What does it mean to continue, to abide with Christ? What does it mean to abide when abiding is difficult; when there is confusion or doubt or fear, when it’s hard to sense God’s presence, when His Word seems empty and worship and prayer seems difficult and draining?
As you read the pages of the Scriptures and stories of great men and women of faith down through the ages, you discover their journey often takes them through the desert. It is in those desert experiences that we often grow in our relationship with Christ; it’s here we discover what means to abide in Him.
Biblical writers often spoke of times of consolation when God seems so close, you sense His love and care. But they also spoke of times of desolation when God seems far away. It is during such times of desolation, in the desert place we must learn to abide in Him.
From our study of 1 John, let me remind you of four aspects of abiding we learn during the seasons of spiritual dryness. The first one is very simple: don’t quit! Often in the desert experiences of life we are tempted to bail out. The opposite of abiding is to leave and some of you may be tempted to do just that.
You’ve been doing the church thing for a long time and you’re tired; at times it feels like you’re barely hanging on and you wonder, is it worth it? John would say, whatever you do, don’t quit, don’t give up, there is too much at stake. You cannot have a confident faith if you bail out!
It’s in those moments when we are tempted to bail that abiding says, I will not give up, I will not quit, I will not bail out; I won’t just go through the motions or fade down the stretch. There is a kind of stubbornness to abiding. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:58, Be steadfast, unmoveable. Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. What is your immovability quotient?
Realize to, abiding will look different during the changing seasons of our lives. It will feel different on the mountain top than in the valley. Different seasons often call for a different approach to the disciplines and practices that develop our spiritual life. Reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, serving and giving are all good practices; they help us abide. But abiding cannot be defined in terms of particular practices.
Those practices may change as the seasons of life change; they are not an end in themselves but a means of helping us abide. So we must learn to adapt and to abide creatively.
Thirdly we must learn dependence; to gain a sense of our smallness in the light of God's greatness. When we are in seasons of spiritual dryness, when we are afraid, when there is nowhere else to turn, that’s the very time to learn we are utterly dependent upon God; in Him we find all that we need.
David would write in Psalm 25:1-2, In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3)
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8)
Finally, earn to rest in God’s love. Spiritually dry times are an incredible opportunity to experience the depth of God's love. When you are at the top of your game; when you are praying with great joy, delighting in the Word and experiencing the thrill of giving and serving, that is a wonderful experience.
But, when you come to God and you haven't prayed well or at all; when you haven't opened His Word; when you are weak and battered by temptation and rocked by doubts and confusion and fear, what do you then? What do you do when you’re feeling unloved and unlovable, wounded and broken?
It is in those moments, when Jesus says to you, ‘I love you; you are mine’ and He reminds you, You did not choose Me, but I chose you (John 15:16), that you begin to understand what it means to abide in Him. When you hear Him say to you, ‘haven’t you learned by now, you are the object of my undying affection’ and He holds out His hands and says to you, ‘I have you engraved in the palm of my hands’; what you do then? You rest in His love!
Be encouraged to know we worship and serve a God who wants to meet you wherever you are in your spiritual journey; on the mountain top or in the valley. He wants to lead you to green pastures and quiet waters; to bring rest to your soul.
The Psalmist says…He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1-2)
May we continually learn what it is to abide under the shadow of the Almighty; because the payoff is a confident faith that will carry you through the season of dryness, through the dark night of the soul and even through the valley of the shadow of death.