesus.
When life is stressful, we often do the very thing that we know we should not. We rise earlier, work later and try harder. But in the process, we inevitably squeeze out time with God. It’s like starving ourselves. At first we don’t notice. Then one day we realize that we’re beginning to atrophy spiritually. Another danger is when we turn our spiritual walk into a series of checks on a to do list. So instead of seeking God, we seek to complete our “spiritual checklist.”
But God is merciful, and will open our eyes to it. He helps us see that when we place our significance in something other than Him, we will crash and burn. We come to realize that the very intimacy we desire and the evidence of fruit in our lives is not because he has forsaken us, but because we have become too busy to spend time with him, or we have turned our relationship with him into a series of tasks.
We must regularly get alone with God, to spend time with him in silence and solitude – listening and enjoying his presence.
They recognized that they had been with Jesus. What a testimony.