I’m not really big on making New Year’s resolutions. It’s estimated that only 7% to 8% of people who make resolutions carry them out all year. So when 2020 rolled around, rather than spinning my wheels trying to set a resolution that I would inevitably drop, I decided instead to choose a “word of the year”. You may have heard about this practice: selecting a single word on which to focus, one that reminds you of the positive change you want to see in yourself or the world around you. Then you reflect on that word as you move through the year, making decisions or adjustments that align with what that word represents to you. I had pondered on what word I would select for a couple of weeks prior to the new year, praying about it and letting it percolate on the back burner.
I ended up landing on a word that has increasingly become more and more significant to me over the previous three or four years: abide. Abide has several shades of meaning: it can be defined as to remain, continue, stay, but it is also defined as to have one’s abode, or dwelling place, to dwell or reside. It can also mean to wait for or await. It can even mean to put up with, tolerate, or endure. It’s significance to me stems from the words of Jesus in John 15:5:
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.
So I chose abide as my word for 2020, desiring to remain or dwell in God’s presence and, in doing so, bearing fruit. I wasn’t sure what form that fruit would be, but I was determined to abide with God by reading His word, by conversation with Him through prayer and listening, and by staying in a state of expectation with the Lord. It isn’t easy to sit still in this world, but that was my intention on January 1.
As the early days of 2020 played out, as often happens when developing a new way of doing something in life, we make a checklist, a routine to help instill a new pattern and make it permanent. Learning to abide may have started out like that for me in some ways, like a
put-a-checkmark-next-to-that-one-on-my-to-do-list kind of thing. But as 2020 continued, the idea of abiding became deeply vital to me, and it has continued to have a transformational effect in my life that I pray I can carry forward forever. I pray that I can communicate it well to you, dear friend!
I came to delight in walking out that word of intention, pursuing time with God through reading various online Bible reading plans, participating in weekly Bible study with a precious group of ladies, and by praying, which is still a developing facet of my relationship with Him. At times my prayers seemed rich and conversational; sometimes they looked more like a daily laundry list for my Creator to fulfill, if you can imagine (I’m still a work in progress). Part of creating an atmosphere in which to abide involved listening to music; often it was contemporary praise songs, occasionally it was hymns that took me back to my childhood, singing in church with my dad and mom. In other moments, worship simply consisted of praising Him on beautiful, clear, blue-sky days on the back porch or rocking in my front porch swing, contemplating and telling God of His goodness and faithfulness towards me and my family, pondering His will for my life. I looked forward to it, this special time of fellowship and expectation.
Then COVID-19 broke on the scene.
Abiding in the sense of remaining and ‘staying put’ became a worldwide reality. Globally everyone was on lockdown, and so it became apparent that we’d each better be okay with making our abode where we were, because we had no choice in the matter. Suddenly the business— the busyness— of our lives, the frenzied, hurried comings and goings of our daily existence came to a grinding halt.
Forced to come to a full stop, people, it seemed, began to take notice of things they hadn’t attended to in years: the beauty of a sunset, a comfortable stroll in the neighborhood, an actual phone call to a friend, the picking up of a long-forgotten hobby, the joy of reading a paperback book. It occurred to me that in the midst of the pandemic, nearly everyone was learning to slow down and abide in some shape or form. For some, abiding had a refreshing or sustaining effect which blossomed into a renewed appreciation of simple joys. For others, abiding perhaps felt more like something to endure, to get through, to grind out, to merely survive. But the practice of abiding as described in John 15 isn’t about merely surviving. It isn’t talking about grinding it out, gritting our teeth, gripping the ledge bare-knuckled. It isn’t about depending on our own striving to do anything. It also isn’t just a waiting game: waiting for things to get better, waiting for the pandemic to end, waiting for life to return to “normal.” Instead John 15:5 describes the Lord’s plan for abiding as a deeper, richer blessing that has wide-reaching effects and eternal value. “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.” (John 15:5).
Let’s break down the parts of that verse. If you think about it, there are several elements to it. Obviously there are two participants, you and Jesus. There are indications of both an active and a passive posture. There is a responsibility on our part to ‘do’ as well as to ‘receive’. Allow me to explain.
To abide, as we’ve discussed, means to remain, reside, or dwell. This indicates that we are to take action that puts us in a position to remain with Christ. We have to choose to connect with Him through prayer, thanksgiving, reading His word (the Bible), connecting with other believers, and worship. That takes effort and determination on our parts. It requires energy, setting aside time and space in our schedules and our minds. This fulfills the part in which Jesus says, “Whoever abides in Me…”
However, there is another dimension here, in which abide means to wait, to allow ourselves to be still, to have our dwelling place in Him. This puts us in a passive seat, submitting ourselves to simply “being” in His presence so that He can fill us with His grace, mercy, love, joy, peace, and anything else He desires. There is a vulnerability, an openness, involved, without which our return on investment of time and energy is diminished. To fully abide, we have to fully submit. We must be fully open to receive. This allows Jesus to abide in us, fulfilling the “and I in him…” portion of this verse. Do you see the give and take, the ebb and flow, between the active and still, vulnerable and receptive postures we take when we abide?
It is both through the act on our part of abiding and through the choice to allow Jesus to actively abide in us that we are able to “bear much fruit.” Bearing fruit is the outward manifestation of the inward working of God in us through the Holy Spirit. Galations 5:22-23 describes the fruit, or the tangible, observable results of the Spirit working in us, as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Fruit in our lives should manifest in a way is easily noticeable by others, believers and unbelievers alike. It sanctifies us, or sets us apart. It’s what makes us stand out. Moreover, the fruit produced in our lives as a result of abiding in the Vine should be so evident and attractive to others that they ask us how it is that we can act that way. It should point to and draw others towards our heavenly Father, for it is only in Him that we are able to exhibit the fruit of, say, peace, when we have a scary diagnosis, or patience and self-control when a coworker mistreats us, or even express joy in spite of losing a loved one. In this way, God is glorified, which is the whole point of our existence.
If we learned anything in 2020, it was the importance of being prepared. As we move into the start of 2021, I want to encourage you to let go of the feeling that you need to endure or muddle through, waiting for things to return to normal. Instead, prepare yourself by seeking to abide in Jesus as described in John 15:5. Remain in Him; allow Him to remain in you, so that you will produce an abundance of long-lasting fruit for His Kingdom.