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Abiding and Abounding

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Hello SUMite friends, Ian from Down Under here.

I keep bumping into a recurring theme of how to do this Christian life well. I’ve probably made reference to it in previous posts. It has two elements to it, and different people use different terms to describe these elements. A nun I listened to a few years back described a typical day as consisting of time for ‘contemplation’ and then time for ‘action’ ending the day with more of the former. 

Interestingly, if you studied a typical day Jesus lived we would probably find that’s how His day would be broken into. What’s critical is that a good life includes both elements.

Recently I came across an alternative description: ‘abiding’ and ‘abounding’ which are taken from two key New Testament verses: 

John 15:4 (NRSV) – Jesus says, Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NKJV) – Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

I think we all broadly understand the notion of abiding, of staying close to Jesus. The notion of abounding similarly is relatively straight forward, of doing the work of the Lord. One might suggest it’s hard to do the latter without the former but I think we all know from experience it’s often easier to do the ‘doing’ without spending any time ‘being’.

Tension Between the Two 

John Ortberg who was the one that brought this new moniker to my attention reflected on the tension between the two. It was a fact of life and we even see evidence of it in Jesus’ life when He was torn between doing more or spending time in quiet contemplation with the Father. 

We’re often implored to have ‘balance’ in life, aren’t we? Sometimes we’re even made to feel bad because life is nowhere near being balanced. Right? But I’ve been thinking that life is more about ‘seasons’. There will be ‘seasons’ when we do more of something and other ‘seasons’ when we do more of something else. Think of those weeks and months after having a baby, for example. Or those times when we had major projects to complete or exams to study for. Trying to achieve any semblance of ‘balance’ is simply not possible and why overlay ourselves with additional burden of feeling guilty about being imbalanced.

Yes, the Sabbath is very important to God and so it should be to us to. By that I mean doing it not just believing in it. So we should seek to incorporate regular times of rest in our schedules.

“Anyone seeking to have a long obedience in the same direction needs a regular rhythm of stopping.” (Rich Villodas)

Realistically there are likely to be seasons when we abide more and other seasons when we abound more. But remember there is always going to be a tension between the two and that’s okay. That’s normal. 

Systems

What I particularly appreciated in Ortberg’s outline was the importance of implementing systems in our lives to both ‘abide’ and ‘abound’.  Many of us will be more naturally inclined to do one or the other but a ‘system’ will help create healthy habits to implement the one we’re less inclined to do. 

I’m actually more inclined to spend time ‘abiding’ but am learning how to be more ‘active’ in doing the work of the Lord. BTW, I don’t think this necessarily means we need to be adding more things to our already busy schedules rather taking advantage of opportunities around us to “love in action”. Always remember the families we love are our closest “neighbors” when reflecting upon “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.” It’s easy to forget that. Our homes are where we can actively demonstrate "love in action". 

A critical aspect to abiding is to get away from the noise within our individual worlds. That enables us to hear God. A healthy habit or discipline that enables us to disrupt all the stuff running through our minds is a positive thing.

“Uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing.” (Eugene Peterson)

I walk Beanie, one of our dogs every morning and night. It’s a wonderful time for me to ‘withdraw’ and free my mind. Interestingly, in the afternoon or night it can be the most productive time for me to get new inspiration for story ideas or for work. And that’s because I’ve switched my mind off from all the other stuff and simply focused on the one thing. 

In the morning though I try to start by looking up at the sky and praising the Lord for the day. Most days it’s sunny where I am so the morning sunshine is an easy thing to praise God for. Then I will pray Psalm 23 and meditate on each line. It’s a really soothing Psalm and so powerful in drawing us close to the Lord, our Shepherd. More often than not this will lead me to start praying for people or things in my life that I sense the Lord has put on my heart. It’s quote normal for me to start conversing with the Lord where we chat. About all sorts of things. I love these times.

But what we’re trying to do is give ourselves the opportunity to hear from God.

Similarly, with abiding we need to implement a system or discipline that help us to “abound in the work of the Lord”. I’ve already gone on too long so I might leave discussion of what this looks like for next time.

Where do you find the most tension between abiding and abounding (or contemplation vs action)? How do you go about creating some space to abide with the Lord during your day?

Blessings, my friends.

*****

Share your voice, heart and love in the comments. 

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