How do you measure the success of a day?
Maybe it’s a good day if you made it through a day’s work without anything going spectacularly wrong. Maybe it’s a good day if the kids didn’t have too many arguments and you made it to bed whilst it was still today. Maybe it’s a good day if you finally closed that deal you’ve been working on for months and won the respect of your boss.
Days can be evaluated in all sorts of ways. But according to Jesus, there’s one criteria that REALLY matters for all of us: “Did I abide in Jesus today?”
We studied John 15 recently at my church, and it made a deep impression on me. In many ways, it truly is a manifesto for life. Jesus tells his disciples, “Abide in me”. Except this isn’t just one more commandment amongst many others — this is the root from which the whole plant is able to grow, the oxygen that allows us to breathe in the first place.
A matter of life and death
According to Jesus, this is truly life or death stuff — a fancier writer than me might call it the “sine qua non”: without abiding in Jesus, there is nothing. The cost of not following him is absolute. Jesus begins “I am the true vine… As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (v4) You’re certainly not going to get any prize-winning grapes off the branch after you’ve cut it off from the vine. There’s no fruit — but Jesus states it even more starkly than that: “apart from me you can do nothing” (v5). Then he turns the screw even tighter, and we see that it’s not just fruitlessness that awaits us if we fail to abide in him, but judgement: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (v6)
So you see, the cost of not abiding in Jesus could not be greater — it’s the fundamental context in which our lives are to be lived out. A branch doesn’t wake up one day and say “I can’t be bothered with this vine thing today, I’m going to go and live in the city and make a success of my life”. Nor does it say “Ooh, I better remember to have my ‘vine time’ this morning before I get on with my day” — abiding in Jesus isn’t a five minute activity we do first thing before getting on with the real business of life. It’s the oxygen that keeps us going moment by moment — we’re called to live all of life in relationship with Jesus, doing everything for him and in the strength that he provides.
The joys of abiding
So the cost of not abiding could not be greater — but the tone of this passage is far from being a big telling off. Jesus paints the most wonderful picture of what it is like for those who DO abide in him — a wonderful life of flourishing and fruitfulness and joy and abundance. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (v5) The person who abides in Jesus will bear fruit for his glory — but God isn’t content to leave it like that: “…every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (v2) God the gardener will tend us and care for us so that we bear even more fruit! And how wonderful it will be: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (v11) Not the superficial kind of joy that fizzes for a day and then fades when it faces up to the realities of how hard life can be — this is the deep, eternal joy of somebody who knows that the creator of the universe loves them and cares for them and wants to know them and walk with them, that perseveres even when faced with the nitty gritty of life (after all, it’s that “pruning” which perfects our joy).
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (v16) — did you hear that? Even the FRUIT will abide. Glorious!
What does it mean to abide?
So what does it mean to “abide in Jesus”? Is this just “works” religion — yet another thing to make me feel guilty about not managing to have quiet times in the morning?
By no means! The passage is riddled with references to the fact that we did not earn our place in the vine — as if such a thing would be possible for a branch to earn its place in a vine. The clearest is in v16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit”. He’s also clear about how we become part of the vine: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (v3) I think this is intended to remind us of Chapter 13:10, where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet as an enacted parable of what he is about to achieve on the cross and declares “you are clean”. It is his work on our behalf that makes us clean, makes us part of the vine, and it is his word that is going to go on keeping us abiding: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you” (15:7).
To abide in Jesus is to go on enjoying that precious relationship with our Saviour that he has promised to all those who trust in him. It naturally bubbles over in loving others (v12, v17) and in prayer: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (v7) / “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit… so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (v16) How could it not result in prayer? What kind of a relationship is it if we don’t enjoy talking together? Prayer is the natural expression of dependence upon our heavenly Father.
I hope that encourages you as much as it encouraged me. It is a passage that made me want to reevaluate the whole of my life — if the cost of not abiding is so absolute, and if the benefits of abiding are so abundantly overflowingly wonderful, how can I make sure that the whole of my life is characterised by abiding in Jesus? And the intimate connection between abiding and prayer certainly encouraged me to press on with my work on the PrayerMate app — after all, helping people to pray to their heavenly Father is part of helping them to abide, the very life-blood of their existence as Christians.
What will it mean for you to abide in Jesus today?