I have always liked the word abide. We don’t use it that much in our everyday vernacular. Abiding is defined as: remaining, identifying with, living with, dwelling.
As Christians when we use the word in reference to Christ it is the concept of a continual dwelling in the presence and work of God.
It is in this daily dwelling with God through the gift ofChrist that sets the stage for God’s working in us towards maturity and fruitfulness.
In Scripture two of the most frequent analogies that are used in describing a healthy relationship with God are that of a tree and the action of walking. The life of a Christian then can be pictures as a journeying tree, ever moving towards God yet also allowing roots to go deep and fruit to be produced.
“And you shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water…” - Psalm 1: 3
In unpacking the analogy of a tree a bit more we can begin to understand what might be some factors that inhibit and frustrate our ability to grow and abide in Christ.
In Psalm 1:3, we see that the tree is planted by rivers of water. Many times we struggle to abide in Christ due to the fact that we have planted ourselves in deserts yet expect fruitfulness. We suffer from a nutrition deficiency, not because of the lack of provision from God but instead due to our moving away from God’s provision and trying to get it from another source.
This deficiency is also seen when we place our roots in a corrupted soil, a soil that believes the life of self sufficiency. This lie tells us that we don’t need what God has given (God, community, church, Scripture) and instead can become a self sufficient tree which grows independently. This is actually a many times subtle severing from the life lines that will keep us anchored in times of trial. If we allow the lie of self sufficiency to permeate our thoughts and life, it will create a slow rot of the heart. This lie is deceptive, it doesn’t appear to be a dessert, yet the roots are slowly cut off with the tourniquet of idea of self sufficiency. We are not created for independence but of an increasing awareness of our dependence on Christ. There is another lie that we often believe the lie of self autonomy. We live as though our actions have no repercussions in the lives of others and that we can leave things unchecked/unpruned. In this undisciplined and selfish state we live life based on our terms and desires, either blind or indifferent to the effect that these actions have on those around us. God created us to live in community and by allowing ourselves to be pruned in the midst of it we help that community to flourish. As Christians we are pruned not only for our own fruitfulness, but also for the health and space that allows for others to flourish.
One of the things that will squelch our ability to abide rapidly is the act of comparison. Many times in looking at the lives of others we not only just compare, we compete, and in our performance driven culture this opens the door for toxic belief to pollute the work that God is bringing about in our lives. For although we live in community, not every person is in the same season. Some are in the midst of a barren winter while others may be experiencing the flourishing of a summer harvest. Yet if the two compare themselves to each other, both will usually, greatly overestimate their role in each scenario. By God’s design a tree is not fruitful year round. There are seasons and cycles of both internal and external growth. Yet many times we idealize the tangibility of the external growth seasons and stake them at a higher value than those of internal growth. Yet by God’s design, one is not possible without the other. If we allow comparison to poison the water, then fruitfulness will be lost.
“Walk in a manner worthy of your calling….” Ephesians 4:1-3
When we explore the second analogy of walking we can also become aware of different states that influence or walk with God. We see from the verses above that there is a purpose to the walk, it isn’t a free for all frolic to wherever you want to go, but instead surrendering to the will of God to follow where He is calling us.
When we walk on this path there can be several factors that affect us. One that we don’t often discuss is that of atrophy. If you have ever suffered an injury to a limb and have had to rest the limb, you will understand this a bit more. Pending the severity of the injury, the effects of the atrophy will alter both the limbs appearance and function. The same is true for our spiritual life. When we go through hard times of grief or loss, when we spiritually “break a limb”, it is not wise to expect to pop back up and keep running/walking. Yet this is how we so often try to live. It is often painted to look like Godly perseverance, when in all actuality God is calling us to “cease striving and know that He is God” and instead we are hobbling along acting as if we are some kind of Christian robot impervious to the struggle and pain of living in this world that so many would actually relate to instead of this false model of a type of “Christian imperviousness”. It is when we realize that as in the life Job, God is both the one who wounds and who heals, that we realize that our “walk with God” will look different through the various stages and challenges of our life. There is no impervious robotic state we reach with God where we will not be affected by the pain of loss, heartache and sorrow.
We may also enter into a state of disorientation and despair in our walk with God. Many times this can be due to a crisis or unforeseen trial. We aren’t sure where we are or we feel stuck. This can be caused both by life or by sin in our own lives. A few years ago I was playing soccer while on a missions trip. It was an intense game and I was sprinting to the other end of the field for a pass. I turned to see where my teammate was only to get smacked right in the face by the ball. I just kept running. After the game my friend Jill blessed me with a hilarious reenactment of it. During the game due to embarrassment I tried to keep going and act like it didn’t happen. When in reality, it did happen and I had no idea where I was for a solid 30 seconds. Sometimes in our lives we need to stop, admit we took a hit, ask for help and for wisdom on what our next steps are.
Fear can also affect or walk with God. Many times it is because we have never gone this way before. I think about Psalm 23:5 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat there. It isn’t my first choice of dining locations. Yet as Christians God will call us to places where we would avoid, because that is where He is at work. It is ok for us to feel fear, yet we must not let this fear dictate our faith, but instead confess both it and our need for God’s help in working through it to go where He is calling us.
As I continue to reflect on what it means to continually abide in Christ, I am left thinking that abide means to surrender.
“28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30
To dwell or abide with God we must surrender our own efforts and ideals. In taking on the “yoke” or teaching of Christ we submit to His call in our lives instead of our own corrupted and selfish will.
God does not just call us to abide and leave us stranded. He does not ask us to surrender and then abandon us and leave us destitute. God provide for us in four different and very powerful ways.
The first is through His Word.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” - Hebrews 4:12
This verse is often used to portray the Word of God like a sword, however if you read a bit deeper, it actually is functioning more like a scalpel. Not just a weapon of defense, but also one for healing. We must ask ourselves are we only treating the Word of God as a weapon or are we also allowing its healing work to take place in our own lives. Cutting away our selfish desires, the lies we believe and the actions that are not of God.
The second way He provides is through His People, the Church.
“24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” - Hebrews 10:24-25
When we isolate ourselves from the people of God we are severing a lifeline. For God not only uses Scripture to speak through us but also the Church. Both as a haven in times of trial, but also as means of correction when, if you are like me, our selfishness may be masquerading as His Spirit. God uses the church to reveal Himself both to us and also to the world around us. Through the work of the church as God intends, the image of God is amplified, cultivated and encouraged in the world around it.
God has not created us to live as isolated individuals, but instead as a member of a community.
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” - Hebrews 3:13
It is easier for me to believe lies when my voice is the only one I hear. In true community, God’s voice and truth are amplified in our lives, both to exhort and encourage. We are to speak encouragement and exhortation to each other daily. How often do I let days go by when my words have not brought life to those around me?
One of God’s greatest gifts in helping us to abide is that of His Spirit.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” - John 14:16-17
This word “advocate” also translates “helper” it is the same concept as when in the garden of Eden, God gives Adam a helper, Eve. In the same way the Holy Spirit is our “helper”. He is with us always, moment by moment, helping us to remain in Christ, see God’s provision, remember truth and see the lies we are tempted to believe that would lure us away.
God may help us to abide in You. May you teach us how to live and how to love. May you help our roots go deep and our feet to take the next step.
Spend some time in the coming weeks thinking deeper about the analogy of a tree and walking. What would your tree look like? How would you describe it? How would you describe your “walk with God”? What has been affecting it?