One way that God speaks to my heart is through story. From the time I was a young girl, I didn't just read stories, I entered them. I walked the English Moors with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and was one of the Pickwick Club members in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
Recently, as I sat reading John 15, the following story-form devotional began to take shape in my head... so I've put it down on paper for you. It will require some imagination and creativity on your part, but, I pray that it will be a blessing nonetheless. So, carve out some time to spend with your Savior in...
It has been a long while since you’ve been able to leave this busy world of yours behind and do something that breathes life back into your soul. In fact, it feels odd to get behind the wheel of your car and steer it away from commitments and appointments. You have to pinch yourself as you make your way through the hubbub and out along little winding country roads; you can hardly believe that it’s real.
It all happened so suddenly. But, as you think back over the steps leading up to this moment, you realize that this little getaway is more than a gift from a good friend, it is a divine appointment. You had thought that you were doing a good job hiding the emotional wrestling match you’ve been engaged in from others. Apparently you've fooled no one but yourself. Sensing the quiet storm that has been surging just below the surface of your life, your friend offered you an opportunity to get away and spend a little alone time with God.
What have you been wrestling with of late? Job pressures? Life changes on the horizon? The loss of someone precious to you? Your health? A struggling child? A broken heart?
That generous friend happens to have some relatives that own and operate a vineyard set along the rolling banks of a nearby river. On rare occasion when they need to sneak away for a day or two, they invite guests to come and make themselves at home amidst the tranquil beauty. And you are that lucky guest!
Imagine yourself now traveling along a country road with the windows cracked open and the warm sunshine trickling in where you are seated. How does it feel to escape to such a place… a place where you can ponder and pray? A place to sit quietly and listen once more to the still small voice of God?
After a few hours on the road you begin to recognize the little landmarks from the map that your friend drew for you. You know you are nearly there when the hill with the huge spreading oak tree appears just ahead to your left. A few feet further and there’s the sign; you make a right turn and head down a long, tree-lined, gravel driveway to your destination. To your delight, a couple of welcoming pooches, wagging their tails in anticipation, usher you nearer to your little home-away-from-home for the next couple of days. You smile as you catch your first glance of the little log hewn cabin hemmed in by smiling sunflowers and a split-rail fence. It couldn’t have been more inviting. As you step out of your car, wiggling bodies and wet noses are there to greet you.
How does it feel to finally arrive? What do you hope to experience now that your here?
Once you’ve unpacked and gotten the “lay of the land,” you grab the sandwich and soda you packed for supper and the book you’ve been longing to read, and settle into a comfy spot out on the front porch to take in the view. From your vantage-point, you can see the vineyard spreading out over rolling hills all around you. The sun is slowly settling in the west, casting soft shadows through the brightly colored maples that line the drive. Your two canine companions rest quietly at your feet and a deep sense of peace begins to flood your soul.
As evening fades and your tired eyelids droop, you shuffle off to bed and find yourself drifting off to sleep without a care in the world.
When was the last time you have slept soundly like that in the face of internal struggles in your life?
The next morning you awaken to a symphony of birds singing the sun up just outside your window. As slivers of light peek through the curtains, you roll over with your blankets pulled up cozily underneath your chin and close your eyes once more. Snuggled there safely, you allow yourself to rest a few minutes more. But, the song of praises outside your window beckons you to “get up sleepy-head” and join the rest of creation in the beauty of this new day.
After a refreshing shower, you grab a cup of coffee and your bible and head out onto the back porch. This view nearly takes your breath away. Undulating hills covered in rows of lush green vines spread out as far as the eye can see. You take a deep breath, trying to breathe in this moment to remember long after you’re gone. The sun is still warm as October quietly shifts from fall to winter. And you’re thankful…it feels so good to feel its embrace.
Opening your bible, you turn without hesitation to John 15. Looking out over the vineyard, you whisper a prayer heavenward, “Precious Savior, I want to hear your heart this morning. Please, by your guiding Spirit, speak into my life all that you long to say. I am listening.”
Take a moment to open your bible and slowly read John 15:1-11.As you do, ask the Spirit to bring forward a verse or phrase to resonate in your heart.You may need to read the passage again. As a phrase or verse begins stir in your spirit, sit with it for a spell…letting it steep in your soul.
As you ponder this nudging from God, you quietly get up and go back into the house. Pulling your tennis shoes on, you grab a muffin and one last swig of coffee and make your way back out the door and down into the vineyard.
As the rows rise and fall over the hillside, you walk and pray… that phrase still whispering to your heart. Absorbed in your thoughts the minutes pass. You finally slow to a stop and spin gently around in a full circle to take in the panoramic view.
Imagine yourself there. Breathe in the sights, the scent, and the sounds. What do you see…smell…hear…feel?
You turn again and head down the row with your senses on high alert. A little shiver runs down your spine. God’s presence there with you is palpable.
You come to a clearing of sorts where the rows end and then begin again. Judging by the sun’s height and the growl in your stomach, you decide to turn the corner and slip down another row to make your way back to the little cabin. As you crest yet another hill, you stop in your tracks. There, kneeling down on one knee, you see him. You shake your head and take a deep breath. How can this be?
As you stand frozen in place, you watch as Jesus pulls a little brush out of a bucket of water that sits beside him. Absorbed in his work, he gently lifts a runaway branch up from the ground and begins to wash it clean. As he ties the branch back in place, he looks up at you and speaks your name.
What does it sound like? Close your eyes and hear it whispering in your heart.
He stands up and reaches out his hand to you.
Imagine him there.What do you do? Do you run down the hill in excitement? Do you fall to your knees? How does Jesus greet you as you make your way toward him? Does he take your hand in his? Does he pull you into a strong loving embrace?
How does this this make you feel?
You know that Jesus knows why you’re there in the vineyard that day, but, you feel a sense of invitation on his part to verbalize once more what it is that’s been on your heart the last several weeks...days.
Tell him now.Tell him your worries, uncertainties, your fears, your questions.Share with him your dreams and your wonderings.
What is the expression on his face as you speak?Is it empathetic?Is it a look of concern?
With a smile filled with reassurance, Jesus now speaks. As he does, his eyes lift to scan the acres of vines that span around you. And he says –
Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust God, trust also in me.
I am here to pour out my peace upon you; a peace unlike anything in this world. So please do not let your heart be trouble...do not fear the unknown future.
You see my precious one, I am the Vine and my Father...your Father...is the Master Gardener of this world and of your life.
He reaches out and lifts a branch up, then turns to you again and says,
I am the Vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.But, remember, my child, that apart from me you can do nothing.So remain in my love.If you remain so, my joy will overflow in and through you, even in the midst of all that you are going through.
You stand together arm-in-arm for a few minutes more. Then he turns to you and says,
I must leave you now, but, I have not left you alone. My Spirit is with you and in you. Lean hard into him. He will guide, strengthen, fill and encourage you as you make your way from here...until you take your final breath on this good earth and we stand once again arm-in-arm in heaven forever.
Close your eyes.Let Jesus’ words sink deep down into your innermost being. What are you feeling...thinking?
Jesus turns toward you, cups your face in his strong hands, and kisses you on the forehead. Then without another word, he turns, walks up the hill where you once stood and disappears from view. You hardly feel your footfalls as you, too, turn and make your way back to the cabin.
As you step up onto the porch once more, you turn and look back over the vineyard and you know you will never be the same again. Yes! This was a divine appointment.
With gratitude too vast for words, you pack up your things, make a quick sandwich and slip back behind the wheel to meet the days that lie ahead. As you make your way down the driveway and back out onto those country roads, Jesus’ words linger in your heart...
Remain in my love, dear one and my joy will overflow in and through you...all the days of your life.
Take a few moments now to express to your Savior all that he means to you.
You are loved with an everlasting love!