In the Stillness: Learning to Abide

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

– Psalm 23 (ESV)

Beside Still Waters

God leads us beside still waters. This stillness means “a resting place” or a place of “quietness.” It is defined as a peaceful place, a place of consolation. When I think about peace, still waters aren’t necessarily the first thing that come to mind. When I think about peace, I often think about sitting on a beach or by a river – there’s something about the sound of the rushing waters, the bubbling brook, or the crashing waves that brings us a sense of peace and assurance. We see the waters moving from one place to the next, we see the waves coming in and going back out – it is consistent and sure. It is shows the continuity and rhythm of nature. But Psalm 23 doesn’t say God leads us beside the ocean waters, nor does it say He leads us beside rushing rivers. Rather, it says He leads us beside still waters. He leads us beside unmoving waters. Still water is silent, and silence can be deafening. We don’t want to sit still. We don’t want to sit in silence. We want to see and hear and know what is coming next. When water sits still for too long, it becomes stagnant – like the still, murky waters of a swamp. So why would God lead us to still waters?

He leads us beside still waters because we aren’t supposed to know what is coming next. We are supposed to follow where He leads. He leads us beside still waters so we’ll be able to listen and hear His still small voice when He speaks to us. He leads us beside still waters, so we’ll trust Him to provide what we need, when we need it. I can’t help but think about the paralyzed man by the the pool at Bathesda. He had been waiting by the still water for 38 years. When the water was stirred is when the healing properties came. Crowds of blind, lame, and paralyzed people would wait patiently by the still water, watching and waiting for it to begin bubbling. They watched, and waited, and hoped to be the first one to make it into the water and experience the healing. But this man had no one to help him to the water when it started bubbling. Then one day, Jesus came by and saw him there and spoke healing to him. God led him to the still water, so Jesus could come and meet him there. And He does the same for us.

It is in the seasons of stillness, when life seems stagnant and unmoving, and when God seems silent – that’s we learn what it means to truly abide in Christ.

Here & Now

Several years ago, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, my friend and I decided to step out away from the celebration and noise and go sit in a car and listen to worship music to bring in the new year. It was the first of many “car church” services as we came to refer to them. We listened. We prayed. We worshipped. We sat in the stillness with God and soaked in His presence. That night, one of the songs we had on repeat was “Set a Fire” by Will Regan and United Pursuit. It’s always been one of my favorites, but that night the lyrics hit me in a way they never had before. I distinctly remember reflecting on the phrase “There’s no place I’d rather be than here in Your love.” As I reflected, God began to speak and I pulled out my phone to write what He was speaking to my heart.

This is what I wrote:

"It's easy to get discouraged when we focus too much on the future, on the hopes and promises of God, because we start expecting them right away and we get discouraged when we don't see them playing out the way we imagined. But God doesn't work on our timetable, and His ways are exceeding abundantly above anything we could ever ask or imagine. It's easy to get discouraged when we dwell too much on the past, because we start to focus on the things that didn't play out and the prayers God didn't answer in the ways we thought He should have. We fear for the future because we forget the faithfulness of God in the past. But God doesn't want us to focus on the future or the past. We should look to the future for our hope, and we should look to the past for our lessons, but we should dwell in the present moment. We should dwell in the presence of Christ. He was with us in the past, and He will be with us in the future, but He is with us RIGHT NOW. Everything in our past has led us to where we are now, and where we are right now will lead us to where He has prepared for us to go next. Live in this moment. Experience His presence. Take life one step at a time, walking in complete trust and obedience to God."

The present is a transition period, and we don’t like transitions. I once heard a sermon from Pastor Steven Furtick called Trapped in Transition where He said, “Some of us are frustrated by change because we’re unwilling to embrace the process of transition.” There’s so much unknown in this period between where we’ve been and where we’re going, in who we were and in who we’re becoming. It can be terrifying, but we have no reason to fear because God is with us here. His name is literally Immanuel, meaning God is with us. It is the essence of His identity. He is the I AM. His presence is a gift.

Abiding in the Fields

When Jesus was born, Luke 2:8-10 says, “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.'”

The shepherds were staying in their fields. This word can also be translated as abiding. They were abiding in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks of sheep. This means they were camped out. They were living there. They were still. They didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t go looking for anything. They were being faithful to their work, and God came to them. That is our calling – to abide in Christ in the here and now.

Just as the shepherds in the field, and just as the man at the pool – the place we abide in is the place we dwell. It is where we stay. It is where we live. In John 15:4, Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you.” Remain in me as I remain in you. Dwell in me, as I dwell in you. Wait on me, as I wait on you. That God lives within us is a powerful thought. He does not leave or forsake us. He is always with us. We can’t run from Him. “…As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Abide in me. Stay in me. Remain in me. Wait in me. According to the Thayer’s Dictionary, the word abide in this verse means, “to sojourn or to tarry, to not depart.” It means to continue to be present, to continue to be held or kept. It means to wait for or to await one.

We often think of waiting as being passive – but that’s not always the case. Our waiting can be active. Our waiting can be an act of service. Think of restaurant servers – they are called “waiters” but they are not sitting around doing nothing. A good waiter is one who is constantly moving from table to table, engaging in dialogue, taking requests, being attentive, and being responsive to the needs of their patrons.

I often think about David, in the period between when he was anointed as King and when he became King. In that “in-between” time he was still keeping watch over the flocks. He was still showing up in the fields each day to tend to the sheep that were entrusted to him for that season. I heard Matt Austin preach a sermon once where he said, “One of the most difficult seasons in life is to be dripping with oil, but still smelling like sheep. To be anointed for greatness, but still in the field.”

Is that where you find yourself?

Maybe your season of stillness means actively serving and being faithful with where God has you right now, or maybe your season of stillness means God is literally telling you to stop, slow down, and “be still and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10). Maybe you’ve been working too hard, moving too fast, and trying to shape the future into your own image instead of patiently waiting for God to be God and do what He does best. As Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”

Whatever season of stillness you are in, God has a purpose for you there.

Sitting at His Feet

When I think about this “stop and slow down” type of stillness, I think about Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha bustled around the kitchen in Luke 10:38-42. It’s important to remember that we need both Mary’s and Martha’s in the Kingdom of God. We need Martha’s who do the work and welcome the guests, but we also need Mary’s who practice the stillness and enjoy the presence. We will be Mary’s at certain points of our lives, and Martha’s at other points of our lives, but what we cannot do is allow the work to distract us from the worship. Work can be a type of worship, but work cannot take the place of our worship. Martha was so focused on the work that she lost sight of her first and true priority. She was more focused on the preparation than on the presence of Christ in her home. He was abiding in her home, waiting on her, and yet she was not abiding in Him or waiting on Him. She was too busy with the external to recognize what God wanted to do internally and eternally. She lost sight of the significance and neglected to see the magnitude of the moment, because her attention was tied up in the mundane tasks that are temporary and fleeting . Meanwhile, Mary sat in the presence of Christ and listened intently, clinging to His every word. Her eyes were fixed on Him, and her heart was focused on Him. She was abiding in Him and waiting on Him.

In another passage of scripture (Luke 7:36-50), we see another woman come before Jesus and sit in stillness at His feet. As she weeps, she allows the tears to fall on His feet, and proceeds to dry them with her hair. She kisses his feet and anoints them with oil. She knew the magnitude of the moment. As Jesus said, she loved much because she had been forgiven much. She abided in that love. She demonstrated that love through her humble and active service. Her waiting was an act of worship. Her stillness was an act of surrender.

From Invitation to Intimacy

In the book, Abide in Christ, Andrew Murray writes about the difference between coming to Christ and abiding in Christ.

He writes, “The first coming gave but single drops to taste; it is only abiding that can really satisfy the thirsty soul with drinks from the rivers of pleasure that are at His right hand… You did well to come, you do better to abide.” With this statement, I think about Martha. She did right in coming to Jesus. She took the first step in inviting Him into her home and preparing for His arrival, but upon His arrival she neglected to abide with Him there. Likewise, I think about the Pharisee at who’s table Jesus was sitting when the woman came and knelt at His feet. The Pharisee did the right thing in inviting Jesus to dine with him at the table, but the woman went beyond an invitation and instead chose to abide with Christ in a place of intimacy and heartfelt worship.

Andrew Murray goes on to say, “Who would, after seeking the King’s palace, be content to stand in the door, when he is invited in to dwell in the King’s presence and share with Him in all the glory of His royal life? Oh, let us enter in and abide and fully enjoy all the rich supply His wondrous love has prepared for us!”

Let’s not be content to stand at the door when we’ve been invited to the table. Let’s not be content to eat the crumbs, when we’ve been offered a feast. Let’s not settle for surface level Christianity. Let’s take our faith deeper. Let’s not just come to Jesus, but abide with Him there. Let’s invite Him not just into our times of public worship and prayer, but into our daily rhythms and routines of life. When He comes to us, let us stay there with Him. Let’s embrace the stillness as an invitation to abide with Him, to dwell with Him – to make our homes there in His presence.

Let our abiding in Christ be as a child abiding in the warm embrace of their mother or father’s arms. It is a place of safety, a place of security. It is a place of refuge. As Andrew Murray so beautifully writes, abiding in Christ “is simply weakness entrusting itself to a Mighty One to be kept.” Our attempts at abiding are frail and weak, but our Father is faithful and strong. He is worthy of our complete trust and total adoration. We can fall on Him in full and complete surrender, knowing He will wrap us up in His arms and never let us go. He is the vine, and we are the branches. We are completely dependent on Him for our nourishment and provision. He is the only One who can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. He is the only One in whom we can endure the changing seasons. He is the only One who can hold us steady both in the storms and in the stillness.