That’s not a word we frequently use in our vocabulary, but it’s one that I’ve seen come up as a pattern for the last few months. Abiding has always meant – in a way – being stuck. Rooted, but not necessarily in a comforting way. 2020 brought a lot more “abiding” than I wanted. Even as an introvert, I spent way more time in one place than I wanted to. I began to feel stuck. Reliving the same day, repeatedly with no growth or change, I hated it.
Sitting still and only doing one thing at a time is not my strong suit.
In college, my schedule was blocked out by the half-hour. Classes, work, campus ministry, an internship, meals, and the few hours of sleep I managed to squeeze in were meticulously planned out. Post-grad, it didn’t get much better. A full-time job, Bible studies, volunteering, and still, other things kept me in a constant state of “too many irons in the fire.” This was my normal, and I know it is for a lot of 20-somethings.
I learned that that is not a way to give ample time to cultivate my relationship with others or with Jesus. One of my campus ministers repeatedly told me, “If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” Ouch. That one still stings. If that sounds too close to home for you, lean in with me for a second here.
When I read in John 15, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” that seemed significantly restricting and not comforting like it should have been. I have read this passage many times and heard it repeatedly growing up in church, but it never stood out like it did in 2020. (John 15: 4, NRSVCE)
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
I skimmed over it, feeling a bit of disdain, as I was clawing at the walls to leave my house and not have to “abide” any more than necessary.
But then it showed up in my readings again. And again. And then again a couple weeks later. When this happens, I’ve learned that God must really need me to pay attention to whatever it is He keeps bringing across my path.
Begrudgingly, I dug deeper.
I love Beth Moore’s work. I love her fiery love for Jesus and others, so when I saw that she had a new book coming out called Chasing Vines, I knew it would be one I would want. I usually wait until her books have been out a while, and I can buy them used. (Can you sense the other “but” coming here?) But this time, I happened to see this book for sale much cheaper than expected, so I decided to grab it, not even knowing what it was all about. Want to take a guess?
At the moment I realized that was what it covered, I just mumbled, “Okay, God. I get it.”
I had the book for months before I actually read it. And I’m still not finished. But I just finished the chapter called (any guesses?) “Abide.”
In verse 5, Jesus tells us that we are the branches. Any idea what the job of a branch is to the main Vine? Fruit is promised to every branch that does this. Do we not wish to produce that good “faith fruit”? There’s only one way to do it.
Yet, I still didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to be immobilized.
Beth Moore pointed out to me, and this rocked my world, the way that I perceived the word “abide” was what Jesus was talking about here. We no longer abide in a place but a Person. Does a person always stay in one place? Hardly ever.
“Abide” can also be translated to “remain.” 1 John 2:6 tells us, “whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.” (NRSVCE)
Wait. This doesn’t sound immobilizing.
Jesus turned this metaphor entirely around. No longer did “abide” mean “stuck.” It meant we get to walk with Jesus. We can “abide” anywhere we are because Jesus is everywhere we are. He’s inescapable. And that’s the best news.
Referring back to what my campus minister said about being busy – think about this. When you’re at your busiest, do you feel productive? I know I usually don’t. I feel like I’m running and running and not accomplishing much. That’s precisely how the devil wants us to feel. He wants to steal our satisfaction with the fruit of our work. He wants to remove our feeling of effectiveness. And with this passage, our “effectiveness” is directly equated with fruitfulness. In verse 5, Our Lord tells us that we are literally incapable of doing anything productive without Him.
To be effective in life, we have to abide in Him. We are called to live a naturally unexplained life. A life, during which we don't have all the answers. And to do that, guess what? We have to abide in the Vine. We must walk with Jesus. By making small, daily choices for Christ, I’m discovering what it means to abide while learning to “walk just as He walked (1 John 2:6, NRSVCE).”
Won’t you join me?