This past month I saw a baby girl playing with her family dog’s plush toy, jamming that graying drool-soaked lambie straight into her own mouth. Whatever toys of hers lay on the floor, she crawled straight past them to grab the dog’s stuff—his chew toys, leash, and tennis balls—then crammed them in her mouth. She’s teething, so no one knows where the dog’s drool ends and hers begins.
Her parents are thrilled—not with the drool but with her. They would love dry onesies, yes, but instead of dwelling on her inability to control her spit, they praise her progress. From making eye contact to babbling, her every new attempt to learn more about her world brings her further into theirs. They rejoice in her ability to communicate joy, even though she’s simply cocking her head and smiling back at them.
Her mom and dad are teaching their little girl to high-five. When all she could manage was waving her hand in the general direction of her dad’s, he’d cheer, “Yes! Way to go!” Meanwhile he’d push his hand toward hers, making contact. Well over a decade will pass before she could possibly hit a softball over an outfield fence, but she’s already learning that when she does, her dad will be rooting her on.
Who’s rooting for us?
For decades I’ve heard and read Jesus’ words in John 15:5 (“I am the vine; you are the branches”). I’ve thought that if I can expend more effort in my abiding with Him, my twig of a life will bear more fruit. Yet I’ve often suspected that if I don’t “remain” in Christ sufficiently, if I don’t abide or dwell in His presence to some vague high measure during the day, I’ve failed. My attempts to spend time with Him before I run off to work seem paltry compared to others’ hour-long quiet times or more frequent and fervent prayers. I’ve felt that I’ve almost heard God say, “Not good enough. Try again sometime.”
More recently, however, I’ve wondered if the Father might approve of my lame attempts to know and become like Jesus. Suppose I memorize a verse but not a chapter of them or I pray for a couple of minutes instead of “without ceasing.” Is He quick to toss aside my efforts? Would a good Father do that? If a mom and dad can cheer on their little girl’s uncoordinated reach toward them, might God feel the same about my awkward prayers and fumbling memory of His words in my desire to know Him?
Perhaps God the Father sees my flailing attempts and says, “Yes!” Maybe He roots for us as we try to communicate better with Him through His Word and prayer. He may in fact look at our efforts and see Jesus because we are in Christ, His Spirit helping us.
God is good and wants us to find confidence in His help, not fear of judgment. In talking with Ethan Jasso, Mike Jordahl notes, “He wants you more than He wants what you do.” Now I think that maybe if I cock my head to the side and smile in prayer, the Father grins back.
Naturally we wish to grow more like the One who finds joy in our every little triumph. Just like small children, we want to grow up. Parents want the same thing. No one wants their high school graduate drooling on the diploma. We’re made to grow in our faith, as the writer of Hebrews says, maturing from drinking milk to eating solid food (Hebrews 5:12-14).
God wants our abiding to grow deeper over time. The Father urges us on, leans in, reaches out, and draws us to Himself. Like a child growing up in a loving household, we can find our home in Him, making His love our dwelling, putting down roots.
The Father painted a picture in Psalm 1:1-3 of the one “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” That person dwelling in the Word “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.”
God’s streams that feed our life with Him also bring the fruit. No Fuji tree grits its teeth to produce apples. Neither can we produce our own transformation. As Andrew Murray writes in Abide in Christ, “It is because of God that we are in Christ.” Through our rootedness in Christ He produces the fruit of the Spirit, providing the growth in His good time.
We’re not alone in seeking to grow in our faith. We have the love of the Father, the life of the Son who became like us, and the guidance of the Spirit. We also have other believers, so we can encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). Even Abraham, Jacob, and Moses help us (Hebrews 12:1), not because they are giants but because they lived very human lives of faith.
Whether we’re barely learning to walk or are running flat out, God gives us the grace and strength to move further into His Kingdom life. Instead of an empty pandemic-era arena, the Father and a “great cloud of witnesses” fill the stands and the sideline, urging us on. If we trip and fall, He’s happy to reach down and help us up. The Father in whom we abide is thrilled with us.