The All-Inclusive Condition
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever
you wish, and it shall be done for you.
John 15:7 NASB
In all God’s dealings with us, the promise and its conditions are inseparable. If we fulfill the conditions, He fulfills the promise. What He is to be to us depends upon what we are willing to be to Him. ‘‘Come near to God and he will come near to you’’ (James 4:8). And so in prayer the unlimited promise ‘‘Ask whatever you wish’’ has one simple and natural condition: ‘‘if you abide in me.’’ The Father always hears His Son. God is in Christ, and can be reached only because He is in Him. To be in Him is the way to have our prayers heard. Fully and wholly abiding in Him, we have the right to ask whatsoever we will and the promise that it will be done for us.
When we compare this promise with the experience of most believers, we are startled by an awesome discrepancy. Who could count the prayers that rise to God and have no answer? Why is this? Either we do not fulfill the condition or God does not fulfill the promise.
Believers are not willing to admit either, and therefore have devised a way of escape from the dilemma. They add to the promise the qualifying clause our Savior did not put there: if it is God’s will. That way, they maintain both God’s integrity and their own. How sad that they do not accept and hold the Word as it stands, trusting Christ to vindicate His truth. Then God’s Spirit would lead them to see the divine propriety of such a promise to those who truly abide in Christ in the sense in which He means it, and to confess that the failure in fulfilling the condition is the one sufficient explanation of unanswered prayer. The Holy Spirit would then make our weakness in prayer one of the motives to urge us on to discover the secret and obtain the blessing of full abiding in Christ.
‘‘If you abide in me.’’ As a Christian grows in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, he is often surprised to find how the words of God grow in new and deeper meaning for him. He can look back to the day when some word of God was opened up to him and the blessing he found in it. After a time some deeper experience gave it a new meaning, and it was as if he had never seen it before. Again, as he advances in the Christian life, the same word may come to him as a great mystery until the Holy Spirit leads him still deeper into its divine fullness. One of these ever-growing, never-exhausted words that opens up to us step by step the fullness of the divine life is the Master’s ‘‘Abide in me.’’ As the union of the branch with the vine is one of unceasing growth and increase, so our abiding in Christ is a life process in which the divine life takes ever fuller and more complete possession of us. The young or the weak believer may be abiding in Christ to the measure of his light; he who reaches beyond to the full abiding in the sense in which the Master understood the words, is the one who inherits all the promises connected with it.
In the growing life of abiding in Christ, the first stage is that of faith. The believer sees that in spite of all his frailty, the command is really meant for him. Then his aim is simply to believe that just as he knows he is in Christ, so in spite of failure, abiding in Christ is his immediate duty and within his reach. He is especially occupied with the love, power, and faithfulness of the Savior. He feels his immediate need is to simply believe.
Before long he sees something more is needed. Obedience and faith must go together. It is not as if obedience is added to the faith he has, but faith must be seen in his obedience. Faith is active in obedience in the home; then obedience is faith stepping out to do His will. He sees how he has been more occupied with the privilege and the blessings of this abiding than with its duties and its fruit. There has been evidence of self and of self-will that has gone unnoticed or tolerated. The peace that as a young or a weak disciple he could enjoy in believing evades him. It is in practical obedience that the abiding must be maintained: ‘‘If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love’’ (John 15:10). Before his great aim was to let his heart rest in Christ and His promises through the mind and the truth it was able to grasp. Now in this stage his chief effort is to unite his will with the will of his Lord and allow the heart and the life to be brought entirely under His rule.
But it seems there is something missing. The will and the heart are on Christ’s side. He obeys and he loves his Lord. But why is it that the fleshly nature still has so much power? Or why are the spontaneous actions and emotions of the inmost being not what they should be? The will does not approve or allow it, but here is a region beyond control of the will. Why also—even when there is not so much of positive commission to condemn—is there so much omission, so much deficiency of that beauty of holiness? Where is that zeal of love, that conformity to Jesus and His death in which the life of self is lost, and which is surely implied in abiding as the Master described it? There must surely be something in our abiding in Christ and Christ in us that a young Christian has not yet experienced.
Faith and obedience are only the pathway to blessing. Before giving us the parable of the vine and the branches, Jesus very distinctly told us what the full blessing is toward which faith and obedience should lead. Three times He said, ‘‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’’ (John 14:15), and spoke of the threefold blessing with which He would crown such obedient love. The Holy Spirit would come from the Father; the Son would manifest himself; the Father and the Son would come and make their abode.
As our faith grows into obedience, our whole being clings to Christ in love. Our inner life opens up and the capacity is formed within us to receive the life and spirit of the glorified Jesus. The word is fulfilled in us: ‘‘On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you’’ (John 14:20).
We see that just as Christ is in God and God in Christ, not only one in will and in love but also in identity of nature and life because they exist in each other, so we are in Christ and Christ in us, a union not only of will and love but also of life and nature.
After Jesus spoke of our knowing through the Holy Spirit that He is in the Father and we are in Him and He in us, He said, ‘‘Abide in Me, and I in you’’ (John 15:4 NKJV). In other words, accept, consent, to receive that divine life of union with Him. As you abide in Him, He also will abide in you even as He abides in the Father.
This is occupying the position in which Christ can come and abide; abiding in Him so that the soul draws away from self and finds that He has taken its place and become our life. It is becoming like little children who have no cares and find their happiness in trusting and obeying the love that has done everything for them.
To those who abide like this, the promise comes as their rightful heritage: Ask whatever you wish. It cannot be otherwise. Christ has full possession of them. Christ dwells in their love, their will, their life. Not only has their will been given up but Christ has entered it. There He dwells and breathes into it His Spirit. He whom the Father always hears, prays through them. What they ask will be done for them.
Fellow believer, let us confess that it is because we do not abide in Christ that the church is so impotent in the face of unfaithfulness, worldliness, and unbelief.
But let us not be discouraged. The abiding of the branch in the Vine is a life of never-ending growth. Abiding as the Master meant for us to abide is within our reach, for He lives to give it to us. Only let us be ready to count all things loss and say, ‘‘Not that I have already obtained all this . . . but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me’’ (Philippians 3:12). Let us not be so much occupied with the abiding as with Him to whom the abiding links us. Let it be Him, the whole Christ, in His obedience and humiliation, in His exaltation and power, in whom our soul moves and acts. He himself will fulfill His promise in us.
As we abide and continue to grow in our abiding, let us exercise our right—the choice to enter into all of God’s will. Obeying what that will commands, let us also claim what it promises. Let us yield to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, who shows each of us, according to His measure, what we may claim in prayer as God’s will for us. Let us rest content with nothing less than the personal experience of what Jesus gave when He said, ‘‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you’’ (John 15:7 NASB).
On a thoughtful comparison of what we mostly find in books or sermons on prayer and the teaching of the Master, we will find one great difference: the importance assigned to the answer to prayer is by no means the same. In the former we find a great deal on the blessing of prayer as a spiritual exercise even if there is no answer and on the reasons why we should be content without one. It says God’s fellowship ought to be more to us than the gift we ask; God’s wisdom only knows what is best; God may bestow something better than what He withholds. Though this teaching looks very high and spiritual, it is remarkable that we find nothing of it from our Lord. The more carefully we gather together all He spoke on prayer, the clearer it becomes that He wanted us to think of prayer simply as the means to an end, and that the answer was to be the proof that we and our prayer are acceptable to the Father in heaven. It is not that Christ would have us count the gifts of higher value than the fellowship and favor of the Father, but the Father intends the answer to be the token of his favor and of the reality of our fellowship with Him. ‘‘Today your servant knows that he has found favor in your eyes, my lord the king, because the king has granted his servant’s request’’ (2 Samuel 14:22).
A life marked by daily answers to prayer is the proof of spiritual maturity: that we have indeed attained to the true abiding in Christ; that our will is truly at one with God’s will; that our faith has grown strong to see and take what God has prepared for us; that the name of Christ and His nature have taken full possession of us; and that we have been found fit to take a place among those whom God admits to His counsels and according to whose prayer He rules the world. These are they in whom something of man’s original dignity has been restored, in whom, as they abide in Christ, His power as the all-prevailing Intercessor can manifest itself, in whom the glory of His name is shown forth. Prayer is very blessed; the answer is even more blessed, as the response from the Father that our prayer, our faith, our will are indeed as He would want them to be.
I say these things to encourage you to gather all Christ’s teaching about prayer and to believe the truth that when prayer is what it should be, when we are what we should be, the answer should be expected. It will bring us out from those refuges where we have comforted ourselves with unanswered prayer. It will show us the place of power to which Christ has appointed His church, and which it so little occupies. It will reveal the serious weakness of our spiritual life as the cause of our not praying boldly in Christ’s name. It will urge us to rise to a life of union with Christ and fullness of the Spirit as the secret of effective prayer. It will lead us on to realize our destiny: ‘‘In that day: I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. . . . Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete’’ (John 16:23). Prayer that is spiritually in union with Jesus is always answered.
Beloved Lord, teach me to take this promise afresh in all its simplicity and know that the only measure of your holy giving is our willingness to receive. Let each word of this promise be made vital and powerful in my soul.
You say, Abide in me! I do abide in you. Help me to grow up into all your fullness. It is not the effort of faith, seeking to cling to you, or even the rest of faith, trusting you to keep me; it is not the obedience of the will or keeping the commandments that can satisfy me. Only you living in me will satisfy me. It is you, my Lord, no longer before me and above me, but one with me, abiding in me; it is this I need, it is this I seek. It is this I trust you for.
You say, Ask whatsoever you will! Lord, I know that the life of full, deep abiding in you will renew and sanctify and strengthen my will that I will have the liberty to ask great things. Lord, let my will, renewed by your life, be bold in its petitions.
You say, It will be done. You who are the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, give me the joyful confidence that you will make this word more wonderfully true to me than ever, because it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive what God has prepared for them that love Him. Amen.