Today I want to try to help us experience prayer as the vocalization of abiding in Christ. When I speak of prayer vocalizing the experience of abiding in Christ, I have in mind three ways prayer vocalizes abiding.
First, there is the vocalization of our need and our desire to be attached to Christ, like a branch to a vine. I have in mind that first cry when God saved us by putting a taste for his life-giving, love-giving, joy-giving sap on the tongue of our souls so that we cried out, “Yes, Lord, yes. I want this! Make me yours. Fasten me to yourself, branch to vine, forever.”
And I also have in mind the recurring cry, when we feel like our branch is withering, that says, “Hold on to me. Keep me in the vine. Don’t let me go. Be my life. If there’s a disease in me, disenchanting me with the all-satisfying sap of yourself, then heal me, prune me, and cause your life to surge in me again.”
That’s the first way that prayer vocalizes abiding in Christ: it is both the first cry to become attached to the vine and the recurring cry to remain attached to the vine.
Second, there is the daily vocalization of our thankful, happy, desperate dependence — moment by moment — on his ever-flowing sap of life. This isn’t the desperate cry of, “Keep me!” This is the happy, thankful, expression of confident trust.
When I dropped my wife Noël off at the airport yesterday at seven o’clock in the morning, as she was on her way to her mother’s one-hundredth birthday, I pulled up by the Delta drop-off, took her hand, and prayed, “Father, Noël and I are so thankful to be your adopted children, with every amazing thing that this implies. We receive right now the promise that we can cast all our anxieties on you, because you care for us (1 Peter 5:7). We rest, we revel, in your care. We love being branches in the vine. Meet every need as Noël travels and as I go home to prepare tomorrow’s message. In Jesus’s name. Amen.”
That’s the second way that prayer vocalizes abiding in Christ: expressing thankful, happy, desperate, confident dependence — moment by moment — on Christ’s life-giving, love-giving, joy-giving sap.
Third, there is the vocalization of our longing that Christ’s life and love and joy would flow through us into living fruit — the longing that this fruit would course with the same life and love and joy that we have by abiding in Christ.
“God saved us by putting a taste for his life-giving, love-giving, joy-giving sap on the tongue of our souls.”
So when I got home from the airport, I got down on my knees in my study and said, “Father, would you help me now prepare a message for chapel tomorrow that would bear much fruit? Would you grant that all the life and love and joy of Christ that I have known throughout these decades of abiding would become life and love and joy in the lives of those who listen?”
Six Ways We Abide in Christ
My aim is to help us experience prayer as the vocalization of abiding in Christ, as (1) the cry to abide in the vine, (2) the day-by-day expression of joyful, confident dependence on the vine, and (3) the longing that we would bear fruit because of our attachment to the vine.
To do that, it seems we should spend a good bit of our time pushing into the reality of what abiding in Christ is. I am going to point to six ways we abide in Christ.
1. Receiving Life from Christ
Let’s start with the picture in John 15:5: “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.” The picture is of the disciple of Jesus as a branch and Jesus as the vine.
So, the least we can say is that abiding in Christ is the experience of getting our life from Christ. The sap of life flows into the branch if the branch is abiding, remaining in the vine. If there is no attachment to the vine, then there is no life in the branch.
2. Remaining in His Love
A second way to describe the experience of abiding is to say that we remain in the love of Christ. John 15:9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” So the life-giving attachment to the vine can be described as a love-giving attachment to the vine. The vine loves the branches. Love is flowing to the branches. The life that flows to the branches is the life of love.
So now the command “Abide in me” (John 15:4) and the implicit command “Abide in my life, which flows to you” become a little more concrete: “Abide in my love” (John 15:9). Essentially God is saying, “Keep on receiving and welcoming and enjoying and trusting and treasuring my love.” That is the experience of abiding in the vine.
3. Abiding in His Word
We can describe the experience of abiding yet another way. Abiding in Christ means abiding in his word, and his words abiding in us. John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you . . .” The phrase “my words abide in you” stands in the place where Jesus himself stood in John 15:4: “Abide in me, and I in you.” We see that “I, Jesus, abiding in you” becomes “my words abiding in you.”
“The experience of abiding in Christ is not only abiding in his life and love, but also in his word.”
And it is not just his words abiding in us, but us abiding in his words — just like we abide in him. According to John 8:31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” So the experience of abiding in Christ is not only abiding in his life, and abiding in his love, but also abiding in his word. John says it again in 1 John 2:24: “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
I take this to mean that the life and the love that flow from the vine into the branches are communicated to us and experienced by us through the word of Christ. The life of Jesus and the love of Jesus accomplish nothing in our lives apart from the word of Jesus.
There are no incognito Christians. Wordless experiences — that is, experiences without any conscious connection with Christ — are worthless experiences. Christ gets no glory from human experiences that we do not know to be from Christ.
We know experiences to be from Christ because of the word of Christ. For he says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). And so we respond, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Therefore, we abide in Christ — we abide in his life and in his love — by receiving and welcoming and understanding and believing the reality mediated by the words of Christ.
4. Drinking from Christ
A fourth way to describe abiding in Christ is to see the connection between the branch drinking the life-giving sap of the vine and the soul-drinking Christ as the water of life or the soul-feeding on him as the bread of heaven. John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” Coming to Christ so as not to hunger anymore and believing in Christ so as not to thirst anymore is the experience of abiding in Christ. Abiding is believing, understood as eating and drinking Christ.
“Prayer expresses thankful, happy, desperate, confident dependence on Christ’s life-giving, love-giving sap.”
Here it is again in John 7:37–38: “Jesus cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Notice that thirsting for Christ, coming to Christ, and drinking of Christ are replaced with believing in Christ. So the experience of believing in Christ is thirsting for Christ and coming to Christ and drinking from Christ — that is, abiding in Christ like a branch abiding in the vine and drinking the all-satisfying life and love that are in it.
Therefore, we can describe the experience of abiding in Christ as believing on Christ, provided we give the term believing its full-blooded meaning from the Gospel of John — namely, believing is thirsting, coming, drinking, and saying: “This is the end of my quest. Here is life and love and joy.”
5. Savoring the Son’s Joy
That word joy leads to a fifth way of describing the experience of abiding in Christ. In John 15:11, after drawing out the implications of the vine and the branches, Jesus adds this: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Be sure to understand this in connection with the picture of the vine and the branches. He does not simply say that because we are abiding in the vine, our joy will be full. What he says is that because we are abiding in the vine, his joy will be in us, and therefore our joy will be full. In other words, what the branch receives from the vine is the very joy of the vine: “My joy [will] be in you” (John 15:11).
Let me give you a taste of what this experience is from Galatians 4:6. Paul says, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Push into the reality of this. Think of it in terms of the vine and the branch. We are redeemed and made the legal sons of God by the death of Christ. And then he says that because we are his sons legally, God sends the Spirit of the Son — the Spirit of the vine or the sap — into our branch-hearts, shouting (krazō), “Abba! Father!” And how does the Son of God feel about his Father? He loves him: “I love the Father” (John 14:31).
That is, he takes infinite pleasure in the Father. He enjoys the Father. And he flows into our hearts, our branch, bringing that, being that, exulting in that. He does this, to use the words of John 15:11, “that my joy may be in you.” He flows into us, “That my joy in my Father made be your joy in your Father.”
So the experience of abiding in Christ is the experience of enjoying God by the Spirit of the Son of God enjoying his Father in us. If you find welling up within you the cry — spoken or unspoken, but real — that says, “Father! I need you. Thank you for redeeming me. Thank you for adopting me. Oh, how precious you are to me! I love you!” then guess what? You are experiencing the Spirit of the Son of God loving his Father in you. You are experiencing John 15:11, the joy of Christ himself becoming your joy, and your joy becoming full. You are experiencing what it means to abide in Christ.
6. Feasting on Calvary
Consider one last way to describe the experience of abiding in Christ. In John 6:56 Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” The crucified flesh and the shed blood of Jesus are the wellspring of all the life and love and joy and words that we receive from the vine. To eat and drink at the cross is to get everything from the sacrifice of Christ.
In summary, I would arrange the first five ways of describing the experience of abiding in Christ like this:
- First is the experience of the soul’s thirst and hunger drinking from Christ with satisfaction.
- Second, as the branch drinks from the vine, it receives the life of the vine. No attachment to the vine, no life in the branch.
- Third, as we drink from the life of the vine, we find it to be the life of love — Christ’s invincible love for us. And we rest in it and feed on it.
- Fourth, as we drink from the life and love of the vine, we experience the joy of Jesus as our joy —the Spirit of the Son singing out his joyful love for the Father in our hearts.
- Fifth, we find all of this mediated to us through the words of Christ so that his words become our life.
And finally, we discover that every benefit of abiding in the vine was secured for us by the crucified flesh and shed blood of Christ. And that sacrifice becomes for us the all-supplying bread and drink of heaven.
How Prayer Speaks
Now let’s revisit where we started, with prayer as the vocalization of this experience of abiding in Christ. There are (1) the prayers that vocalize the desire to abide in Christ, (2) the prayers that vocalize the daily reality of abiding in Christ, and (3) the prayers that vocalize the desire for fruit through abiding in Christ.
With Desperate Desire
First, there are prayers that vocalize the desire to abide in Christ. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink, she couldn’t believe that he, a Jew, would ask her. Then he says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).
“You would have asked him” — this is where it all starts. There’s a sliver, a glimpse, of the life-giving vine right there in front of you, a glimmer of hope, and then comes an invitation: “Ask me. Just ask me.”
And many of us have responded: “Let me drink the living water. Attach me, Jesus, to yourself. Make me a living branch. Forever.” But if you haven’t tasted, haven’t asked to be grafted into the vine — this would be a good time. Vocalize to God your need and your desire to abide in Christ.
With Happy Trust
Then there are the prayers that vocalize the daily reality of abiding in Christ. These tell Christ — and tell the Father — that you trust him. Tell them that their love for you is your life and your joy. Tell Christ, in the presence of your spouse or children or friends, that his words are words of life to you.
Tell Christ that abiding in his love makes you glad. Say to him, on behalf of your family or your small group, and in their presence, “Jesus, your sacrifice, your words, your life, your love, your joy is everything to me. I taste them. They are my food and my drink. They satisfy my soul.” Tell him.
Do what the saints have done for millennia. Speak to the Lord of your trust. And tell him of the pleasures of abiding in Christ.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:1–4)
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light. (Psalm 36:8–9)
With Fruitful Zeal
Finally, there are the prayers that vocalize the desire for fruit through abiding in Christ. This is the goal of life and love and joy flowing from the vine — a kind of life and a kind of love and a kind of joy that has in it a happy pressure to expand, to increase, by becoming the life and love and joy in others. That’s what it is to bear fruit.
Jesus says in John 4:14, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Yes, and more than a spring: “Whoever believes in me [abides in me, drinks from me] . . . ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). Or, as Jesus says in John 15:5, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.”
This is the sap of the vine, the living water, the very life and love and joy of the Son of God, coursing through your branch-life and then miraculously increasing — your joy increasing — in the life and love and joy of another.
And Jesus says, “Don’t be passive about this. Make this the great passion of your prayer.” He says in John 15:7–8, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish [for every kind of God-glorifying fruit], and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” Jesus is saying, “Ask me! Ask me for God-glorifying fruit!”
When Christ’s words abide in you, when his truth, life, love, and joy abide in you, you will be given a spiritual taste for God’s fruitful will, and you will pray with Spirit-given passion, “O God, make my life fruitful. Let me not wither in the hot blasts of worldliness. Do whatever painful pruning you must do. Grant me so to drink that I become a spring — yes, a river! — and a fruitful branch. Oh, let me never be content until my joy in you bears fruit in the joy of others in you. By this, Father, are you glorified — that I bear much fruit. Do it. Amen.”