The air became still as He spoke. Sun pouring down, the heat from the sky matching the heat of emotions stirring in the shabbily dressed group gathered in an accidental circle.
The end was coming. They could feel it.
He had been talking and teaching for some time, their attention sticking and releasing with their emotional peaks and valleys, that is until He began speaking of an invitation.
Abide in me, as I abide in you. (John 15:4, NRSV)
Stay. Remain. Dwell. An invitation of the grandest kind.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit... (15:5b, NRSV)
Possibility. A thought that tickled their imaginations and frustrated their expectations. A promise rooted in prophetic and Messianic storytelling about the great vineyard owner planting for others to harvest, even though they sat by and watched Him pull weeds. We want to bear much fruit. Yes, fruit is good. If this is real, if this is true, then...
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (15:7, NRSV)
Climax. Zenith. Crescendo. The orchestra at mezzo forte, blowing spiritual eardrums and rattling the windows of faith and fidelity for the sake of that kernel of human drive and desire. Ask for whatever you wish. Ask and it will happen. What do you wish for? Desire? Delight in? What do you long for in the stretches of sleepless nights dotting the random Wednesdays of your life?
We live in a culture centered on self-fulfillment, often with deadly consequences, so this verse causes great panic. The theologian in me shudders over "name it claim it" theology versus Jesus the Impoverished among the McMansions of Western Christianity.
The hungry disciple in me, craving formation into Christlikeness, feels a quickening pulse of both freedom and hope.
The thing that makes this promise - yes, it's Jesus making a promise - good and holy is the qualifier.
If you abide in me...
If. That's a major word. If I get this job. If she cheats again. If God really exists. "If" is the first step of faith in a journey toward formation in Christ.
If we are shaped, formed, corrected, rebuked, redirected, inspired, refreshed, realigned, educated, illuminated, motivated and invigorated by abiding then we'll ask for things that God is all too happy to give.
What if those things you wish are actually in line with God's greatest desires for you?
What if the distance between wishes coming true and the grand valley of disappointment is the contented position of abiding, dwelling, or remaining in the words and commandments of Christ?
Loving one another will give us our wishes. Forgiving as we've been forgiven will give us our wishes. Giving without expecting reimbursement will give us our wishes.
We are so paralyzed by a God who is reticent to give that, even when Jesus promises the result and provides the means for it's provision, we don't ask.
So which comes first? The wish fulfilled or the abiding?
What if that's the wrong question? Or if not "wrong", then just unhelpful and uninteresting?
What if the better question is "If abiding in Jesus could make bring my wishes to pass, then why would I abide anywhere else - even if abiding in Him proves my wishes to be so much cheaper and insignificant compared to what He actually wants for me?"
The disciples stood up, leaving that place, hearing Jesus' call to keep His commandments and know His love, but I wonder if their ears weren't ringing with "Ask whatever you wish..."
That promise becomes all the more important when abiding with Jesus means a road to a cross. The place where the great wish of humanity began to become true.