Abide First

October 26, 2022 | Matt Angell

There is a handwritten note I jotted down in my Bible many years ago that reads; “Am I learning so I may teach?” When I first wrote it, I was inspired to live outward with my faith where I would share the good news that I was learning through Bible study and sermons. It was so easy to sit in my chair each Sunday taking in all this great stuff and then keep it to myself. I did not want the gospel message to end with me; it needed to be shared as fast as I was learning it.

As I became responsible for leading others, the note started to become a stumbling block for me. “Learning so I may teach” was no longer part of why I studied scripture and listened to sermons but the primary reason. I stopped asking other questions such as, “How does this move me closer to God?” “What does God want me to know about him in this passage?” “How does God want me to apply this in my own life?”

12th century French abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote:

“The [one] who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself ... Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare ... You too must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.”

In my excitement (and responsibility) to give out what I had learned, I had become a canal. The people I was leading were growing in wonderful ways, but for me there was little water left to nourish the banks, there was no green grass or healthy plants left. Spiritually I became like a damp riverbed in a parched desert.

So many people in our lives need to know the truth. Our children, family members, coworkers, small group, men’s/women’s group, unbelievers, believers, the list goes on and on. We rightfully feel the responsibility to bring them the wisdom and truth we have gained through study. This is amplified for those who lead. Preparing to teach in the Boro, deliver a devotion to your small group, or preach on a Sunday morning can fill the head but leave the soul unmoved. If we do this for a prolonged period, we can find ourselves spiritually drained as we give out everything we have taken in.

The fact of the matter is that God does want us to give out. He wants us to teach others and to be generous with our gifts. He calls us to “count others more significant than yourselves (Phil. 2:3).” But Jesus also said that the only way to produce fruit is to abide in him and in his love (John 15:4, 10). To abide in Jesus is more than studying about him for the purpose of relaying that information to others. To abide requires intimacy where the Lord is experienced and known. What God says through the Bible is not just meant for others—it is meant for you.

In Luke 5:15-16, great crowds come to Jesus because of the miracles he has been performing. The crowds have needs that only Jesus can meet. Yet it verse 16 it says, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Jesus was not disinterested in their problems or selfish with his time. Jesus was a reservoir. He understood that for him to give out he needed to be filled up and the only way for that to happen was to abide in the Father. Only then would he give from the reservoir without drying up. 

I have not crossed out “Am I learning so I may teach” in my Bible. It is still a great reminder to be outward thinking. However, another note has been added just below: “First, abide in him!”