While meditating on John 15 at the Ontario Pastors’ Retreat this fall, Gen Epp contemplated new and better ways to make her heart a more habitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Then she heard Him say, “Abide in Me.” “But what does it mean to abide?” she thought for the umpteenth time. She had wrestled with this question before but the answer had been elusive. This time, a series of vivid word pictures dropped into her mind, with still more to follow days later. With them came her answer. Our thanks to Gen for sharing her story with us.
“Take care to live in me, and let me live in you. For a branch can’t produce fruit when severed from the vine. Nor can you be fruitful apart from me.” John 15:4 TLB
When I was a little girl, I asked Jesus to come and live in my heart. I wasn’t sure what that meant, except that I knew Jesus loved me and I wanted to be near Him. As I grew older, I experienced the Holy Spirit living in me and something in me came to life. Jesus lives in me.
He knocks on the door of our hearts and we let Him in. He makes us new creations, gives us new life. He fills us with His Spirit, transforms us into His image, renews us, and asks us to give our lives over to Him.
He is Emmanuel, God with us.
God moved in with us.
God abides with us.
It’s not surprising that the majority of my favourite spiritual practices reflected this truth of God’s coming to be with us. Often, I have meditated on Romans 12:2 which urges us to renovate our minds, renewing them in Christ and His Word. I have earnestly pictured the Holy Spirit drawing up blueprints for the home He is constructing within me. I have had conversations with Him about how much of the landscape of my heart I am willing to give over to His project. I have asked Him why He wants to knock things down to build something so much bigger and grander than what I have lived in and offered. He has answered and reminded me that the interior project He is working on is about creating a place fit for a King—a King that will love me as I am but desires to transform me into His likeness.
Yet, there have been deeply lonely times when I feel like Jesus does not answer or I cannot find Him. Those seasons have pushed me to wonder what it really means to “abide.”
Once, when I was a Family Pastor and in the midst of a despairing season, I preached a sermon on “abiding.” I had read about Hudson Taylor and his despair when he lost his child while serving Jesus in China. He insisted that abiding was his secret to persevering. So, I eagerly shared that we need to abide in order to be powerful Jesus followers. But how does one actually abide? I didn’t know, but I did have experience with Him living in me and contented myself with that.
When I came to the Pastors’ Retreat this fall and we meditated on John 15, my mind naturally turned to finding ways to allow Jesus to live in me, to make myself more habitable for Him, to keep up with Him as He produced fruit through me.
But that’s not what He was asking of me.
Abide in Me. Live in Me. Reside in Me. Make your home in Me.
My mind flooded with pictures—a moving van with all my favourite furniture. The worn plaid couches that were a wedding gift. The cozy blanket that I love curling up in on cold winter nights. The hand-me-down china teacups I only bring out for friends.
The van was backed up to a home clearly purchased with me in mind. Jesus, grinning from ear to ear, stood at the front door eager to move in the furniture. I ran past Him into the house, beyond excited to share this house, His house, with Him. Somehow, His house was my home; somehow He had shared it with me.
Together, we unpacked the silverware, sorting out which drawer made the most sense. We placed the kettle, anticipating that cup of tea. We moved the couch around the living room a thousand times and He just laughed every time I pushed it one inch to the left or right.
This is a cozy home, a place I feel safe. It belongs to Him.
Abide in Me.
I cherished this picture, storing it up in my heart. Shortly after the retreat ended, I was travelling. While I was still far from home I began to wrestle with anxiety, a kind I’ve never faced before. I felt completely and helplessly trapped. I was in a different country, trapped in a place that was not home. I was drowning in sadness and worry.
I took a moment to find a quiet place, and with my heart pounding in my ears, I called out to Jesus. “Help.” The answer came swiftly. “Abide in Me.”
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and asked, “Is there room for me?”
He answered, “Always. Where do you want to be right now?”
I teared up and said, “Hiding, under the covers, with you nearby.”
In an instant, I was opening that still new-to-me front door. Jesus took my hand and led me upstairs to my room, tucked me in and sat in a nearby chair, humming. I knew I was safe. I stayed under the covers in my mind for most of the day.
When I was calmer, I asked if we could have a cup of tea at the big old farm table in the kitchen. “Always. Shall we make it together?” came the reply.
I pictured standing with Jesus, shoulder to shoulder as we prepared the milk, sugar, tea and cups. And because I was with Him, I felt brave and I asked for a cookie. He smiled and we chatted long over the tea, dunking the cookies. I told Him about my worries, and He held my gaze gently. He reminded me that those worries don’t live here. They haven’t been invited. I am free here.
We retreated from the table to a fire, with books on the beat-up old couch I had brought. This is His home, but He welcomed me here as if it were my own.
The simple rhythm of finding myself living with Him, abiding in Him brings a peace that my own mind cannot find. This peace carries me through the tense moments, past anxiety.
On the road, the day still held uncertainty, and I wasn’t sure I could physically get home. But it didn’t really matter. I felt I had been given the answer to my years of questioning “how” to abide.
I wonder if abiding is knowing that there is a place that Jesus has prepared just for you. It’s a place where you can be safe with Him, a refuge, a cleft in the rock. It’s a home that is not tied to a building or land. It’s a collaborative space. You get to bring all of you.
What if we made abiding in Christ our daily habitation? What would that look like practically for you?
This kind of abiding is new for me to practice. I am aware of the sanctifying work of the Spirit within me, yet there is a place to find rest within the work, within Christ. This simultaneously rested and busy life captures the whole of us, carrying us through come what may.
“Abide in me, and I will abide in you.”
Genevieve Epp, St. Catharines, ON