“I’d like to buy a vowel, please. Is there an A?”
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7
Between the words inhibit and inhabit, phonetically speaking, there’s only a vowel’s difference. But, semantically speaking, that single vowel places these words at opposite ends of the grammatical spectrum. It’s funny how much weight rests on something so seemingly insignificant. It’s just a letter. It’s just a vowel. It’s just a curved line rather than a straight line. Surely words spelled so closely alike must have other similarities as well. Hmmm….let me see…nope, notta, nothin’. They are as opposite as blessings and curses, as life and death, as attending and abiding. But, while their applications may be miles apart, all too often their similar appearance causes them to be misused and mishandled.
Recently, I took a day and played hooky. It was a completely inadvertent and unexpected twist to my previously planned out day, but it was one of the best things I could have done because in that day I experienced the word abide. I’ve long known its meaning. I’ve often used its terminology. I’ve frequently recited its usage in a Bible passage (John 15:7). But on this day, I felt it. Have you ever put on a word? Have you ever gone deeper than its appearance or its practicality and actually felt its substance? Some words, I believe, are meant to be worn, to be wrapped about us. Words like family, freedom, and forgiveness; or gratitude, grace, and grief. Some words must be stepped into rather than just stepped upon. Abide is one of those words; inhabit is another. As I experienced on my “day off”, before we can abide, we must first inhabit.
In Joshua, we read of the arrival of the children of Israel into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. When God led His children to the borders of their new home, He told them to inhabit the land which He had given them; “every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.” (Joshua 1:3). Through Moses and then Joshua, God reviewed the rules of engagement, reminding the people to choose between life and death, blessings and curses; between inhabiting and inhibiting, attending and abiding. As the Israelites prepared to claim their land, God knew there was much more at stake than just the removal of the current inhabitants. Once claimed, the land would have to be maintained and managed, and this process would need to be repeated again and again if it was to become a place in which one would inhabit…and abide.
I think that’s where a lot of us get hung up. At least it’s true for me. Maintaining and managing too often become a way of life and, before we know it, our days are spent trying to keep up with all the upkeep and rather than becoming inhabitors of the land, we succumb to becoming inhibited by the land. Instead of dwelling, we develop; instead of residing, we redesign. We are a people who thrive on doing but who hold back on being. As a result, we fail to enjoy the very things that have been given to us for our enjoyment.
Just think for a moment of all the areas in your life that you work to maintain: your home, your family, your job, your friends, yourself…your faith. All of these are gifts, all of these are territories God has given us to inhabit and to enjoy. But, since they all require maintenance, too often we focus more on the upkeep than on the upside. When this happens, our focus turns to managing that which God meant for us to own. Jesus said we are to enter into the joy of our Master (Matt. 25:21). Our joy isn’t found at the entrance or the perimeter of God’s blessing, but at its center. When we step away from the borders of activity we step into the center of abiding. It’s a long walk but a short fall. It’s a place we can only get to once we stop moving. And then, when we are still, we sink into it and we put it on. Right foot, left foot, right arm, left arm…ahhh. Feel it? It’s warm yet breathable, soft yet strong, overwhelming but not overpowering. It’s the feeling of abiding. And as we abide in God, we inhabit His blessings; and when we inhabit His blessings, we praise His name, and when we praise His name, He inhabits our praises (Psalm 22:3).
I played hooky the other day and it was the best thing I could have done. The sudden halt in activity allowed my feet to stop so my soul could move. On a day in which I traded managing for owning and surveying for settling, I inhabited my territory and gave thanks for the blessings God has given me…and I put on the word abide…and it fit.