I don’t know how I did it. How did I somehow change the word “abound” into “abide?”
Allow me to revel in either God’s ability to redeem a typo or perhaps God’s wisdom and sovereignty to actually set up a misunderstanding.
Through a series of fortuitous flubs, I arrived at the 2017 Calvary Chapel Asia/Oceania Leadership conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, prepared with a message contributing to the general theme of Abiding in the Work. But upon arrival, I discovered every piece of printed material for the conference, (name tags, brochures, graphics) carried the words Abounding in the Work, not Abiding in the Work.
How had THEY gotten that wrong after months of telling everyone the theme was ABIDING not ABOUNDING? Or why had they changed themes without telling me.
I quickly found the earliest emails I had received, so I could show someone their mistake, only to discover each email indeed identified the theme as ABOUNDING in the Work. I was once again reminded of my ability to get things mixed up, confused and inverted.
Add to that fact that less than a week prior to departing from Los Angeles, I texted my friend who was coordinating details for the speakers and asked, “So just to make sure, our theme is Abiding in the Work, right?” I even shared some thoughts I was working on, based on the idea of abiding in Jesus, who equips us for His work. He quickly responded with, “Yeah, that sounds great.” I then sent a group text to all four speakers sharing the teaching load to make sure I wasn’t duplicating their messages. All responded with something to the effect of, “Go for it, Bill.” I was set. Abiding in the Work it was. But now IT WASN’T!
Now it was time to scrap my notes and start over. I took a walk to pray and think it over as my mind moved from abiding to abounding. After all, how could those two words be reconciled? I couldn’t just plunge ahead and look like a rebel or a dunce. Then it hit me. My jet lagged brain suddenly recalled Jesus and His disciples during their final Passover meal together. Recorded in John 15:1-7, Jesus ties these two words, “abide” and “abound,” together as He speaks to His men about fruit bearing. In the space of just a few minutes, He spoke about “fruit, more fruit, much fruit and remaining fruit.” There’s the abounding part. But in verse five, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that their abundance and ours is fully dependent on simply abiding in Him.
In the end, there is no choice between abiding or abounding.
And, in the end, very thankfully, there was no need to change my message for those precious laborers in the Asia/Oceania conference.
Our lives and what we like to call our “ministries” will naturally abound in God-honoring, kingdom-furthering, love-drenched fruit that catches the attention of God when and only when it arises from a relationship of abiding in Jesus.
Yes, Jesus called for laborers, hard workers, and the truth is, the harvest is still great and the laborers are still few. But all fruitful service with lasting impact will come from the source of relationship and fellowship with Jesus. No one in Chiang Mai needed that reminder more than me.
So here is my unfortunate confession; I have far too often found myself at the end of busy days, after faithfully serving Jesus, faced with the sad realization that I had not once in the course of that day spoken a single word to Him. No focused time of prayer or praise, no quiet time, and dare I say it, not even a single sentence of scripture read and savored. I have, far too often, nudged Jesus right out of my schedule as I worked hard for Him, running from meeting to meeting, task to task (even preparing sermons) without directing a single word to the heart of the One I was serving, to simply and sincerely say, “I love You.”
Perhaps I’m not the only “Martha” scurrying around and fretting over the work of the day, rather than starting where Mary started. She started by lingering at the feet of Jesus, fellowshipping with the lover of my soul, loving Him back, listening to the Holy Spirit, then following the Father’s leadership into fields of fruitful, abounding service.
So here’s three simple truths I need to remember:
1. God will prepare our workday for us, so we can both walk in and abound in His work (Ephesians 2:10).
2. We must keep our primary focus on the “Lord of the work,” rather than the “work of the Lord” (Luke 10:38-42).
3. Our entry into the family of God was not based on service we rendered to God, but simply upon believing in and receiving the work He did for us (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus predicted that His most sobering words would one day be directed to those who would stand before Him, boasting about all they’d done for Him: prophesying, casting out demons, performing many miracles in His name. Yet He will respond to those industrious workers by saying, “Depart from Me … I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23).
God is apparently far more concerned about our intimacy with Him than our industry for Him. Jesus never says, “Come to My work,” until we have first responded to His invitation of, “Come to ME.”
Perhaps I didn’t misunderstand the theme of the Asia Conference after all. Maybe God simply used a scatterbrained moment to remind me, if no one else, that intimacy always precedes industry and abounding always comes from abiding.
Let’s start at Jesus’ feet, than together with Him, abound in the work in His fields.