Staying close to Jesus requires intentionality, but it’s not hard work, and it is always worth it.
I love going on leisurely walks in nature—well, controlled nature. I’ll pass on dense woods or rocky terrains, and I’ll take a neighborhood park or a well-traveled trail any day. Indeed, I was on a well-traveled trail one day, just taking in the sights, when I saw something I had never seen before. A squirrel was lying down flat on its belly, staying cool in the shade of a big tree! I literally laughed out loud. And I actually envied the squirrel because I was beginning to feel overheated myself. On such a hot summer day, I could not blame that squirrel for opting to just stay in the shade of that tree.
Even now, years later, I still think about that squirrel sometimes. It provided such a clear picture of what it means to just stay, to remain, to abide. I often need to remember this picture in my spiritual life and in how I relate to God. How about you? We all know the summer sun is not the only thing that can bring the heat. Oftentimes, life brings the heat. Relationships, health, finances, and the world around us are constantly changing and subject to change. There is only one who is perfectly secure and unchanging: the Lord God Almighty. Thus, it would be wise of us to stay as closely connected to Him as possible. Not only to shelter us from the harmful effects of life’s heat, although God’s grace certainly can do that. But we should stay closely connected to God mainly out of love—His love for us and our love for Him.
So what does it mean practically to abide or just stay close to God, and what are the results of doing so? Jesus gives us the answers in John 15:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:5, 8
What can we take away from Jesus’ words? Well, a lot, but here are a couple considerations:
Staying close to God requires discipline, but it’s not “work”
We live in a performance-based culture, and we can easily apply that mindset to our spiritual lives. But just as we cannot work for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8 informs us that we are saved by grace through God’s gift of faith), we cannot thrive spiritually by keeping a checklist of to-dos. Cultivating intimacy with God should not be based on rules, but on a relationship. Should it feel like work when we sit closely by or cuddle with someone we love? If it’s a healthy relationship, no, it should not. In those moments, we should just enjoy being in the presence of one who we love and who loves us. That is what Jesus invites us into with Him. Notice that He compares Himself to a vine and us to branches. Branches do not work for their connection to the vine. They just abide, just remain, just stay close.
At the same time, staying close to God does require discipline, because there are so many factors that seek to distract us and pull us away from Him—people, the cares and worries of life, social media, and a 24-hour news cycle, just to name a few. Therefore, staying close to God will require intentionality. Taking time to cuddle with a loved one is not work, but we do have to intentionally carve out time for those moments. The same is true for abiding in and just staying close with God. It may look different for each of us, but we must invest time—time for prayer, time for praise and worship, time for meditating on (or continually thinking about) His Word, time for just thinking about Him and what He has done for us. And these don’t have to be separate activities at specific times. We can and should seek to practice them throughout our whole day every day. This, in essence, is how we just stay close to our God.
Staying close to God will produce evidence in our lives
Jesus explained that staying close to Him will result in fruit or evidence of our close connection with Him. Galatians 5:22-23 provides details of what kind of fruit will come: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But again, we cannot work to produce such fruit. If we walk by a vine that produces fruit, we will not see or hear the branches straining and struggling to grow the fruit. The fruit naturally grows through the branches solely due to the branches’ connection to the vine. Likewise, we can display the evidence of intimacy with God only by experiencing intimacy with God. And when we do stay close to God and allow Him to produce fruit through us, beautiful things happen, including (1) God is glorified (honored, esteemed, magnified) and (2) we show ourselves to be His followers.
So, my friend, no matter where you are on your Christian journey, I encourage you to abide in Jesus. Channel your inner squirrel on a hot summer day and bask in the shade of God’s glory. It will require a level of discipline in how you manage your time and your thoughts, but it will not require work. So throw out your checklist of rules, and just stay close to the God who you love and—even more significantly—who loves you.
Leah Holder Green
Leah Holder Green loves God, loves His people, and loves clearly communicating God’s Word to His people. After practicing law for a few years, she entered full-time ministry as a bible study author and bible teacher. Leah is married to the love of her life, Clarence “Champ” Green, and they have a beautiful daughter named Caylen Joy.
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