Abiding: Part Two

In my last post, we talked about the concept of “abiding” as presented in John 15:5, in which Jesus said, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” We described the active and passive postures of abiding in the Vine, Jesus, and the process of bearing fruit for God’s Kingdom. In this post, we continue learning about the Vine and the importance of our connection to Him.

If you have a basic familiarity with the anatomy of a grape vine, you understand that there is a single trunk, consisting of a root system under the soil, a rootstock just above the soil line reaching to the trunk itself, which splits or sections out to form the branches of the vine. These branches have shoots which produce the leaves and fruit. A couple of horticultural terms are important to note in the analogy Jesus uses to describe our connection with Him.

First, there are the roots. The purpose of the roots is to absorb nutrients and water from the soil. A vine will not thrive with a poor, shallow root system. The roots must be deep and wide enough to ground it, or provide stability and strength for the plant. The same must be true for followers of Christ. We cannot thrive with a poor or shallow relationship with Jesus. Surface level Christianity is fruitless. Like any relationship, it takes time, attention, and two-way communication of listening and speaking to become meaningful, personal, and to give and receive a deep love. Not only that, but in order for us to have strength enough to withstand the temptations, pressures, and trials of life, we must be deeply rooted and grounded by having a strong relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit. See what Paul the apostle writes in his letter to the Ephesians:

“… according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God,” Eph. 3:14-19.

Without strong roots, we won’t be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. With shallow roots, we are unable to absorb the spiritual nutrients we need to thrive, grow, and make disciples. We can never hope to begin to understand Christ’s love for us or experience the fullness of God and His promises. So how does one become rooted and grounded? By allowing Christ to dwell, or abide, in your heart. How can that happen? By the power of the Holy Spirit through your faith. What’s the process that allows this to take place? By accepting God’s love and by allowing Him to inhabit your day-to-day life. Practically speaking, this occurs when we read and study the Bible, when we fellowship with other believers who are also dedicating themselves to abiding in Christ, and when we actively seek to communicate with God through prayer, fasting, and worship.

Reading the Bible provides sustaining words to help you grow in your understanding of Who God is and how He loves you. It helps you become acquainted with the Living Water, Jesus, who invites anyone who is willing to drink and never thirst again (John 4:13-14). He satisfies like nothing or no one else, and we get to know Him by reading and studying His teachings. The Bible has answers for practical living, words of encouragement and wisdom, grace and forgiveness, promises of peace and comfort, and so much more! Reading daily from the Bible will allow you to abide in Christ, and in doing so, your heart becomes aligned with His will, and you can’t help but bear fruit. If reading the Bible daily seems daunting to you, start with a chapter from the Psalms, Proverbs, or the gospel of John each day. Alternatively, you could follow a Bible reading plan. These simple plans can be topical or cover specific books of the Bible. Plans usually include a short devotional followed by relevant scripture, and can be found online or by using the Bible app, but the point is that any daily reading of the Bible is beneficial.

Spending time with other believers is another way to abide in Christ. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another,” Proverbs 27:17 tells us. This simply means that speaking with, learning from, and being willing to take instruction or advice from godly friends, mentors, and fellow sojourners helps us stay accountable and strengthens us in our walk with Christ. Hebrews 10:24-25 admonishes followers of Christ to “…consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Choosing to spend time with godly friends also helps us stay connected, or abide, in Christ.

Praying is another very tangible way of abiding in Christ, because prayer is simply two-way communication. It is speaking to, as well as listening to, the Lord. Sometimes we overcomplicate it by thinking that we have to pray eloquently or in a formal format. However, Biblical examples of prayers are very personal, practical, and range from simple requests to questions to long poems of praise and thanksgiving or even crying out in fear, frustration, or sorrow. For a full range of authentic prayers, read the Psalms. In them, David (and others) pour out their hearts before God. Our prayers, too, can cover any range of topics. There is nothing too small for God to recognize as a concern for you, and there’s nothing too big for God to handle. The main thing is to be honest and to be willing to listen as well as speak.

Finally, fasting and worship are two other ways to remain, dwell, or abide in Christ. Worship simply means to tell God how wonderful He is. Many times the easiest way to express this is through song, and there are thousands of songs in numerous genres, from church hymns to rap. I challenge you to complete a quick online search for worship songs in your favorite style of music, and you’ll find something to help you express your love and adoration for the Lord.

I plan to go into greater detail about fasting in a future post, but for now, know that focusing your attention on and seeking to align your heart with God’s through this practice is a deeply wonderful way to stay connected to the Vine as well.

Going back to our vine analogy from John 15:5, think about the branches of a vine. The branches send out shoots where the leaves grow and flowers develop and are pollinated, producing fruit. The branches by themselves produce nothing. They are completely dependent on the vine. Cut off the branches and they merely wither and die. No fruit is produced; they are utterly useless.

Similarly, when we (the branches), as disciples or followers of Jesus, are disconnected from the Jesus (the Vine), we are altogether helpless to produce any fruit. We cannot in our own ability bring about any benefit to ourselves, to others, or to the Kingdom of God. We simply don’t have it in us on our own. We must stay connected to the Vine. Otherwise we find ourselves in the same predicament as King Solomon, where we have nothing to show for our lives but a vain striving after the wind, an empty life void of purpose or meaning. Let me show you what I mean.

Contrast the idea of abiding as illustrated in John 15:5 with the idea of striving in the words of King Solomon. In the beginning of his time as king, Solomon knew he desperately needed God’s wisdom to lead the people entrusted to him, so Solomon asked God for wisdom, and it was granted to him, so much so that he became known as the wisest man in history. Because of this humble, sincere request, King Solomon was also granted luxury, riches, and every extravagance known (see 1 Kings 3:9-14). Over time though, he became complacent and stopped seeking to abide in God’s will or even in His presence, and it was here that everything drastically changed for Solomon (see 1 Kings 11:9-11).

A reading of Ecclesiastes, a book of the Bible written by Solomon in his later years as king, paints a vivid yet depressing picture in his own words of how far he had strayed from seeking to abide with God. “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Ecc. 2:11). You see, he neglected to stay connected to the Vine, and his life was fruitless (or vanity, as he describes it). If only he had remained, making his abode in the presence of God! What had started as an earnest desire to please God and lead wisely became a vain pursuit of pleasure and self, leaving a hollowed-out shell of the man Solomon was called to be. We must take care to remain connected so that the same thing doesn’t happen to us!