The Long Road of Abiding
Abiding in Jesus is a long and tumultuous road. Or at least it can seem that way to us.
He often doesn’t operate the way we’d expect. When we’re sure we should move, He tells us to be still. When we think the answer should be now, He tells us to wait. When we ask how long, He tells us in His perfect time.
Does that make you feel anxious, impatient or exhausted before you’ve even begun?
Relax, because Jesus promises rest and relief when we walk with Him along this road of abiding. The final destination is well worth the journey.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
I hope your weary soul just exhaled a few burdens and whispered thank you, Jesus, as you caught a glimpse into these “unforced rhythms of grace” that are possible as you learn to abide Him.
Things that are learned are not naturally known and can be forgotten; so it is in our growing faith.
We must become His student - watching, listening, waiting, imitating and expectant of what He’s ready to teach us. And we must be constantly reminded of what we've been taught.
“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26).
We learn and are transformed through the study of Scripture as the Holy Spirit gives wisdom and revelation to understand the text. This requires a sacrifice of self and time and preferences, and yet this sacrifice produces abundance (Romans 12:2).
We so often think, what good will a few minutes with the Lord do in the midst of all my tasks and problems? But like the little boy's lunch that Jesus multiplied to feed the 5,000, our reading of His Word, our Daily Bread, will multiply into blessings and provision beyond our imagination (John 6:9).
There is no greater way that God reveals Himself to us than through His Word, for it is alive and active and acutely aware of all our issues (Hebrews 4:12).
It is here that we can enter into the Holy of Holies, linger with Him, experience Him, and plead with Him to open the valve of our understanding through His Holy Spirit, so that we may grow to love and delight in His absolute truth.
We open our Bibles not just to learn about Him but to meet with Him.
Abiding in Jesus is critical to knowing Him, believing Him, obeying Him and becoming like Him.
When we keep company with Him, we learn to live freely and lightly. This does not come naturally to us but rather is a supernatural effect of being in His presence. We may need to re-learn the same lesson many times before we can reset our minds on the eternal perspective, not the temporary and momentary afflictions in this life.
Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t promise ease or step-by-step instructions or even immediate resolution or change? But in a world where He’s confirmed that we will have many trials and sorrows, He promises peace - wholeness in every area of our life (John 16:33a).
We can rest in Him as we wait upon Him to do His heart work within us and around us.
It may take years to shed the many layers of our old skin, to lay aside every hindrance, to strip off every weight that slows us, and to cast off the sins that so easily entangle us (Hebrews 12:1). But years are like minutes to God (Psalm 90:4).
So we keep walking the road in the power of the Spirit. We keep abiding in Jesus. We keep our eyes fixed on the Son in the horizon of our promised destination.
Our attempt to abide in Him becomes difficult only when we resist Him.
I came to Jesus when I was just nine years old. But after a little while, I began to forget and wander, and the tests of life revealed that I was not walking with or learning from Him. And I was restless.
I began thinking that my one-time conversion that was big enough to get me to heaven could carry me on this wrecked earth, independent of my choices and priorities. I treated my faith like an insurance policy that I'd claim later, when I was older and really needed it.
I didn’t realize that God designed this covenant as a relationship that needed nurturing daily. While He would never turn His back on me, I had a choice every day to abide in Him, and so often I did not choose well.
My early faith was a series of false starts. As I grew up, I began putting on salvation like a uniform to fit in with the creed of my Christian school. I began trying, ever so feebly, to repair my own brokenness and bear spiritual fruit of myself.
This cycle of attempts and failures in my faith life perplexed me. I had accepted Christ. Why wasn’t I immediately transformed, no longer struggling with sin and temptation?
I did not understand that abiding in Christ – the only way to become more like Him - was not an involuntary reflex but an conscious choice.
Mine was a self-centered faith, all about what God could do for me. I had yet to fully humble myself and realize I was standing on holy ground as the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19).
When I finally understood that faith in Jesus wasn’t just a one-time celebration but a daily feast that I'd been missing, it was devastating.
My collection of crooked choices made me question my salvation. Was it even real? How could I make so many mistakes with the Holy Spirit dwelling inside me? I was having a full-blown faith crisis.
How I longed to go back in time, push the reset button, and start over again with a clean slate.
“But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus knew that my acceptance of Him wouldn't result in an immediate rejection of the world. He knew my surrender would sadly be in stages. His expectations are so different than ours. And yet He still died for me. He still asked me to come to Him.
He knows this about all of us, and He loves and wants us anyway.
Praise God that He is patient and loving, kind and compassionate, and that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
What I didn't understand for a long time is that as believers in Christ, we have an inner conflict clashing within our souls (Romans 7:14-25). We have two natures, the flesh and the Spirit. Our old self and new self wage war against one another every day.
We might be saved, but the Enemy does not want us to be effective. This adversary will do everything in his power to trip and stall and strangle us. Apathy, doubt, distraction, confusion, fear, accusation and shame are his calling cards.
"Now the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace … Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you” (Romans 8:6, 9).
We are in a battle.
Our new self is not yet perfect, because we all still struggle with sin in our mortal bodies. But we are in the process - the long road - of becoming more like Christ. We will not reach the destination of holiness, being completely without sin, until we are complete in Christ at either His return or our graduation into glory.
Our sin can shock us, embarrass us and discourage us, but it will not defeat us.
The mercy is that we have the victory in Christ, who has already defeated sin for us (John 16:33b). But we have to walk in that victory, in battle formation, wearing the full armor of God, and it can only be done by abiding in Jesus as we learn from Him.
The journey is long, but the destination is so very worth it.
“… assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to take off your old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth” (Ephesians 4:21-24).
The grace is that once saved, we feel the tension of this struggle by our Helper, the relentless Holy Spirit, who loves us too much to leave us unchanged. He comforts, convicts and prods our consciences to the way of truth. He lifts our arms to take off our old self and put on our new self, our robe of righteousness, every day as we abide in Jesus.
The Spirit of God will change the way you think, which will change the way you live.
But we must be filled by Him, completely under the influence of this Counselor (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Does the rest of Jesus seem to slip from your grasp? Are you, too, often restless?
We are far too easily satisfied, not grasping what has already been given to us. We settle for crumbs when the Bread of Heaven is offered. We struggle under the weight of sin and self when we should be being kept, secured and pulled closer and closer to Jesus by the weight of His glory.
“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Absolutely not! (Romans 6:1-2).
As we abide in Jesus and become saturated in His Spirit, we will sin less and find ourselves no longer restless. It is a beautiful cycle of abiding. We will walk in the unforced rhythms of grace.
At the cross, Jesus took on our past, present and future sins. He defeated the sins that we committed before coming to Him and the sins that we commit once in a relationship with Him. It was an all-inclusive, all-sufficient sacrifice.
"We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:6-8).
Sin is a tyrant that has been usurped by the government of God.
God does not see our sin once we are in Christ. He only sees the righteousness of Jesus (Romans 4:24). This is why we can keep coming to Him, abiding in Him, amidst our imperfection and refinement.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus …” (Romans 8:1).
Once in Christ, we have been set free from the law of sin and death. We have been raised to walk in newness of life. This is gospel truth. But the reality is that if you become a believer at a young age, your worst choices may still be while you are an immature Christian. This can be confusing and make the road to abiding look more like a dead end.
This is not to dissuade anyone from coming to Christ early. Let the little children come to Him (Matthew 19:14)! I have fervently prayed this very thing for my own daughters as I nursed them in my arms – that they would come early and that the scars of sin would be few.
We can't fathom the amount of protection and provision that comes with salvation.
Coming to Christ changes everything: it rescues you from the kingdom of darkness, brings you from death to life, and transfers you into the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13-14).
But there is a misunderstanding that has invaded many of our hearts.
This heart change once in Christ is not instantaneous. Salvation is immediate, but sanctification is not. Once in Christ, all our struggles do not automatically disappear. This union requires communion, intimacy with Jesus, to increase our faith and obedience on the long road of abiding.
While I was saved, because the Bible assures that we cannot be snatched from His hand once we have confessed Jesus as Lord, I did not fully understand the selfishness of my heart and, therefore, did not fully understand my daily need for Him (John 10:28, Romans 10:9).
I am horrified and embarrassed to say that for many years I treated Jesus more like my servant than my Savior.
I was not abiding in Jesus. I was afraid to give Him my all and lived in delusion – delusion! - believing that what I had for myself was better than His plans for me.
My fear of the Lord was based on what I believed He’d have me give up or do, instead of “counting all things loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Friends, nothing compares to knowing Jesus.
The truth is, if we are not abiding in Him - making Him our refuge from the world – we will not bear the sweet fruit of His Holy Spirit. We will, instead, bear the rotten fruit of sin.
"Everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
Like a stubborn and forgetful Israelite who’d been wandering the wilderness, I finally heard Jesus say “abide” nearly 20 years after I had accepted His invitation to come. He’d been saying it all along, but by His grace I finally had ears to hear.
Jesus tells us to abide in Him not only because He loves us and longs for intimacy with His children, but because He knows we will surely be swallowed up by the darkness of the world without the flame of His Light burning strong within us.
“For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God …” (2 Timothy 1:6).
We cannot war against this world alone.
Our spiritual flame can quickly become a smoldered ember. We must ingest the Word of God daily, connect with Jesus moment by moment through prayer, and encourage one another in love through Biblical fellowship. We must work out our salvation together – the kinks, misconceptions, biases and unbelief (Philippians 2:12).
We gravely overestimate our own ability to function without Him and the Church.
When I finally heard Jesus urge “abide,” I didn’t understand what the word meant or how to respond. Maybe you don't either. Maybe that's why you're here, and I praise God for that.
I posted the word abide on my refrigerator with a faith the size of a mustard seed, right next to the verse a friend had given me that read, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
The beginning, middle and end of abiding is setting ourselves before Him in quiet trust, day by day, waiting and watching until He moves, and then following close after Him.
Little by little, the constant call to abide brought understanding and relief to my soul:
Relief that the Christian faith that I confessed couldn’t be done on my own and wasn't ever intended to be (John 15:5).
Relief that His Way is not my way and that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Relief that He will never fail or abandon us, even when we have failed and forgotten Him (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). We cannot rid ourselves of Him no matter how hard we try or how deep we fall. And why would we want to?
Stop and listen and be relieved of your self-inflicted responsibility to be your own vine and branch.
It started with a series of messages from the Lord, a kind of climatic progression in my erratic faith. “Slow down,” He whispered as I hurried determined and frantic through my early career years.
“Be still,” He pleaded, as I wrestled through the pains and grief of early marriage and child bearing.
And finally - “Stop,” as I met the end of myself with a life that was bigger than I could handle with any semblance of authentic Christian grace.
There were too many times I’d failed myself, my husband, my co-workers, friends, children and family. I’d had enough of living defeated and disconnected.
"But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).
When you come to the end of yourself and realize that all the things you don’t want to be – broken, fearful, insecure, faithless, angry, prideful and ordinary - reside inside of you, you turn 180 degrees in holy reverence to the Lord, throw yourself at His feet and beg for help.
And He’s always there - a faithful Father, Friend, Helper, Husband and Savior - welcoming you back with an outstretched arm.
This repentance yields unparalleled relief, and with it comes unspeakable joy, comfort, contentment, new perspective, and the sweet taste of victory - the Good News of the Gospel and a glimpse of what is to come in eternity (I Corinthians 15:57).
Jesus doesn’t just invite us to come. He isn’t satisfied with just the saving. He wants our hearts and affections knit to His, beating in rhythm with His, surrendered and willing, and living out the daily union of abiding in Him and Him in us.
If we are in Him, we won't be satisfied with just being saved. We will yearn to be renewed, restored and transformed into His image, no matter how long and rocky the road to abiding is.
And we will find rest as we return to the Cross, take it up and follow Him.
"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" (John 15:4).