There are a few definitions suggested for the word “abide” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It lists “to wait for,” “to endure without yielding,” “to bear patiently,” “to accept without objection,” “to remain stable or fixed in a state,” and “to continue in a place.” The word “abide” appears in our Gospel reading from this Sunday. Jesus is speaking in John 15:4; he says: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” So what does abide mean in this passage?
I believe the closest definition is “to accept without objection.” After all, we are part of the vine, Jesus, because he saved us from our sins. This is not our doing, but his. The best we can do is not to object! And when we do this – when we abide in him, accepting his will for our lives without objection – great things can happen. They usually aren’t what we expect, but they are still great.
Take Philip, for instance. We see Philip at the beginning of Acts 8. He went into the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Gospel to the people there. “Unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city” (verses 7-8). If I were writing the story, Philip would have stayed in that Samarian city and set up shop. It seemed like he was abiding, after all. He accepted that God sent him to this city, and he was following instructions accordingly.
But God was writing the story, and he sent Philip elsewhere before chapter 8 was up. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went” (verses 26-27). Philip didn’t object. He simply accepted the instruction and obeyed. I can imagine Philip was a little apprehensive, but he rose and went – it was as simple as that.
God is also writing our story. He has a plan for us, and it begins with our abiding in him. Will we accept his will for our lives without objection? Will we accept that his will usually doesn’t align with ours? It can be difficult, but the good news is that it’s not about us. It’s not our doing, but his. With his help, with his enabling, we can abide in him and his will for us. We can rise and go with Philip.