From the time I was about 13 or 14, if you asked me, “What’s the main thing about your walk with Christ that you want to grow in?” One of my most common answers was always, “I want to grow in abiding.” Abiding and remaining in Christ is something I have attempted to grow in and that I’ve studied in the Word for years now, but it’s something I’m just now really coming to grasp. For the longest time, I poured my focus and energy into the task of abiding. Abiding in Christ was the goal of my striving and effort, which—ironically—I now know to be contradictory to the very nature of abiding.
In John 15, Jesus teaches us about abiding with the picture of a vine and its branches. He says, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Now, here’s the thing, you don’t ever see a branch striving to produce fruit… Fruit is the natural result of being connected to the vine. Even the idea of a branch striving and working to force fruit out of itself is comical. The process of growing fruit is something that happens naturally. It’s not the result of striving. Fruit in the life of the believer is something that comes naturally when we are connected to Christ. If what we are producing is a result of our striving, we know that what we’re producing didn’t come from the Vine.
I’m naturally a very self-motivated person, which can lead to never being content with my current place in the Lord. I constantly live with an awareness that we’re living so far below our birthright in Christ when it comes to the level of His Presence and Power in our lives, which can be a good thing. Maybe you’re like me… or maybe you’re the opposite. Maybe your struggle is not living in discontentment, but living with no sense of a hunger for greater things. Whatever the case, a couple of years ago I wrote these words, which I believe are major keys to the nature of abiding in Christ. I wrote:
“If we hunger for more of God to the point that we’re never content with what He’s already given us, we know we’ve fallen into striving.
If we’re content with where we are to the point that we’re not hungry for more of His power and presence, we know we’ve fallen into complacency.
But it’s when we’re simultaneously content with where we are, yet hungry for more, that we know we are abiding.”
These are truths that I keep coming back to over and over in my walk with the Lord. You may be asking, “How can you be full yet hungry at the same time?” Well, that’s the paradox and pleasure of abiding in Christ. It’s the art of abiding. One of my favorite songs, “In Over My Head” by Bethel Music, puts it this way,
I’ve come to this place in my life,
I’m full but I’ve not satisfied,
This longing to have more of You.
Abiding is the place of being completely content with the goodness and blessings of God in your life yet living with an undying conviction that mankind has yet to scratch the surface of the goodness and power that God wants to poor out upon and through His people.
There’s one additional point I want to make, which I have written about in the past, but I think it’s worth repeating. In John 15:11, after Jesus has been giving us a lesson on abiding, He gives us His purpose for giving us this task. He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” God gives us the task of abiding for this purpose: that our joy may be full.
I want to mention something from my own walk with Christ in hopes that it will be an encouragement to you. Maybe right now you’re in the same boat I was. In my life, all of my striving and attempting to abide began to squeeze the very purpose of abiding out of my life. From the outside my life looked very holy, but inside it was sucking the joy out of my life. From the outside my life looked very pleasing to God, but it’s been recently that I’ve been realizing a truth about our relationship with the Father.
In my attempt to please the Father through a legalism that bordered on asceticism, I was actually draining myself of the very thing that pleases the Father’s heart the most when it comes to abiding: which is seeing His children walk in joy. Now, I think this goes without saying, but I’m not condoning walking in disobedience to God or having loose morals. Obedience is one of the main topics I've written about over the past couple years. That couldn’t be farther from what I’m saying. Hebrews 12:14 tells us to, “Pursue holiness, for without it no one will see God.” What I am saying is that if our striving to abide stifles the joy in our life, we can be confident we’re not actually abiding.
I think we could go far enough to say that joy—along with bearing fruit—is one of the main litmus tests for abiding. If you’re not joyful, you’re probably not abiding. Deep down I thought somehow my striving to bear fruit would make me worthy of walking in joy. But it’s actually living and abiding in God’s joy that enables us to keep His commands. Our striving may make us look like we’re abiding and living in a way that’s pleasing to God, but I can’t imagine something that would grieve the Father’s heart more than His children attempting to earn something He had already determined to give them. God’s love and joy are gifts, not rewards.
I want to encourage you with this truth today: God’s will is for you to walk in joy. Lay hold of that today. God is better than we think—better than we can imagine. If the purpose of abiding is that we should walk in joy, this should tell us something about the Father’s heart for His children. Joy is God’s heart for you. Believe it. Receive it. And let’s walk in it as we abide in Him.