A move from the big city to the small town changed him—over time. And it taught him something about how we become more like Christ.
I know a big-city kid who grew up in Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Omaha. The activity and opportunity afforded by such bustling municipalities were woven into the fabric of his being. So you may understand his uneasiness at the prospect of moving to rural northwest Missouri in an answer to God’s call five years ago.
But he packed his boxes and moved his family to a quaint community of 10,000. He was relieved, as he rolled into town, to see a Walmart and disappointed there was no Starbucks. The downtown square was charming, and he noticed a store with a sign that advertised “Big Bird’s Bait and Bows,” a massive pickup truck parked in front. He was disconcerted when he noticed everyone in town lifted two fingers off their steering wheel as they passed in a sort of lazy wave he later learned is called the “Northwest Missouri Two-Fingered Howdy.” He was in a foreign land.
But as God often does with discomfort, he taught this big-city kid a valuable lesson. The young man found himself being transformed by his new context. His decision to go there was intentional, as was his decision to stay there for a significant amount of time. As the years passed, the town and its inhabitants have changed him.
A similar transformation occurs when we intentionally place ourselves in the Word of God over the course of time. We find ourselves being conformed to God’s image. As the days become years, we find ourselves resembling him more and more.
Jesus calls this abiding.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus gives us six indicators of a true disciple. Here are the first five: hating our own life (Luke 14:26), bearing our cross (Luke 14:27), renouncing our stuff (Luke 14:33), loving one another (John 13:34, 35), and bearing much fruit (John 15:8).
The sixth indicator and the focus of this article is found in John 8:31: Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”1
Every Sunday, many Christians hear Jesus’ words. Throughout the week, some will even venture to read his words. But Christ bluntly states his true disciples are set apart from others in their desire to abide in his word.
But what does it mean to abide? In the New Testament, the word abide has three contexts: location, time, and condition. If we can understand these three uses, we can better understand Jesus’ desires for his true disciples.
Abiding in Location
When one abides in a certain location, one does not depart from it, but consistently remains in that spot. This act of abiding is intentional and regular. If we wish to abide in Christ’s words, we must deliberately and consistently place ourselves in our Bibles and expose ourselves to its teaching.
We must eat food to live. And our bodies are healthier if we eat consistent and nutritional meals. Aside from the spiritual discipline of fasting, starving our bodies for prolonged periods of time does great harm. That harm is magnified if, to compensate for our neglectful behavior, we binge eat to give our body what it craves. This is a dangerous and life-threatening cycle.
I see this dangerous practice at work in my life and the lives of Christians around me. We starve ourselves of the nourishment of God’s Word for six days, and then binge on it when the preacher force-feeds us on Sunday morning. And we wonder why our faith feels weak and lifeless.
Jesus’ idea of abiding wasn’t to binge, but consistently and intentionally to feast on his words. Do you feel like you don’t have time in your day? Consider that it takes approximately 70 hours and 40 minutes to read through the entire Bible at a normal reading speed. Over the course of one year you could read from Genesis to Revelation in about 15 minutes a day. According to the Nielsen ratings, the average American watches 306 minutes of television per day.2 We make time to feed our bellies and feed our eyes; surely we can make time to nourish our souls.
Abiding in Time
Another biblical use for the word abide refers to the passing of time. Abiding in this sense means to endure or continue for long periods. The root of the word abide is bide. To “bide your time” is to wait for something and implies a one-time event. However, when you add the a in front of bide, the word and its meaning transform to the continuous act of enduring or waiting.
Consider the word float. While the mighty steamship Titanic could float, its 2,228 passengers would have been vastly more pleased if the Titanic could have stayed afloat. Similarly, in my ministry with college students, I have noticed students often wake for an early morning class. However, it’s much more difficult for them to stay awake for the entirety of that class.
Jesus does not call us to simply bide our time in his Word until we find something better to do. To obey the call of true discipleship and abide in Jesus’ words, we must not only intentionally place ourselves in the Bible, but continuously remain there over the course of time.
We must develop the discipline of consistency. Choose a time and place for your reading. Prepare ahead for a distraction-free time with God. Put your phone and computer away and have your Bible, journal, pen, and cup of coffee handy. If you need direction, find a Bible reading plan. The Web site www.youversion.com offers several reading plans and will e-mail each day’s reading to you. The Web site will also e-mail another person if accountability is what you need.
Abiding in Condition
The final biblical use of the word abide is in reference to our state or condition. To abide in this manner means to remain as one or be in unity with Christ and his words. Jesus describes this state as a branch that remains connected to a vine. As long as the branch abides, the vine and the branch are unified and bear good fruit. However, apart from the vine the branch bears no fruit, withers, and is destroyed (see John 15:1-7).
This is, in my estimation, where the magic happens. If a branch intentionally abides on the vine over time, it will bear fruit. The same is true in our lives. If true disciples of Christ will abide in his words, we will see fruit born in what only comes from unity with Christ.
And this fruit is only the beginning. Jesus says of our prayer lives, “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). Furthermore, we see our love for Christ increase as we live in obedience to his words. Christ, in return, promises a reciprocal love and a revelation of himself. He says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).
Nobody Stumbles into Holiness
Abiding in Jesus’ words isn’t easy. As preacher Matt Chandler says, “Nobody stumbles into holiness. Ever.” However, if abiding in Jesus’ words were a simple mathematical equation, it would be this: Location + Time = Condition. If we will abide in Jesus’ words in reference to our location and time, we will see a transformation in our condition. We become like him in whose words we abide.
The big-city kid underwent a similar transformation. The combination of location and time in this small town changed him. He began to talk a little slower and to appreciate the labor of the local farmers. He grew to love the coffee served at the local greasy spoon café and even got to know Big Bird, the owner of the archery and bait store. And, most significantly, he fell in love with his small town.
So, if you ever make it to northwest Missouri, I’d be glad to introduce you to him. I know he’d be glad to make your acquaintance because, as you may have guessed, I am he. And after I greet you with the “Northwest Missouri Two-Fingered Howdy,” I’ll be happy to show you how it’s done.
1All Scripture is from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
Brandon Smith is campus minister at Christian Campus House at Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, Missouri.