By Sam Kruvand
Sam Kruvand is a follower of Jesus who is passionate about spiritual renewal. He is a credit consultant and has been with VU since 2016. Sam and his lovely wife Jenny are members of Trinity Community Church in town. He loves coffee, books, and unhurried conversation.
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
I was talking with a good friend the other day about the upcoming service day, ForColumbia. This happens annually to invite Christians all over Columbia to join together in service to those in need. We were reflecting on sacrificial service as a kind of spiritual discipline – something we participate in as a way of both obeying the commands of Jesus, and growing in intimacy with Him over the course of our lives. I was involved in a group discussion between ForColumbia and another initiative, PrayComo, which focuses on the spiritual discipline of prayer. PrayComo invites Christians to commit to times of prayer alone every month, lifting up the needs of our city specifically. We realized in conversation that we’d encountered some of the same criticisms of these initiatives as we promote them, particularly with prayer. The sentiment goes something like this: “Do we really need to pray more? Surely if we just love and serve people more regularly, that will be far more effective in changing our city.”
No one came charging out ‘against prayer’ per se. But there was clearly pushback to its centrality and importance. Interestingly, we know people involved with organizing both projects and there is mutual support and participation between them. Those most involved with these initiatives consider them two sides of the same coin for the Christian. They agree that ForColumbia is about much more than a day of service, and PrayComo is about much more than prayer. Beyond their scope and mission, both are an expression of abiding in Christ.
Of great importance to any apprentice of Jesus is seeking the answers to these questions – What does it mean to abide in Jesus, and where do prayer and service fit into the equation? How vital is prayer? Does prayer truly stand in opposition to getting things done and serving others? Do we choose between a deep prayer life and a life of loving service, or can we, should we pursue and cultivate both? Is something like PrayComo (or an intentional prayer life) compatible with ForColumbia (or a life deeply committed to service)? As someone passionate about both and intent on abiding in Jesus, I’d like to address these questions and shed some light on what John 15 means for us.
Abide has a few definitions and they all apply: “to accept or act in accordance with,” “to continue without fading or being lost,” “to live or dwell.” The word abide is one we don’t use commonly, but it’s something we all do. Much like worship, it is not just a thing for religious types, but something hardwired into the human heart. When we dig deep enough, we realize we are all praising, celebrating, and finding our security in something or someone, even if it’s our own self-reliance. Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics apply here, “you gotta serve somebody.” Abiding is no different. At the end of the day, where do you find rest? What is your purpose? What, or who, fuels your desires? Everyone abides somewhere.
I think I know where some of the pushback on prayer movements comes from. There is certainly a kind of “spiritual zeal” that rejects the importance of loving and serving those around us, or even denies the goodness of our physical world. It’s toxic, mystical, and religious in all of the ways Jesus challenged. James 2:15-17 actually warns against this very thing, and we’ve all heard the phrase “too heavenly minded for any earthly good”. In fact, I’m sure we all know incredibly kind people who have no regard for prayer or spirituality. Yet Jesus taught and modeled both prayer and service in profound ways that inspire us, radically valuing both. Like many things in life and faith, we would be foolish to reject the good of something simply because we’ve seen it done poorly, out of balance, or counterfeited- especially when it’s something God’s Word calls us into repeatedly.
Jesus did more good works than all the books on the earth could even contain (John 21:25). Whether we read that literally or figuratively, He was love in action. To be heavenly minded (as the Bible defines it) is to have the “mind of Christ”. In Philippians 2:1-11, Paul gives a remarkable picture of this servant hearted obedience. Jesus was also a man who spent regular times in silence, solitude, and prayer (Luke 5:16). He offered up loud cries of anguish, he knew tears in His prayers (Hebrews 5:7). He prayed with others, and he prayed alone. He passionately pursued the Father through prayer in all its forms and called us into the same pursuit.
The expectation is abundantly clear for anyone who would come after Him- that we should pursue His ways. “When you pray”, “When you fast”, “When you give”, not if (see sermon on the mount, Mt 5-7). Two significant passages in the book of James highlight these realities together: Living faith is evidenced by real works (chapter 2), and we do not have because we do not ask (chapter 4). While there are many other passages we could draw on, the picture is clear.
For Jesus, these ways (prayer and service) are interconnected to knowing God. It is a false dichotomy to pit them against one another, to reject either is to reject the way of Jesus.
If our zeal is godly, over time we’ll bear the fruit of the Spirit and care more deeply for the people around us and the communities we live in. Sacrificial service will become normative, as will a life of prayer. We should be suspect in our own lives and discern the wisdom of others when the two seem divorced or dramatically imbalanced.
While ForColumbia is certainly about doing good for our neighbors in acts of love and service to our city, it is also an invitation to more. The “more” that Jesus taught, modeled, and made a way for us to step into. And while PrayComo encourages us to commit to regular times in our private prayer, it is an invitation that will bear the fruit of service and love in our lives. For Jesus, these are integrated. It’s not a choice between volunteerism, sacrificial service, investing in community OR cultivating a deep life of prayer, practicing silence and solitude, engaging with spiritual disciplines. It is a call to abide in Him, and bear fruit. When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus responded: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31). We need time with Jesus in prayer to bear fruit with Jesus in action.