John 15:7

Writing from the hip again. For preamble see my post on John 15:7-8 and the DoNotDepart page on the same verses.

7. If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

If this were in the letters or the Old Testament, I’d happily ignore it. However, even though I know the Gospels are the same kind of text as the letters (e.g., Luke’s Gospel explicitly states that it is a report written by one normal person to be read by another normal person), I treat them specially.

For me, the life of Christ is what is normative — that life is my “Law”, along with his two commandments — and the Gospels are the only window I have on that life. They are especially precious, and I read them — use them — specially.

So, although I could explain this verse away — this kind of claim about prayer is a common motif in religious texts — or discard it, I want this verse to “make sense” to me in a way that is satisfying to me as part of a window on the life of Christ and on the kind of life I want to lead.

One interpretation that smoothes everything out is that if I have the reciprocal abiding, then I would only pray for the “right” things, that could be always granted, for example “ever closer harmony with God”. Praying for a new house is just proof that I am not fully abiding in Jesus.

To a hostile audience no doubt this would sound like a fudge, but my aim is to make this verse useful as a window on a life. This interpretation invites me to imagine, “What would I be like, if I did abide fully in Jesus? What kind of things would I wish for?” I don’t mean as a stick to beat myself with. I mean more like a compass.

Separately, I thought about how this verse relates to how I pray. I really enjoy praying, it’s such a treat, it’s an almost guilty pleasure. I don’t always ask for something (although my pattern is a thank you, a confession and a question). When I do, and especially when the effect is strongest, the question seems to bubble up of its own accord, and it’s whatever I need most. I ask the question completely naively, “as if” just asking, just praying could make it happen.

For me, praying is above all about being in a certain state, and this state includes being completely open and trusting. Praying has a definite effect on my mental health, but I can’t approach it instrumentally.

Perhaps praying is a kind of abiding in Jesus and inviting him to abide in me. Certainly the company is what I most yearn for when I pray.

So, in a way this verse is a description of how I pray.

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  1. I don’t want to discard this statement either–obviously it was an important one–but it has been difficult for me to see in practice. But your explanation does make sense of it. When we are “reciprocally abiding” (I like the term), our will is in sync with Jesus’ will, and thus our requests.

    One other thing I consider: when we are asking for something supposedly immaterial–like a new house, to use your example–Christ understands the request underneath the request–one perhaps we don’t even recognize ourselves, and perhaps that is what he answers, meeting our deepest needs. ?

    Regardless, when his kids enjoy praying, spending time with the Father, he must be so pleased. I do understand that.

    • Dear Lisa

      Thank you for your comments and kind words.

      I like your point about Jesus understanding “the request underneath the request”. I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ statements about “the Law” — sometimes he seems to say throw it all out, sometimes preserve it all — and perhaps it’s similar: Jesus is pointing to the law underneath “the Law”. The point is not to fetishise the rules, but to consider what the law is really about.


  1. Jesus praying in Mark | Luke 7:39

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