Paul, the writer of much of the New Testament, has a lot to say about abiding. “What is abiding?” you might be asking. “I’m not very good at sitting still.” Good question.
We envision ourselves crossed legged in a low, drawn out hum. Praying for an hour at our bedside. Journaling. An impactful worship experience. We know we should spend time with God. We’ve heard our faith is a “relationship with God.” Still, what does that look like? What are we “supposed to be doing?”
Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun and activist, says this:
“Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”
Cultivating a relationship with God is like friendship with anyone. It needs time and shared experiences. Did you catch her advice on how to pray? Not to think much, but to love much. Doing that which cultivates your love.
In Romans 12 Paul talks about how we change when we learn to abide. He says in verse 1, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Right there in verse 1, we see the first glimpse of abiding. In view of God’s mercy. In other words, because you have reflected on God’s mercy. His sovereignty. How much he’s sacrificed for you. Because of this amazing gift, Paul urges a powerful response: to offer yourself back to the Lord.
He doesn’t say, “Hey guys, you should probably do something nice for God, because he did something nice for you.” Paul has been practicing the habit of abiding; reflecting on God’s mercy, giving it more than just a passing glance.
When we show up, desiring to know him better, he answers that prayer.
Get quiet, ask him to help you understand who he is. Scripture says he gives wisdom, understanding, and even opens our eyes to see things from his perspective.
Why are we so bad at abiding? Well, we usually spend every second of our interactions with God talking about ourselves. What we need, want, or are upset about. We rarely stop to ask about him. What he thinks, what he wants.
Paul continues in verse 2, saying, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Again, Paul is talking about abiding. “Being transformed” happens when we spend time with God. Talking with him like he’s right there in the room, asking his advice. “Renew your mind,” Paul says. Renewing doesn’t happen apart from God. It’s not an intellectual renewal. You can’t think your way to renewal. It’s not a series of logical questions and conclusion.
Your mind is renewed, you’re transformed, when you abide. You talk like him, think like him, act like him. Stay. Remain in conversation. Let Him speak. Then you’ll know God’s will.
It’s something we all want, but few have the patience for.
Paul continues in verse 3-5. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
In other words, don’t obsess about you and your awesomeness. Your pride will derail you and the Body.
How do we keep from focusing on ourselves? Abide. Focus on what God is doing. Listen. Develop a tender heart, willing to be transformed, re-calibrated, changed.
Finally, in verses 6-8, Paul encourages us to use our gifts. For the good of the Church, the gospel, and the glory of God.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
You may think you’re insignificant. Paul encourages you to use them anyway. Why? The Body works when we all do our part.
Abide in God’s presence, interact with him like your most valued friendship. Not “thinking much” but loving much, as St. Teresa instructs. When you do, you’re able to view your gifts from his perspective. You could have untapped gifts you don’t even know about!
God created you for a purpose. Through you, God desires to reach the rest of the world, to be his hands and feet. To bring hope to the weary, to heal the brokenhearted, and to walk hand in hand with those who stumble.
You are His instrument of peace.
Becky Nance is a mom of three girls, and wife to a worship pastor in central Iowa. She holds a M.A. in Ministry from Wesley Seminary with a concentration in Spiritual Formation. Becky spends much of her time mentoring young women, nurturing her babies, and crafting words to help shape the way we think about God.