Abiding in Jesus
What image best captures your understanding of your nearness to God the Father?
For me, I see my husband holding hands with our six year-old girl in the warmth of the sun, walking down the street. She plays with her shadow, dancing and making it bend and tip from side to side. When she notices my husband’s shadow, she exclaims, “Daddy, your shadow is SO much bigger than mine!” He tells her to step in front of him to see how her shadow can hide entirely within his own. “If you are ever afraid”, he says, “you can stand in my shadow for protection.”
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2)
What a perfect picture of God’s fatherly nearness! Do we not long to hide our own shadow in the shelter of his, allowing his protection to be our rest? Maybe we’re hiding from the schemes of others, or maybe we’re seeking protection from our own thoughts, emotions and self-made circumstances. He still always extends his shadow of protection. This Psalm reminds us of our deep call to stay close to the Father.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak at a women’s retreat about “living a joy-filled life in the midst of unmet expectations.” Before setting out to teach, I felt pretty good about this area of life. Once you sign up to teach others, though, all those areas got tested to the full! This opportunity turned out to be an invitation for me to see how much I really believed. I’d like to share with you what I discovered for myself.
A joy-filled life has everything to do with proximity to the Father.
My level of joy in difficult circumstances is directly connected with how close I feel to God in the everyday. But a desire for God’s nearness is not something that comes naturally to us as believers. We must choose to dwell in the shadow of the Almighty—to step closer rather than farther away—not only when we face danger, sorrow, and trouble, but also when it seems as though we’ve got it all figured out. He calls us to abide with Him everyday, not just in times of trouble.
In The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon could not state the call of Psalm 91 more beautifully. “The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks toward the inner sanctuary and the mercy seat, yet all do not dwell in the Most Holy Place: they run to it at times and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence.”
My hope is that Citizens’ members would increasingly long to dwell in the inner sanctuary and at the mercy seat, day-in and day-out, not just when trouble comes. I truly believe that times of trouble are when and where we experience His deep scandalous grace most—when we have come to the absolute end of ourselves. But because we already know Him in the day-to-day, his comfort is much deeper and richer.
It is because my daughter finds joy in her daddy’s big shadow while walking down the street that she is able to find comfort in times of darkness. When she hears scary sounds in her room at night, she quickly climbs in his arms, feeling that much more safe and secure because she already knows the power and consistency of his love.
Pursuing God’s Nearness
So how do we do this? That is always the question in the Christian life, right? The nearness of God is not a stagnant experience but an active, participatory, leaning-in to our relationship with the Father. In light of Psalm 91, here are three things to consider:
1. Be secure in your salvation
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High…”
Because of Christ, we already dwell in God’s shelter and he in us. Ephesians 2:13-22 tells us that we are God’s dwelling place; there is no more sacrificial system, only the redeeming blood of Christ. What an amazing picture of the assurance of our salvation in Christ! God has taken up residence in us. We are secure! Do you regularly spend time dwelling on this secure salvation and what it means to continue working it out?
2. Be in the word
“…will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
What does it mean for us to abide in God? To understand abiding, there is no better place to turn than John 15:5, where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Three things are implied in this passage: connection, dependence, and continuance. Don’t think of these as three successive steps, but as three interwoven aspects of abiding.
Connection is a mutual union. We abide in him and he abides in us. If there is no connection, there is no life and no fruit.
Through dependance the branch derives its life and power from the vine. Without the vine, the branch is useless, lifeless, and powerless.
Continuance means that we go on trusting, keep depending, and never stop believing. To abide in Jesus is to persevere in Jesus and his teaching.
How do we experience this connection, dependence, and continuance with Jesus? We must spend time in the word. Not just glancing at a few verses but diving into studying it. To truly dwell and know God is to know His word. There is no book, or podcast, or conversation with a friend that replaces knowing His word intimately.
If I know God’s Word intimately, then when life has crashed down all around me and I’m in a fortress of mud looking for comfort, I can turn my eyes to the cross. I will allow the agony my Jesus faced remind me how He does understand my pain. He does stand in the gap. The Spirit does groan on my behalf. His shadow is big and mighty and I can hide in it with great comfort knowing He will not leave or forsake me.
Do you know Him? Do you have an intimate relationship with Jesus where you hear His voice so that you dwell with him and abide in the vine? Do you trust that He is for you?
3. Cry out for healing
“…I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust”
Knowing your salvation and abiding in God’s Word does not mean we will not ask for help. On the contrary, as we abide, we will cry out to God more help. Often, this cry should lead us to seek help outside ourselves.
We all have stories that are broken, where things in our souls are not the way they are supposed to be. For these places, many of us need to seek counseling and other helps. I love helping people find good, biblically-based counselors. These can be such wonderful resources which help us process the ways in which this world has warred against us.
It’s hard work to see a counselor and pursue healing, but your relationships will thrive because of it. Your family will grow as you continue to grow in wholeness. Your church will benefit as more of your God-given talents are freed up to give away.
Jesus wants to be our healing refuge, a shadow where we can hide.
When everything has crashed down and we are in the mud looking for a fortress, a place of safety and rest, we can turn our eyes to the cross. We can allow the agony Jesus faced to remind us that He understands our pain. He stands in the gap. The Spirit groan’s on our behalf, longing with us for the end to our pain. While we wait, God’s shadow is big and mighty and we can hide there, knowing He will never leave or forsake us.
Do you know Him? Do you have an intimate relationship with Jesus, where your shadow gets lost in his? If not, He is longing for you to experience that type of nearness to Him.