Follow Me: “Abide in My Word”

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“Abide in My Word”

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A young man asked an old minister to baptize him. “Sure, son,” the minister replied. “Follow me down to the river.” Wading in together, the minister asked, “Are you ready?” The young man said, “Absolutely!” Suddenly, the minister thrust him under the water and held him there. He was finally pulled up. “What was that about?” asked the exasperated young man. “That’s your first lesson,” responded the minister. “When you want to experience God as much as you want to breathe, it’s only then that I can be your guide. Come back then, and we’ll have another lesson.”

Desiring to truly experience God is more than a cute line in a story, of course. It’s something we face every day. To experience God we have to spend time, lots of time, with His personal self-disclosure to us—the Bible, the Word of God. And we will only spend that time when we realize how precious it truly is—valuing it as what our very life depends on!

Let’s be frank. You all make time for what you value most. If it’s important to you, you’ll find time to do it.

Jesus made this connection plain, stating, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (John 8:31 John 8:31Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed;
American King James Version×
). The word translated “abide” here means to remain, continue or dwell. So Jesus describes His followers as those who live in His Word. This is vital to responding to Jesus’ admonition, “Follow Me.” Increasingly sucked into a culture of 24/7 distraction, we must strive to stay connected with God.

Understanding the challenge today

Let’s be honest about the pressures of society and, yes, our addictions to its siren’s call. Today’s culture is incredibly demanding as knowledge expands and attention spans shrink. Today, we’re encountering more people knocking daily on the doors of our mind than our forefathers ever experienced. It’s doing something to us. It’s creating a dependency culture that permeates our existence.

The author of a recent book provides this illustration: “Several years ago I was in an intense meeting requiring no interruption. As we were getting started the leader asked us all to turn off our mobile phones. We all complied except for one individual. She began to gently protest that she needed the phone on but would keep it on vibrate. An interesting power struggle ensued.

“As we all watched with growing interest, the leader insisted that she turn it off. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ she pleaded, her eyes nervous and searching. ‘I always have it on; please, just let me put it on vibrate.’ The passion and panic in her voice was startling. You would have thought he had asked her to disown her firstborn . . . She was completely flustered at the thought of being unconnected” (Jim Mindling, Learn to Breathe, 2013, p. 80).

Again, let’s be real: Setting and maintaining quality time to breathe in of God’s Word is a struggle in a world that never stops coming at us, demanding our time. And yet—to experience God like the old minister told the young man—we must!

The current 24/7 cultural climate provides an incredible opposite correlation to our need to create a 24/7 connection with God that’s never broken—never turned off! This connection with God is always essential, no matter what room of life we’re in at the moment. What God desires from us is trading one 24/7 existence for another!

Understanding the challenge today

We can’t truly experience God without remaining connected to His Word. And we won’t remain connected without keeping in mind that our life depends on it. This will bring the deep yearning expressed in Psalms 42:1-2 Psalms 42:1-2 [1] As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God. [2] My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
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: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Think of the semi-arid climate of the Middle East where this was written. Water is everything! It’s life! So are the words of the Bible. Jesus said in John 6:63 John 6:63It is the spirit that vivifies; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.
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, “The words I speak to you are Spirit, and they are life.”

We know this intellectually, and we may have every good intention of connecting with God in such a 24/7 manner, but we keep putting it off until it’s convenient. The simple truth, though, is that it’s never humanly convenient. Knowing something is needed and actually doing what’s needed are two different worlds with two different outcomes. The Bible never opened might as well be the Bible discarded, for the intimacy God wants with you can’t begin either way.

You may be familiar with Christ’s messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3. They offer approval in some regards but register concern in others, then prompting toward what God desires.

Consider whether Jesus might say something like this to Christians today: “To the elect of God in Christ in the 21st century: These things says He who is holy: I know your works. You say you know Me, even as the world around you increasingly denies Me. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You say you love Me but avoid drinking in My words of life, as if you have life within yourself and have no need of further intimacy with Me. Even so, open up your hearts to My words, and I will be your God, and you will be My people.”

If the shoe fits, how do we begin to heed Christ’s call of “Follow Me” and trade our current 24/7 world for His? Jesus pointed to the how in stating, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40 Luke 6:40The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
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). Truly following Christ means becoming like Him. So how do we do that?

Making Scripture your first language

The Gospels show that Scripture was Jesus’ “first language,” as He constantly quoted or alluded to it. When He taught or conversed with people, it saturated His existence. He rarely faced a challenge in which He didn’t answer with Scripture.

How often did He say things like “It is written” or “Haven’t you read the Scripture”? (See Matthew 4:4-10 Matthew 4:4-10 [4] But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. [5] Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple, [6] And said to him, If you be the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone. [7] Jesus said to him, It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God. [8] Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; [9] And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me. [10] Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
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; Matthew 12:3-5 Matthew 12:3-5 [3] But he said to them, Have you not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; [4] How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the show bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? [5] Or have you not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?
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; Matthew 19:4 Matthew 19:4And he answered and said to them, Have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
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; Matthew 22:31 Matthew 22:31But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying,
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; Mark 12:10 Mark 12:10And have you not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:
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; Mark 12:26 Mark 12:26And as touching the dead, that they rise: have you not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
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.) This was His life. He emphatically tells us, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
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). This was itself a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:3And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
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. (And compare Job 23:12 Job 23:12Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
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: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”)

The words of Jesus’ “first language” were His last words as a human being when He stated on Golgotha, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46 Luke 23:46And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
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; see Psalms 31:5 Psalms 31:5Into your hand I commit my spirit: you have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
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).

We truly have a unique challenge in finding time to imbibe of God’s words due to the velocity of the world around us. The pace in biblical times was much slower. Yet there were still distractions. Jesus warned of the cares of this world choking out God’s Word (Matthew 13:22 Matthew 13:22He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.
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).

And His prescription was the same then as now—slow down and put first things first: “Don’t worry about your life . . . Look at the birds . . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow . . . How God clothes the grass of the field . . . Therefore do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ . . . or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:25-33 Matthew 6:25-33 [25] Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? [26] Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? [27] Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? [28] And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: [29] And yet I say to you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30] Why, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? [32] (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. [33] But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
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).

Abiding in the vine

Jesus spoke of the intimate, 24/7-connected relationship God seeks with us by comparison with a grapevine. He said in John 15:1-8 John 15:1-8 [1] I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. [2] Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. [3] Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. [5] I am the vine, you are the branches: He that stays in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. [6] If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you. [8] Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples.
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that if grapes are to be produced by any given branch, that branch must be directly connected to the life-giving vine. It’s a fascinating analogy in which the word abide (again, remain or dwell) is used eight times. Any branch that’s not fully connected to a vine may produce leaves but not fruit, and it’s ultimately pruned and cast away.

Jesus concludes: “If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples” (John 15:7-8 John 15:7-8 [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you. [8] Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples.
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).

Here Christ colorfully depicts Himself as the life-giving vine into which we must remain plugged (the life-giving Spirit of 1 Corinthians 15:45 1 Corinthians 15:45And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
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) so that God, the master harvester, might reap fruit. Can you imagine never recharging your smartphone and expecting ongoing results in mankind’s 24/7 world? God’s way also follows cause and effect. And He does have expectations of us! He doesn’t desire mere “leafy” Christians, but those who bear fruit to His glory, that our lives might be enriched now.

Staying connected

The element in Christ’s vine analogy of remaining in Him as we remain in His words leads us back once more to His previous statement in John 8 with surrounding text: “Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide [continue, dwell,  live] in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31-32 John 8:31-32 [31] Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; [32] And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
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).

Discipleship begins by believing. Believing what? That there’s a loving Creator with an awesome plan for your life and all humanity. That He has your best interest at heart and has given you a divine GPS navigator called the Bible to guide you from being “a bag of dust on two legs” to ultimately sharing worthwhile spiritual eternity with Him. This connective device becomes so valuable to you that you rely on it in staying informed and formulating every decision set before you in a new 24/7 existence—one based on the words of life.

The term “disciple” is translated from the Greek word mathetes, meaning learner. It entails a progressive existence, ever learning by staying connected to the teachings of the lifeline God has given us unto eternity. When our Bibles remain closed, it’s a telltale sign of the death of true discipleship and disregarding the call of “Follow Me.”

But, but, but!

In reading this you may be saying: “That’s me. I do desire to be a disciple, but all ‘the buts’ keep getting in the way!” Okay. We’ve all been there. But why do we allow the urgent to crowd out the important? You say, “I don’t have the time.” But the reality is, you don’t have time not to! Let’s be frank. You make time for what you value most. If it’s important to you, you’ll find time to do it or stop everything and make it happen.

In so doing, watch how God goes to work when you’ve made the determination to dwell in His Word—somehow expanding time that humanly seems nonexistent. Claim the promise of God that says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 Isaiah 55:11So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
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).

There’s no time like now to connect to God and enter His 24/7 world, responding to Christ’s invitation of “Follow Me” by abiding in His Word!

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