Abiding is the Mission

Ed serves with his wife Miriam and their 3 children as Assembly of God Missionary Associates in Cuenca, Ecuador. They are serving the national church in Cuenca’s Center City through Unsion Ministries, and reaching the unreached Indigenous Andean communities, seeking to plant the Church where Jesus is not yet named. 

Before being called to serve in Ecuador, I spent almost fifteen years as an Assistant Physical Therapist by day and On-Call Emergency/Orthopedic Technician by night. During that time, I was privileged to serve people at their best and at their worst; I also discovered there was no shortage of real-time applications of Biblical principles. 

The most character-shaping and enduring lesson came in the form of learning and teaching a fundamental pillar of physical rehabilitation: Wolff’s Law, named after German surgeon and anatomist Julius Wolff (1836–1902). This law from Wolff’s classic work, “The Law of Transformation of Bone,” describes a positive correlation between mechanical loading of a healthy bone and its shape and density. In other words, the boney architecture of a body will respond by restructuring its shape and density to adapt to a functional demand. Imaging studies confirm that, over time, Olympic power lifters and marathoners develop broader and more dense skeletal structures, as compared to weekend warriors or the average couch potato. In school we memorized the application of Wolff’s Law this way: Form Follows Function.

Simply speaking, our physical form is determined by our habitual function. If a healthy person abides by sound exercise principles, processes will naturally occur, reinforcing the heartiness of musculoskeletal structures, resulting in the body’s ability to do work at higher intensity levels without damage or dysfunction.

How did this tangle of biology, chemistry, anatomy, and ethics contribute to my spiritual formation? In chapter 15 of John’s Gospel, Jesus makes some astonishingly similar assertions regarding our spiritual life: “He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit” (v. 5, NASB). A brief summary of abiding, in John 15, reveals that Jesus commands His followers to abide in Him, His words, and His love. These three disciplines form the foundation of following Jesus. To abide in Him is to remain devoted through intimate fellowship (prayer, fasting, and meditation for example). To abide in His words is to diligently study and apply His teachings. To abide in His love is to remain fixed in God’s affections and our commitment to show Him love through faithful obedience. Jesus both taught and embodied this love once and for all on the cross.

The promise attached to these commands is simple but weighty: fruitfulness for God’s glory and extravagant joy! These disciplines unite the heart, mind, and will in singular purpose: to enjoy a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ that bears life-giving fruit for others. Is the lesson emerging? According to Jesus, our main function is to abide—to stay closely connected to the source of our strength–and our correlating form is robust spiritual abundance. So, if Wolff described strengthening through physical disciplines as “Form Follows Function;” we would do well to capture Jesus’ description of strengthening through spiritual disciplines as “Abundance After Abiding.”

Abiding is both a challenge and an utter relief for every soul rescued and regenerated by amazing grace! Abiding is Mission. It is the detailed “how” of the Great Commission we in the age of programs and processes so desperately seek. It is the renewal of our burdened minds, ever prone to fall into performance-based thinking; forgetting our greatest hunger as human beings is to know and be known by God. 

The Four Temperaments would describe me as “Melancholy-Choleric”; Briggs and Meyers would call me an “INTJ” and Enneagram, a “Type 5.” Words like quiet, structured, analytical, and introversion define my psychosocial core. In contrast, our family lives and serves in a community-based culture where frequent social engagement is expected and privacy is almost a 4-letter word! Regardless of our to-do lists, it is culturally critical to maintain an open-door policy where at any moment, during any task, anyone is welcome to come in and enjoy coffee and conversation time. Our family must daily balance the task-oriented demands of our calling and the high-energy relationship-oriented demands of our host culture. We love where God has planted us and treasure the friends we are making! However, ignoring the dissonance between the demands placed on my family and my personal psychosocial limits is not faith. Faith does not deny facts. I must acknowledge this gap, and in my abiding, bring my lack to Jesus so He can be strong through me.

Consistently making space for His abiding presence allows Him to work through the strain of these demands, restructuring my spiritual architecture, slowly enabling me to bear the weight of fruitfulness without damage or dysfunction. With the never-ending stream of activities that comprise our daily lives, the one thing–the only thing–that does not and cannot change or be interrupted is my daily solitary communion with God. No matter how busy I am, those sacred appointments are carved out of every single day. By God’s grace, I have come to understand abiding as the necessary time Jesus utilizes to restructure and increase the density of my spiritual architecture, allowing me to bear the weight of fruitfulness.

If form follows function and there is abundance after abiding, then my challenge to every Jesus-follower is this: What will you do tomorrow, next week, next month in order to make the space needed to abide in Christ and reinforce the strength and density of your spiritual architecture? What will you say “no” to, in order that you might say “yes” to Jesus? 

May we all commit to abiding in Jesus, bearing fruit that lasts and, in doing so, glorify God with our lives.

Meryl Spadaro