True Belonging: Abide

Like every good Methodist teen in the 80s, I attended MYF every Wednesday night. After a hamburger dinner in Fellowship Hall, we’d traipse upstairs to our set apart room full of couches and quippy posters with snow-capped mountains and settle in with acoustic worship. One particular song that I recall with great fondness, probably because of its connection to winter retreat campfires, is “Pass It On.”

It only takes a spark
To get a fire going.
And soon all those around 
Can warm up in its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it.
You spread His love to everyone,
You want to pass it on.

Every once in a while this song’s lyrics pop in my head unannounced — like this week as I read our passage from John 17.

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

John 17:20-21, NLT

A few weeks ago, we learned from verse eight that Jesus had passed on the message God had given Him to these disciples. And in today’s verses,, we hear Jesus pray that this message would continue into future generations. We know His prayer was answered because, over 2000 years later, you and I know the good news — in every generation, there have been believers who have been faithful to this call of sharing God’s message. A perpetuating passing on.

Photo by Gleb Lukomets on Unsplash

Future Generations

We need not move too quickly past verse twenty because this one line in all of Jesus’ prayer– that God’s message is not just for His disciples but for ALL believers ever — changes the audience and expands the purpose. Like a grandfather clause, this verse now includes us in everything Jesus has prayed. In other words, When He reveals that it’s possible for future generations to become believers through the disciples’ message, I recognize these disciples have been delivering God’s message. A message like this one:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16, NIV

Despite my faithful attendance to church, somehow I missed this special address: John 3:16. One Sunday afternoon, my dad had the Oilers game on, and I saw a lady in the crowd waving a poster that simply said, John 3:16. I recognized it as a verse reference, but I couldn’t recall what the verse was, though I sensed I probably should. Not wanting to ask aloud — shame is a powerful killer of curiosity — I finally went to my room and looked it up in my Bible. 

I immediately recognized the verse and, maybe for the first time, grasped how it captures so much of the gospel message. That day, a faithful Jesus follower at a football game passed on God’s message. Her willingness to pass on such an important message in front of so many people impacted and impressed me. 

All Be One

Up to this point, unless you read ahead, it hasn’t been clear that this prayer was for anyone else but the disciples in Jesus’ presence. But once we read verse twenty, the pronouns that follow expand to include all believers in Jesus. The “they” Jesus prays for in verse twenty-one suddenly includes me. And you.

In a cultural climate that feeds off divisiveness — in the world and in the Church — His prayer takes my breath. “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one.” We had our first hint of this unity theme in verse eleven, “that they will be united just as we are,” but Jesus’ re-emphasis here makes me pause. He is praying for ALL believers to be ONE in the same way He and God and the Holy Spirit are ONE. 

I’ve heard this referred to as Trinity Unity. God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each unique but together they are one entity. Yes, this is simplified Trinity Theology, and, no, I’m not going any further — because the point here is they are one. Not a facade of acting like they are similar, not a broken display of what unity could be, not a “do as we say, not as we do” type of leadership, but a complete, whole, undivided, unified oneness.

And that’s what Jesus prayed for us, His Church.

Photo by Noorulabdeen Ahmad on Unsplash

Talk about a picture of perfect, true belonging. Can you allow yourself to imagine what this would look like? I’ll try:

  • Local churches full of people who genuinely love one another, who can love beyond sin, political alignment, social standing, gender, race, Scripture interpretation, theology, doctrine………
  • The worldwide Church loving one another in all the same ways, including beyond denominational divides.
  • All believers everywhere loving everyone in the world with the love of Christ in all the same ways, including beyond differing spiritual outlooks, opinions, and practices.

And, I’m absolutely sure that I am unable to think or imagine what true unity among believers looks like (ref: Ephesians 3:20). But it sure is fun to try. And hope.

In Us

Verse twenty-one continues the unity theme with the use of the little word, in. God is in Jesus. Jesus is in God. And, Jesus’ prayer is that we, believers, would be in them. In the Trinity that is so perfectly one. Not in the world. Not in ourselves. But in them.

This is not the first time Jesus has taught this concept of being in Him. Just a bit earlier in this Final Discourse, Jesus used the grapevine as a metaphor to demonstrate this kind of “being in us.”

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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 15:4-5, NIV

There is so much we could take from these two verses, but for today’s purposes notice the word Jesus used to describe this “being in Him.” Abide.

The picture He used to paint this idea of abiding is that of the branch in the grapevine. Whether we have green thumbs or not, we can imagine a branch, any branch of any tree or vine. It doesn’t live without being attached to the vine or trunk. All its nutrients and water — its very life — derive from that vine, that trunk. So the branch must remain attached to, or in, the vine. 

We are the same. Jesus calls Himself the vine and names us the branches. We have to remain attached to Him — not some of the time, not just when we think about it, not just on Sunday mornings, but always. Because if we don’t, we wither. We die.

The Why

Jesus certainly wants us to abide in Him and to be united together as a body of believers because it’s for our good. But He drops the big why at the end of verse twenty-one — “so that the world will believe you sent me.” 

Friends, if we fail to abide in Jesus, drawing in the Living Water and Bread of Life only He can provide, we are not sustainable. Individually or corporately. If we fail to be united by the person of Jesus, we will not pass on the gospel message — we’ll be too focused on our internal struggles and divisions. We’ll allow differences in the world to define and deter our message-sending call. 

Jesus prayed this prayer in love and with great hope and expectancy of our truly belonging to Him. If we’ll abide in Him, His love will flow through us and out to all the others around us — believers and non-believers. Then, we’ll be faithful message deliverers, and we just never know who we’ll impact. It only takes a spark.

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  • In your journal this week, make two lists.
    • One — all the things that divide you from other people (in your family, neighborhood, city, nation, church, office, etc)
    • Two — all the ways Jesus unifies.
    • Then, write a prayer to Jesus asking for His Spirit’s help to keep you IN Him, sitting for at least five minutes in silence, just abiding (being) with Him. If your mind wanders, just call His name and refocus on Him. Abide.
  • Our Belonging playlist ends with a song by Orphan No More Co called “Grateful Responses.” The chorus captures the heart of what Jesus’ prayer for unity, for abiding is calling us to. Listening to a song like this one as a prayer often helps me settle my thoughts before going into some silent, abiding time with Jesus. I invite you to try it. Here’s the chorus:

I wanna walk like You
Give thanks like You
Lay down my life for someone else like You
Let my heart abide in the heart of Christ
Lead me in Your love, Lord lead me into love

Feature photo by Kris Gerhard on Unsplash.

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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