When I once prepared for a talk about growing our roots deeply in Christ, I had this inspiration to lead the group through a guided prayer using imagery of literal roots breaking out of a seed and digging into the soil so that a plant would develop and flourish. And bear fruit.
As I practiced, these words spilled from my mouth, “we feel the coolness of the soil enveloping us.” And my imagination ignited. I could see soil wrapping roots with its very essence so that the roots had all they needed to be nurtured.
I was overcome in that moment with a sense of abiding. Roots abide in the soil. We abide in Christ. It’s a staying. A remaining. Not just for fun or safety or encouragement–yes, for all these reasons, but for so much more. We abide in Christ every minute of every day…
- …whether we’re in the Word or living it out or letting it live through us.
- …whether we’re at His feet praying or zipping through our day, His presence fueling our focus.
- …whether we’re silently leaning into Him for long stretches of time or taking that peace with us as we serve people who’ve been wrecked, broken, and torn apart.
What I once thought of abiding–as only the time we spend in His presence–I’m discovering is but a pixel of a much larger picture. Yes, abiding happens when we remain, dwell, and draw near to Him. But what happens to us while we’re with Him remains with us even when we’re not sitting still and silent or giving space for His Word to speak into us.
Abiding. Is. All. Of. This.
So, as we pause on this final installment of our Remain series, let’s tease out what abiding looks like–in Scripture, in God, and in the world because of its work in us. Then, for our summer series, we’ll do some further unpacking of how we can cultivate more intimacy with Christ by abiding in every area of our lives.
Abiding in Scripture
I love learning. There’s no two ways about it. For 24 years I have intentionally and consistently engaged in Bible study, cutting my teeth on Beth Moore’s A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place in 1998. (And I don’t miss the irony of DWELL being in the title!)
All the learning. All the studying. It’s a passion. It’s changed my mind, my heart, and my life. But, here’s what I’m discovering: studying Scripture is not the same as abiding in Scripture.
Studying is needed. It’s good. It’s right. But if we only ever look to Scripture for information, we will miss its power for transformation.
So, now I’m learning to engage in the spiritual practice of abiding in Scripture. It’s a slower read where we move in step with the Spirit with no expectation except to encounter His nudge every once in a while. It’s a reading to understand who God is, with the hope of absorbing His essence into ourselves.
No rules or must haves. No checkboxes or quotas.
You see, in the simplest of terms, the Greek word for abiding, meno, means to stay in the same place or position over a period of time. Meno describes something that remains where it is, which pretty much summarizes this entire series. Only it also applies to practices like abiding in the Word–where we pull up a chair and linger.
An ancient practice called Lectio Divina captures this kind of abiding beautifully. There’s no space here to unpack it now–but I will in our summer series! For now it’s enough to know that the ancients had it right–there’s purpose and power in sitting with small snatches of Scripture for no other purpose than to experience the Word.
John, the beloved disciple, employs the word meno more than all the other writers of the New Testament combined. His heart is to call people to abide in Jesus and Scripture:
“Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”2 John 1:9, NRSV
This particular verse shows us that abiding in the Word of God is to abide in the Word (John 1:1). But the reverse is true, as well. If we fail to abide in the Word of God, we fail to really know it and risk falling into the trap of running beyond it.
So, picture yourself snuggling so deeply into the folds of the Word that it wraps you–like soil around a root–and you absorb its life-giving nutrients. You’re changed by it. Strengthened in it. And produce fruit because of it.
Scripture Abiding in Us
Rooting ourselves in Scripture comes with a cost and a mysterious, beautiful blessing.
The cost is time. No plant of any value breaks from a seed, sprouts roots, and pops above ground overnight. Besides weeds, only plants whose roots are in shallow soil do this. And they burn up in the heat (Matthew 13:5-6). They wither without deep roots in Christ’s soil.
So, we need to plant ourselves in deep soil and give time for our roots to grow, which requires time in the Word, soaking up its goodness. Allowing its truths to become part of who we are.
The beauty, the mystery then is that as we abide in the Word, it abides in us:
“As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”1 John 2:24, NIV
The seed, the Word, plants itself in our souls, our hearts, our minds each time we remain in it. The mutual, symbiotic abiding of the Word looks much like the water and food in the soil that moves up through the roots into the plant. Parts of the soil become parts of the plant and help to make the plant what it is designed to be.
In much the same way, each time we sit down with Scripture, we absorb its essence into ourselves, nurturing its growth within us. Then even as we step away from the pages of our Bible, the Word continues to abide in us.
Abiding in God’s Presence
To read God’s Word slowly, receiving what it has for us, is part of what it looks like to abide in His presence–for we encounter God on the pages of Scripture. However, abiding in His presence can also look like:
- laying down our burdens at His feet as we worship Him in heartfelt, honest trust.
- praising God for all His goodness, love, peace, hope, sovereignty, justice, joy–even when we don’t see it or feel it.
- picking up the pen and writing on paper our thoughts, feelings, questions, anger, and hopes then asking Him to meet us there.
- inviting Him for a walk through a forest or a jog along the banks of a creek.
- seeing Him in the birds that sing and the flowers that bloom and the trees that grow really deep roots.
- letting go of our calendars, surrendering our will for His.
- singing in full abandon with a song that speaks the words we can’t form on our own.
- anything we do to shift our focus, off ourselves and our circumstances, onto Him.
God Abiding in Us
And, like the seed of the Word, there is a beauty and mystery that occurs as we abide in God. The more we enter His presence, the more we become aware of God abiding in us.
Abide in me as I abide in you (John 15:4). Simple truth–remain in Him, and He’ll be in us.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit (John 15:5). Simple fact–only in Him can we flourish.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7). Simple instruction–abide in Him and let His words abide us.
The absolute answer to all our doubts, distractions, disappointments, and discouragement is abiding in God and allowing His Word to abide in us. Simple. Yet not easy.
Remember the cost–time. This abiding life happens only with intentionality.
Abiding’s Impact on the World
But when we abide, the world feels its effects.
When Christ’s truth reigns in our hearts and minds, we live humbly–with His wisdom.
When Christ’s love fills our person, we live-out that love–unafraid and generous.
When Christ’s grace meets us where we are each day, we offer it to everyone we meet.
When Christ’s joy finds its being in our souls, we glow and splatter it everywhere we go.
When Christ’s forgiveness covers us, we live from it with kindness and compassion.
When Christ’s peace settles into our spirits, we pass it on.
When Christ’s gentleness grows within us, we speak truth in love.
When Christ’s self-control takes over, we can let go and step aside.
Close your eyes and imagine with me a world where every abiding believer lives this way. I don’t know about you, but the picture calms my breathing. My racing mind rests. My hope increases because I begin to grasp God’s way in the world. Jesus shows us how. And His Spirit in us makes it possible.
Remaining in God IS abiding in God. He is our dwelling place, that secret space where we find safety and silence, refuge and remembering, and our true place of belonging. Yes, we need to draw near to God, but we also need to remain there. Stay awhile. And let His Spirit abide in us–for our good and for God’s purposes.
- With all the tragedies and traumas of our era, I’m finding this practice of abiding is more needed than ever. So many prayers going up for all those who have lost so much.
- What do you make of this idea that ABIDING is more than entering God’s presence? How does this affirm your experiences with Him? How does it challenge the way you’ve thought? Journal your responses, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you as you seek.
- I don’t know about you, but our Dwell Playlist has become a favorite of mine. And I’m thinking it might always be.
- I hope you’ll be part of the our summer series, “Abide: Building Intimacy with God.” Please, invite someone along!
- We’ll ebb and flow–one week of teaching, another of practicing what we’re learning.
- It’s my goal to keep the posts shorter so that we can immerse ourselves more fully in the actual abiding. (Pray for me–I already have way too much research for one series, much less shorter posts! I’m praying for surrender in the process!)
- You may be tired of hearing about my social media woes. As much as I’d love to walk away from all of it, I’d miss you. And I’d fail in my faithfulness to the writing/publishing process of the 21st century, where there’s an expectation for a writer to have a viable platform. So. My Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson) is growing slowly (thank you), and I’m developing new rhythms and “looks” for it. AND, what feels a bit like a miracle, my new Facebook account is active (so many hoops, but I persevered.) The next step is creating an Author’s Page. I’ll keep you posted. See you in the summer–next week! 🙂