Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
This parable illustrates the levels of our walk with God.
1. Falling to the Ground: Tearing Down of Wrong Mindsets
This could also be called the “Infant stage” in a believers’ walk with God. Much like caring for an infant or a budding flower, this is a stage that is full of the Father’s grace and protectiveness. The believer’s spirit is not yet strong enough to take rigorous disciplines, and therefore it must only be nurtured, fed and nourished at this point. It is a season where the believer’s heart, mind, and spirit are being prepared and made ready for the harder task of surrendering his/her will to God. God does this by revealing who He is and who we are.
I have found that at this stage, there is a very strong emphasis on the unconditional love of God for the specific person. This is a vital part to the healing of the heart. Restoration work is done in the heart and mind – what I mean is that God will begin to surface issues of self-rejection, shame, unforgiveness, pride, etc., and bring healing and restoration in those areas. He will target wrong thought patterns, and teach the believer to start to see himself, his world, and God through the light of Truth.
To put it succinctly, the key word at this stage is “Identity”. When we begin to understand His identity and therefore begin to discover our identity in Him, the desire to walk close to Him will burst forth in our hearts.
When the believer’s identity and relationship with God is built up on the right foundation, he/she is ready to move to the next level.
2. Dying: Surrender of My Will to His Will
In the first stage, the believer’s identity is being reiterated, and I have found one name to be the core of all other facets of our identity – the name of “Beloved”. Henri Nouwen (1992) had the “inner conviction that the words ‘You are My beloved’ revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings.” Now I will expound on why I have come to believe that taking on the identity of Beloved is key to the second stage – the dying to self and surrendering all to God.
In all three biblical accounts of the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3), God declared Jesus as His beloved, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. This is the only biblical account in which the Holy Spirit comes as a dove; in every other account He usually comes with fire and strong wind. Why is this so? I believe it is because Jesus knew and accepted His identity as Beloved of God (“Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke 2:49), and therefore had fully submitted Himself under God. He never did anything apart from God (John 5:19), and therefore Holy Spirit found in Jesus’ heart a perfect resting place, without having to strive against the flesh.
Someone else puts it this way, “There’s only one man who has ever received the Holy Spirit like a dove, and that is Jesus. That is because when the Holy Spirit came down to Jesus, Jesus was perfectly compatible, of one essence, and the Holy Spirit just snuggled in. He was at perfect peace in the person of Jesus. Jesus got the dove, but we get fire; we get the baptism of fire. And the reason is that God is not indifferent about having His full possession of you and me.”
Growing into our identity as Beloved goes hand-in-hand with submitting of our will to the will of God. It is a natural progression. The reason is because that is the picture of a beloved!
Song of Solomon 8:5 says, “Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?” There is the picture of true lovers, the Lover who offers the strength of his arm, and the beloved who rests in her lovers’ strength. When we understand our Beloved-ness, surrendering to God is no longer a chore but a joy and a delight! In another sense, this submitting of my will to God’s will can also be called “voluntary helplessness”.
The above-mentioned scripture from Song of Solomon takes place as the lovers are coming out of the desert – that is often the place that God takes us so we learn to lean on Him.
In the desert, there are no resources, status, people, etc., only God. It is there that God teaches us how to let go of human reasoning, wisdom, and agenda; in short, dying to self. This is restated in Hosea 2, where God pursues His beloved till she has nowhere else to turn to except Him.
The fire and desert are part of God’s beautiful mercy and deep love for us! He loves us too much to let us go.
However, this stage of fire and/or desert will not make sense if we do not understand that it happens because we are so beloved. Most who did not press through stage one will not last long in this stage, because they might fall under confusion/condemnation thinking that God is a religious deity with a huge cane in His hand, ready to smack us every time we make a mistake. Or they might think that God has abandoned them. Both ways lead to a religious mindset. Religiosity is the work of man and the flesh, which means man relating to God according to man’s plans, instead of man living by God’s plans. This again proves my point that stage one (knowing who I am and knowing who God is), is necessary for stage two (surrendering to God).
- Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing that has lasting value. Every man-made plan will be utterly destroyed in the testing of fire (1 Corinthians 3:13, Hebrews 12:29) and the shaking that will come before Jesus’ return (Haggai 2:6-8, Hebrews 12:25-29).
- God is the gardener. It is He who gives us the will and grace to abide in Jesus! He is the one who grafts the branch into the Vine, and He is the one who keeps it there. He prunes and does all the work necessary for the branch to be able to bear fruit. Just as religiosity is the work of the flesh, likewise abiding in Christ cannot happen by human effort – there has to be a surrender to be able to surrender!
- Jesus is the Living Vine. He gave Himself fully for me by taking all my sin, shame and infirmity and dying in my place. He still gives Himself fully for me by interceding for me at the right-hand of God. Yesterday, today, and forever, all of Jesus is freely available for me. “All the vine possesses belongs to the branches. The vine does not gather from the soil its fatness and its sweetness for itself – all it has is at the disposal of the branches.” Thus, our surrender to God is not the command of a narcissistic ruler, but one of an unselfish God of love who longs to give all of Himself in exchange for all of Him. It is a deal that is to our advantage, really, for we are exchanging our ashes for crowns, and getting pure wine in exchange for ordinary water. What a wonderful God! When I understand it this way, how can I help but want to surrender freely all of me for all of Him?
- I am the branch. The branch is that part of the Vine which produces the fruit, with which God desires to feed a hungry world. Andrew Murray says, “Such is the wonderful condescension of the grace of Jesus that, just as His people are dependant on Him, He has made Himself dependant on them. Without His disciples, He cannot dispense His blessing to the world…” A branch is dead on its own; it is only alive when connected to the Vine. All the fruit that the branch produces comes from the nourishment, life, and supplement of the Vine. Likewise, I have no ability to bear fruit apart from Jesus.
There is a call from the Throne of God to live a fasted lifestyle, choosing to die to self in every area. Jesus must be Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. As you can tell, this stage can take a really long time to get through, and some sadly do not get through it but have chosen to remain in stage one. But those who choose surrender will enjoy the bounties of the next stage!
3. Bearing Much Fruit: The Fruit of A Surrendered Life
As mentioned above, we can only bear fruit when we abide in Christ (become empty + take on His fullness), and the fruit we bear will be for a dying world. For the events that are going to take place in our world, Christians need to abide so deeply in Christ that we will not be shaken by the things that happen all around us.
This stage comes with an increase of authority, anointing, favor, and responsibility. It is when the Father says, “It is time. You’re now ready to step into the flow of My purpose for your life.”
The Lord has so much He wants to give us, but in His love He will not give us what we cannot handle. Stages one and two are meant to prepare + mature us for stage three.
The world is crying out for the sons & daughters of God to arise and take their place as co-heirs with Jesus. Our generation needs us to reach maturity and bear fruit for their thirsty souls.