With Christmas now in full view, car radios, iPods, and grocery stores will be reminding us of silent nights, peace on earth, and joy to the world. But is it possible that joy seems a little more distant this year? A little more like a pipedream than a reality? Perhaps for you, the doldrums that accompany the holiday season come every year, not just at the end of a roller-coaster like 2020. Regardless of the reason, if you’re in the market for a little joy this year as we kick off the holiday season, remember just one word: Abide.
In addressing His disciples hours before His arrest, Jesus tells them over and over to abide, to remain, to dwell in Him. He knows that they’re worried about what life will look like without Him, so He gives them these instructions for a specific reason: “that [their] joy may be full” (John 15:11). We also see that this fullness of joy comes from abiding in at least three areas.
Abide in the Word. Let the Word Abide in You.
Christ tells His closest friends, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). We’ll come back to the tricky second half of that verse, but let’s not skip over the first half. Jesus wants those who follow Him to realize that fullness of joy comes, in part, from letting God’s Words abide within. I believe that the most obvious way to do that is to memorize Scripture. There. I know it’s not popular, but I said it. I firmly believe that every believer should memorize God’s Word and should do so thoughtfully.
Memorizing thoughtfully means that you will choose carefully the portion of Scripture that you’re going to abide in. While all of Scripture is profitable, some of it will be a more effective offensive weapon in battle. Perhaps for your season, a psalm would be a good choice. Or maybe an epistle. Or a chapter from Romans.
Second, memorizing thoughtfully means that you’ll memorize verses in context. I advocate memorizing large chunks of Scripture. It may take you ten years to memorize the Sermon on the Mount or the book of James or Ephesians, but you will know that passage inside-out, backwards, and upside-down. You will know the context and apply the verses accurately. They will become part of the fabric of your life. This is what abiding means.
Finally, memorizing thoughtfully means that you don’t memorize for its own sake, but rather to meditate on and internalize a passage of Scripture. You may not understand every nuance and wrinkle, but you think about the words as you hide them in your heart. And as you review them, over times, your understanding will grow.
I realize that this may take time. It might mean that other, less important things need to fade away. While I readily admit that memorizing requires time, I refuse to capitulate that you do not have time. I also refuse to give on the excuse that you are unable to do it. It may be difficult, and it may be slow, but every verse you fight for will be there, abiding in your heart, leading to fullness of joy.
Abide in Prayer.
Let’s return now to the second half of that verse we started with: “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” While I don’t want to go off into the weeds of all the questions this verse may elicit (valid though they may be), I will take a moment to say that as we hide God’s Word in our hearts and abide in it, allowing it to shape our desires and our requests, our prayers will be effective. But before we even go that far into the theology of this verse, there’s a very simple observation that we have to make.
Jesus assumes that those who abide in His Word and let His Word abide in them will pray.
Simply put, we can’t abide if we don’t pray. In fact, I would say that abiding in Christ is nearly synonymous with praying. This is at the heart of the idea of “praying without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Abiding in prayer means listening to God’s voice in His revealed Word and then responding to Him with repentance, requests, worship, and gratitude. It’s the conversation that never really ends. Abiding in prayer means that prayer isn’t a last resort, but a first response. It means asking boldly and clinging tightly to the promises of the Word. It means bringing hard questions and tears to the throne where we find mercy and receive grace to help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
I wish that I could inspire you with examples of abiding in prayer from my own life, but this is not an area of strength for me. Please don’t construe my bold words as coming from my experience. Those words are what I believe Scripture teaches, but I need to learn to abide in prayer as well, so that I can find the fullness of joy it brings.
Abide in Christ’s Love.
Lastly, Jesus tells His disciples that He has loved them just like the Father has loved Him. Therefore, they need to abide in that love (John 15:9). The love that the Father has for the Son is pretty amazing. How could I not abide in it? The next verse tells that story: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.”
So why don’t we abide in the love of Christ?
We don’t want to obey Him.
Because we stubbornly believe that our way is better, that our plans are smarter, and that our path is easier, we push away from the love of Christ. We don’t really believe that obedience will bring about joy. We think that our sinful shortcut will. And, in fact, we’re often right. For a minute or two. We wouldn’t commit the sin if it didn’t bring us some modicum of temporary happiness. But it never brings lasting joy. That’s found only in abiding in the Vine and in His love. Abiding there means that I trust Him to lead me to that joy, even though the path is dark and hard. Consider these words from Peter:
In this [the Gospel, the love of Christ] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
We have necessarily been distressed by various trials this year, and hopefully our faith has proven more precious than gold. However, even in the midst of the discouragement and difficulty, we can rejoice, and we can have joy if we abide. Abide in the Word. Abide in Prayer. Abide in Christ’s love.