top of page

Abiding for Spiritual Life

00:00 / 21:51

28 Apr 2024

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

Abide in Me

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Introduction – The Vine and the Branches

-       Christ tells us that he is the true vine, his Father is the vinedresser, and we are the branches.

-       Consider the image: the vine is the source of the life of the branches. If branches are not connected to the vine, they wither up and die.

-       Relationship of Christians to Christ like that. Unless we are connected to Christ, we will die spiritually. We will not have a supernatural life.

-       We may have a natural life, sustained by food, sleep, and sunlight. But do we have a spiritual and supernatural life?

-       How do we connect ourselves to Christ? Abide in him.

-       ‘Abiding’ rare word in modern day. Not waiting, sticking around, remaining, but implies quality of presence.

-       Whether or not we abide in Christ will make every difference.

The Withered Soul

Consider, first, the withered soul

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are thrown into the fire and burned.” John 15:6

-       Several things about the soul not abiding:

o   Does not bear fruit.

o   Is thrown away, withers, and is burned (John 15:6)

o   Withered soul: dry, thirsty, shrivelled.

-       Clearly want to avoid this, so want to abide. But abiding involves focus, time, and presence.

-       There have always been diabolical schemes to mitigate against this, but we live in a particularly challenging time.

-       Words of Screwtape more relevant than ever:

‘Music and silence — how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell — though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express — no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise — Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile — Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.’

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, XII

Presence and Focus – “Stolen” by iPhones, social media, Netflix etc. All designed to distract. Internet a ‘distraction machine’. Limit the attention-span. Serious problem because pre-requisite to spiritual life is attention.

Time – Rush, hurry, busyness ubiquitous. John Maynard Keynes (100 years ago): my grandchildren will work 15 hours a week. They are not. Technology alleviates some work but creates infinite options for consumption and labour. Has become a slave-driver rather than a servant.

Problem of ‘Instrumentalism’:

Iain McGilchrist speaks of ‘left-brained’ thinking – utilitarian approach, everything for something else, nothing valuable for its own sake, nothing to be abided with for any length of time: art, music, friends, family, God.

Therefore, ‘right brains’ are inactive – creativity stifled, souls ‘cramped’, sense that the world is small, narrow, imagination limited, ability to perceive and feel meaning limited.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The Fruitful Soul

Christ offers us something very different. A truly human existence.

The one who abides in Jesus and in whom Jesus’ words abide:

-       Bears much fruit (John 15:5)

-       Prays and is answered by God (John 15:7)

-       Glorifies the Father and proves to be Christ’s disciple (John 15:8).

All good. How to abide? Nothing revolutionary:

-       Abide in Christ’s words.

-       Abide in prayer.

-       Abide in life of the Church, especially in sacrament of Holy Communion.

But all possible to engage in without truly abiding. Body present but mind absent. Both must be present to abide.

Three suggestions to practice: Slow down and take the time. Focus. Be present.

Firstly, though, recognise that Christ is already present, that God’s grace abides, that we come to him not in order to prove ourselves worthy or to put God in our debt, but as a response to what he has already done and is already doing for us.

1)    Slow down and take the time.

Time often seen as a commodity. ‘Time is money’.

Instead, imagine time as a gift of God’s grace: the time he has given you to know him and to carry out his work in the world.

Spiritual life also involves timelessness, loss of awareness of time in God’s presence.

Models of ‘abiding in timelessness’:

Young children – No conception of time at all until five or six years old. Friends and lovers – Time is forgotten in presence of those we love.

Paradox – Sufficient time must be set aside to achieve timeless feeling. Otherwise rushing and hurry set in.

First step to abiding: Slow down. Take the time.

2)    Focus

Prayer impossible when distracted. Put aside anything that would fragment your attention. This is why early morning so good for abiding.

Do not connect your phone to the internet or open your laptop first thing in the morning or during times of prayer.

Learn to banish distracting thoughts: I must do this or that. Imagine them like paper boats placed gently on a river.

Second step to abiding: Focus.

3)    Be present.

Abiding means ‘non-instrumental’ presence: ie there not for another purpose. Not a business meeting. Not there simply to tick prayer off the list. There to rest in God. To find your joy in him. Transcendental end.

Third step to abiding: Be present.

Slow down and take the time. Focus. Be present.

Finally, a paradox…

Abiding in Christ recommended for its own sake. Why does Christ say certain things will happen if you abide? Ie you will bear much fruit, pray and be heard etc.

My answer: when we abide in Christ for the sake of knowing him it inevitably follows that we bear fruit in the spiritual life: Sense of Christ’s joy in our lives. Sense of God’s presence in the world. Alignment with the will of God in prayer so that what we ask he will grant to us.

We bear fruit because we love him. And we love him because we know his presence.

Friends, seek to abide in Christ. Seek his presence and his love. And you will not be able to help but bear spiritual fruit in your life.


bottom of page