I never use the word abide in everyday conversation. If I was imagining a dialogue with a vaguely rural and old-fashioned gentleman, I could think of him saying, “I can’t abide those newfangled cell-a-phones.” Indeed, the first definition for abide when I check my word processor’s dictionary is to tolerate something. But if I scroll on down I find the meaning I was looking for: dwell. Which, come to think of it, is another word we don’t use much anymore.
Here’s the thing. Abiding (in the sense of dwelling, remaining, continuing) is a critically important concept in Jesus’ last conversation with His disciples, on His last night on earth, before Gethsemane and betrayal, torture and death and resurrection. His final instructions, you could say—-please get this, He urges His followers—-understand this one thing before I have to go. In the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus makes some astounding, world-rocking promises about abiding.
Jesus tells us He is the Vine and we are the branches. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” Can we just take the rest of the day and meditate on the richness of that truth? We could explore each word and phrase and build a treasure store of wisdom, grace, mercy, instruction for living, solemn warning and brilliant promise.
Jesus wants us to abide in Him. To dwell in Him, be in Him, continue, tarry, remain in Him. At this late date we seem mostly to be about getting to the next place and doing the next new thing, but Jesus says dwell here, in Me. Remain continually connected to Me, the Source of all life. Be one with Me, as a branch is one with its vine, alive only because of the sap flowing into it from the vine. In our lives, being one with Jesus has got to involve keeping His commandments (see verse ten), praying without ceasing, meditating on His character, and frequently pausing to realign our day with Truth and Reality.
Jesus wants to abide in us. He helps us understand what that means in verse seven. “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you….” Ah, His words. We have those, sitting on our nightstand in a big black leather or scruffy paperback book. A verse from my earliest years of Sunday School leaps to mind: Thy words have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee. That’s the main idea. Hide, treasure, store up God’s word in your heart. Yes, that means memorize it, in case you’re subconsciously resisting that idea! I often hear people protest that they just can’t seem to memorize, but surely that’s okay because they read their Bible pretty regularly. But I think maybe frequent visits aren’t the same as abiding. No, don’t feel guilty or resigned, just read on to find some serious motivation for continually making the effort to memorize Scripture.
Jesus says that the branch that abides in the Vine will produce fruit, which glorifies God. If we’re His children (His slaves, His image-bearers, His ambassadors) then we want to be fruitful while we’re planet-side, right? We want to live in a way that glorifies the One who gave us this eternal life.
But the kicker, the ultimate motivation appears in verse 16. The most amazing promise tied to abiding in Him and bearing fruit is this: “so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” Let that sink in for a bit. If we abide in Him and He abides in us, we’ll bear fruit and be given whatever we pray for.
We tend to take this and similar verses out of context, and then to cobble together arguments to explain why our prayers are NOT answered. But the heart of the matter is here: Abide in Me, and I in You. Then you will bear fruit that glorifies God, and whatever you ask for in prayer will be given you. It is all of a piece, a promise from God, who does not lie. If I am praying and not getting answers, I am not abiding in Him, not allowing Him to abide in me, and consequently not living in a manner that lets me be sure I'm praying according to His will (see 1 John 5:14).
I am so very, very far from that goal. I want so very, very much to reach that goal. I’d better stop writing and begin praying right now, a prayer that I KNOW is according to His will: that He will teach me to abide in Him each moment. That He will do whatever is necessary in me to make me a place fit for Him to abide in. That He will pour His life-giving love and wisdom and power into me continually, so I can bear fruit that glorifies Him. I will ask this of my Father, in the name of my Savior, and I will be ready for the answer to begin blazing through my life at any moment.