Monday, October 18, 2010

Abide in Christ

I find myself with a little more time on my hands these days now that #2 is off to school. Odd, really. I never would've thought she took up that much of my time during her years of high school, but her absence is noticeable. So now it's just the younger two kids. They keep me busy, but for the first time in I can't say how long, I don't feel like a ping-pong ball.

I remember days before #3 and #4 came along that I ran a pretty organized little house. I made to-do lists every day, organized my shopping around a meal plan and put time into our dinners, cleaned semi-regularly, took pride in doing a scrupulous job with their school.

Then things began to ramp up. It got really chaotic there for awhile; to-do lists and meal plans were long forgotten. Total survival mode.

Now I'm back to just two kids to care for and to-do lists are slowly creeping back into the picture. But what has happened to me? I don't want to plan meals and cook and clean. I've gotten a little spoiled with all the running around I've done over the years. Being a ping-pong ball is a lot more fun than cleaning and cooking, that's one thing. In my heart I'm resisting the discipline of it, the plain, tedious, never-ending, repetitiveness and thanklessness of it all. 

When the kids were little, there were lots of hugs and kisses and giggles and surprises to go along with all the work; I was the center of their universe, and they were the center of mine. Now it's just work, with two teenagers and a husband.

On the upside, however, I have more time to be deliberate in my walk with the Lord, and I've come to be impressed yet again with my need to ABIDE in CHRIST. Andrew Murray, through his book by that name, has come to be my best friend. No kidding, and I'm not the weepy type, but more than once I've melted into tears as I've read his book in the morning. Morning after morning, it's like Andrew Murray himself has been privy to the private musings of my heart, and through his book he whispers into my ear strength and encouragement to keep on keeping on in my quest to abide in Christ. 

Of course I know in reality it's the Lord Himself who has been privy to the private musings of my heart, and uses A.M.'s book to point me in the right direction and correct my faulty thinking.
It has been a thrilling journey so far, and I feel like I've barely crossed the starting line. But I'll tell you right now, it has completely decimated any idea I ever had that I love God. Very sobering, this is. 

It's never easier to imagine that you love God than when you're too busy to pay any attention to your thoughts or affections. You just whirl through your day like you're the ball on the end of a string being swung over a little boy's head, collapse into bed at the end of the day and wake up the next morning only to start spinning again. Slow down for a few weeks and I challenge you to look at what's growing inside your heart. I won't speak for you, but I know I've got a regular garden of stink growing there. The flowers look bad, smell bad, have deep roots and poisonous fruit.

One answer to that is to just keep spinning. Don't stop to look! And if life does slow down on you like it has for me, by all means, keep the radio or TV on to block out any internal rumblings! Put that iPod into your ears and join more committees, for heaven's sake! Prayer groups, Bible studies, the PTA, it's all good.

Honestly, and sadly, I do know that some Christians would advocate that path. They say, "Why should I introspect? I know that everything in me is bad, and Christ has died for all that sin. So let's ignore all the yuck and just get on with the work of the Kingdom." Sorry, but the stink does manage to permeate all the layers of nice clothes and make-up. Besides, only as we're connected to the Vine are we fruitful. And our desire is to be fruitful, right?

I want to be fruitful. And I also want to know Him. Do you mind if I wax romantic here for a moment? I want to feel His breath on my face, smell its sweetness, and see the love in His eyes as they look into mine. I know He loves me, but I want to experience it. I want my whole being to be consumed with His presence, and I want my every motivation to spring from undistracted devotion to Him.

I understand the danger of unchecked introspection, because there is no healing for sin within myself. No point in dwelling on it and self-flagellating, but there is also great danger in throwing a blanket over it and pretending it isn't there. There is only one thing to do for it, and it is very important that it be done: I must humbly present the sludge of my soul to Him, and say, Lord, please help! I cannot even conjure up a desire to repent from the sin on my own! Even that comes from Him.

So, Andrew Murray has helped me. As I walk this path and every day through his book he has an answer to the trouble of the day before, I know he walked this path before me and he arrived at the place I want to be. I don't say he "achieved" it because Jesus did all the achieving for us; I say he "obtained" it: he reached out and successfully took hold of the same thing I want. He was a person with a sickly soul just like mine, and he found Christ to be true, not just by faith, but by faith and experience.

Over the years I have agonized over many books with this same message of abiding in Christ, of experiencing the joy of walking more closely with Him. It was only a few weeks ago though, that I was rereading a book called They Found the Secret, by V. Raymond Edman, and stumbled upon this passage in the chapter about Andrew Murray. (p. 115-116) 

"Though all around thought me one of the most earnest of men, my life was one of deep dissatisfaction. I struggled and prayed as best I could. … One day I was talking to a missionary…he said, 'Brother, remember that when God puts a desire into your heart, He will fulfill it.' That helped me; I thought of it a hundred times. I want to say the same to you, who are plunging about and struggling in the quagmire of helplessness and doubt. The desire that God puts into your heart He will fulfill. … I have learned to place myself before God every day as a vessel to be filled with His Holy Spirit. He has filled me with His blessed assurance that He, as the everlasting God, has guaranteed his work in me. … With the deepest feeling of my soul I can say that I am satisfied with Jesus now..."

Andrew Murray's words were a salve to my anguished soul that day. The book, They Found the Secret, is a compilation of the spectacular encounters with the Holy Spirit of many Christian giants, like John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor and more. It's a bit of a double-edged sword. They confirmed what I suspected, that my life with Jesus could be more than it was, but it also set up the (quasi-) expectation that I could have an encounter like that, or that an encounter like that necessarily preceded a deeper walk with Christ. 

But Andrew Murray's experience was not spectacular; it was a story of daily presenting himself before God, and seeking moment by moment to be conscious of His presence and to be pleasing to Him. And yet, as his book, Abiding in Christ, has helped me understand, it's not my effort to obey that will draw me into closer fellowship; somehow it's about focusing my thoughts and affections on Him moment by moment, and giving my consent for the Holy Spirit to do His work in my life. What He has begun, He will bring to perfection. He doesn't need my effort as much as my consent, my submission. A concentrated focus on Him and letting go of myself at the same time.

Here are a few excerpts from Abide in Christ that have encouraged me in the past few weeks. They barely scratch the surface of the wealth in the book, of course! But it's a taste anyway.

(p. 31) First fix your eyes on that for which He has apprehended you. It is nothing less than a life of abiding, unbroken fellowship with Himself to which He is seeking to lift you up. All that you have already received – pardon and peace, the Spirit and His grace – are but preliminary to this. And all that you see promised to you in the future – holiness and fruitfulness and glory everlasting – are but its natural outcome. Union with Himself, and so with the Father, is His highest object. Fix your eyes on this, and gaze until it stands out clear and unmistakable: Christ's aim is to have me abiding in Him.

(p. 32) I dare not speak to you about abiding in Him for the mere sake of calling forth a pleasing religious sentiment. God's truth must at once be acted on. Oh, yield yourself this very day to the blessed Savior in the surrender of the one thing He asks of you: give up yourself to abide in Him. He Himself will work it in you. You can trust Him to keep you trusting and abiding.

(p. 44) And if you ask exactly what it is that you now have to believe so that you may abide in Him, the answer is not difficult. Believe first of all what He said: I am the vine. (John 15:5) The safety and the fruitfulness of the branch depend on the strength of the vine. Do not think so much of yourself as a branch, nor of the abiding as your duty, until you have first had your soul filled with the faith of what Christ as the Vine is. He really will be to you all that a vine can be – holding you fast, nourishing you, and making Himself every moment responsible for your growth and your fruit. … Ask the Father by the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what a glorious, loving, mighty Christ this is, in whom you have your place and your life; it is the faith in what Christ is, more than anything else, that will keep you abiding in Him. A soul filled with large thoughts of the Vine will be astrong branch and will abide confidently in Him. Be much occupied with Jesus, and believe much in Him as the true Vine.

(p. 45) And then, when faith can well say, "He is my Vine," let it further say, "I am His branch; I am in Him." I speak to those who say they are Christ's disciples, and on them, I cannot too earnestly press the importance of exercising their faith in saying, "I am in Him." It makes the abiding so simple. If I realize clearly as I meditate that now I am in Him, I see at once that there is nothing lacking except just my consent to be what He has made me, to remain where He has placed me. I am in Christ.

(p. 114) Let each day have its value from your calling to abide in Christ. As its light opens on your waking eyes, accept it on these terms: a day, just one day only but still a day, given to abide and grow up in Jesus Christ. Whether it be a day of health of sickness, joy or sorrow, rest or work, struggle or victory, let the chief thought with which you receive it in the morning thanksgiving be this: "This is a day that the Father has given; in it I may, I must, become more closely united to Jesus." As the Father asks, "Can you trust Me just for this one day to keep you abiding in Jesus, and Jesus to keep you fruitful?" you cannot help but give the joyful response: "I will trust and not be afraid."

(p. 121) Believer, when striving to find the way to abide in Christ from moment to moment, remember that the gateway is to abide in Him at this present moment. Instead of wasting effort in trying to get into a state that will last, just remember that it is Christ Himself, the living, loving Lord, who alone can keep you and is waiting to do so. Begin at once, and act by faith in Him for the present moment: this is the only way to be kept the next. To attain the life of permanent and perfect abiding is not ordinarily given at once as a possession for the future; it comes mostly step by step. Avail yourself, therefore, of every opportunity of exercising the trust of the present moment.

I am greatly encouraged by Andrew Murray's words. But you see why I say that I have come to know how little I love Christ. You start paying attention, and you too might discover many moments in the day that you don't especially want to focus your attentions on Him. For me it's toward the end of the day when I want to chill, just decompress from the day's exigencies. I do not want to think about what He wants – only what I want! I want to eat (lots), watch TV, play computer games, just "turn off" for awhile. Or sometimes I get my mind set on about 8000 calories of pizza and ginger cookies, and I don't want to think about Him then either.

But I am upheld by the knowledge that He loves me. My fellowship with Him is grounded in His love for me, not my love for Him, so I will not despair. And He will bring to completion the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6). Besides, it was His effort that saved me in the first place; will it be my effort now that allows me to grow in Him? Not likely. (Galatians 3:3-4)

So every day I will present my garden of stink to Him, the Master Gardener. I will open the gate, walk Him through it, and ask Him to clean it up. And then I will turn from the sin, lock my eyes with His, and abide in Him.

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