Stop Fidgeting and Remain in Me!
By David Blower
This article was first published in the Winter 2012 edition of MOVE Magazine.
There is a story that goes around Agapé UK circles about someone who travelled throughout the United States interviewing the leaders of various evangelical organisations.
The people he interviewed talked with enthusiasm about their ministries, their missions and their strategies, but when asked about their devotional life they turned glum and said they struggled with it. But when the group asked the founder of our organisation, Dr. Bill Bright, the same question they were surprised to see tears of joy run down his face before he told them excitedly of the time he’d spend praying to Jesus each day.
I think we tell this story, not just because it’s about our founder, but because we are a self-confessed movement of activists. It’s much easier for us to hear “Go, and make disciples…” than it is to hear “Remain in me…” or “Be still and know that I am God…”
A leaning towards activism at the expense of devotion is sometimes thought of as an unfortunate habit. Something we live with and engage with in mock struggle, but never really expect to overcome. After all, that’s just who we are, right?
On reading John 15, I begin to wonder if the stakes are a bit higher than we think. Jesus says,
“If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers…” (John 15:6).
It is quite possible of course to do many Christian-looking things without a vital connection to Christ, like those to whom Jesus replies,
“I never knew you…” (Matthew 7:23).
John’s letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation restate a similar message. It is to Christians that Jesus says,
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice…” (Revelation 3:20).
Is it possible, that the personal relationship with Christ we talk about could recede from being an experienced reality to being a mere statement of belief? Nominalism is a subtle thing. Like sunburn, we only begin to wonder if it’s happened to us long after it already has.
Of course these exhortations were spoken in times of calamity. The letters of Revelation were written to Churches facing death at the hands of the Roman Empire, and Jesus’ call to remain in him was spoken to the disciples right before his crucifixion. It was about staying close to Jesus in spite of what was happening around them. Christians today face the subtle calamity of busyness and distractedness. Mundane trials perhaps, but ultimately no less dangerous. In these Covid-19 times, are we using the time previously used for commuting or socialising to spend more time with our saviour, or piling more work in, clocking off work even later than normal or distracting ourselves with endless Netflix binges? In an age when we were all supposed to be liberated by technologies, we are now slaves to Zoom calls, chained to our ‘working from home desk’ and slowly being numbed by endless hours in front of the television. All to busy ourselves, to distract ourselves from the world outside our window.
We are called to open our eyes and step off the hamster wheel of constantly do and distract and live an alternative kind of life – one that fiercely guards time and space to worship God, to hear the voice of Jesus, and to commune with the Holy Spirit. This is now, in fact, proving very difficult for us to do. We are torn between masters. It is not out of obedience to Jesus that we squeeze prayer into the one minute when we brush our teeth in the morning. It is not a question of what sort of people we are, but of what sort of people we have become. I’m not sure of how we ought to begin to heed this message, but the message is unambiguous:
“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)