The Heart of the Life of Prayer


The opening chapter of the Fourth Gospel tells how two of John’s disciples turned aside from following the forerunner in order to follow Jesus. The story includes an exchange that is frequently overlooked. The two disciples asked Jesus where He lived, to which Jesus replied “Come and see.” The disciples followed Jesus to the place where He was living, but the day was fast waning. According to the text, the two “lived with Him that day” (John 1:37-39). Indeed, they never stopped living with Jesus—they became His companions throughout the rest of His ministry.

The idea of living with Jesus comes up again in John’s gospel. In John 6, Jesus used the metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood as a way of referring to saving faith. He commented that someone who does these things “lives with Me, and I with him” (John 6:56).

This idea is deepened in John 14, where Jesus comforted His disciples in the face of His imminent departure. He stated that His Father’s house contains many “living places,” the future homes of His followers (John 14:2). Jesus also intimated that the Father lives with Jesus, and was the one who works through Him (14:10). He further stated that if someone loves Him and keeps His words, then the Father will love that person. Both the Father and Jesus will come to that person and “make our home” with him (14:23; the word for “home” is the same as the word for “living-places” in verse 2).

For over three years the disciples had been living with Jesus. Now that He was about to go away, this intimate relationship seemed to be threatened. Jesus assured His disciples that His temporary departure guaranteed a place where they would live together with Him forever. In the meanwhile, Jesus pointed to the inner, spiritual presence of the Father with Him as an analog for the spiritual presence of Jesus and the Father with the disciples. In other words, intimacy with Jesus was not merely an eschatological promise, but also an ongoing possibility during Jesus’ bodily absence.

This relationship was not one-sided. For their part, Jesus and the Father would make a home with the disciple. For his part, the disciple must love Jesus and keep His words (John 14:23). This reciprocal relationship provides the background for the parable of the vine and branches in John 15.

Present-day Christians usually read this parable in one of two ways. Some believe that it is teaching about salvation, warning the disciples against the possibility of a false and self-deceiving faith that could lead to eternal condemnation. Others believe that the parable is speaking about the relationship of believers to Jesus after salvation, warning them about the danger of chastening that they might experience if they failed to obey Christ. Both of these readings are defensible and find responsible advocates. Most likely, however, John 15:3 is decisive, especially when read against the backdrop of John 13:8-10. Jesus was addressing His disciples as individuals whose eternal standing is already certain.

In John 15, Jesus is the true vine and God the Father is the farmer (15:1). Believers are the branches. These branches may bear more or less fruit. Those that bear fruit are pruned so that they bear even more. Those that do not bear fruit are taken away (15:2). Since both of these operations involve cutting off some part of the branch, both are likely references to affliction in the lives of believers. Disobedient Christians are chastened and may even be removed from serving the Lord (1 Cor 11:30). Nevertheless, even obedient Christians suffer, being made conformable to their Lord’s death (Phil 3:10). Even the branches that are taken away are “in Christ” (John 15:2).

Branches have no ability to bear fruit by themselves (John 15:4). Just as a branch must “live with” the vine in order to produce fruit, believers must live with Jesus. Those who do live with Jesus, and He with them, will through this mutual living together bear much fruit (15:5). Those who do not live with Jesus will experience the temporal judgments to which Jesus referred (15:6, cf 15:2).

The motif of “living with” Jesus began in John 1 and was the subject of Jesus’ teaching in John 14. Very probably, loving Jesus and keeping His word (John 14:23) is the same act as “living with” Jesus in John 15. Jesus also says that living with Him involves His words “living with” the disciples (John 15:7). Living with Jesus’ love also entails keeping His commandments (15:8).

Even though Jesus is not currently present on earth in bodily form, He does live with His followers. Inasmuch as He is active in their lives—He has taken up residence with them—they must consciously recognize His presence and live with Him. This process of living with Jesus involves several elements: His words live in believers, who must keep His words (obey His commandments), and love Him.

Whenever two people take up residence together, some process of adjustment is always required. Living with a housemate places restrictions upon one’s ability to live exactly as one pleases. One must conform one’s habits and practices to the presence of the other.

So it is when believers live with Christ. The Twelve followed Jesus around the Holy Land, living with Him. Their freedom to make their own choices and gratify their own desires was subject to His presence and decisions. He had the authority to direct them or to rebuke them. They had to conform their lives to His, taking account of His perspectives and requirements.

Jesus has given Himself to those whom He has saved. He lives with them and He wishes them to live with Him, i.e., consciously and deliberately to recognize His presence and to accommodate themselves to it. He wants them to listen to His words and do them. Such people are those whom Jesus names, not as slaves, but as friends (John 15:14-15).

This ongoing life of fellowship and intimacy with the Lord Jesus is the very heart of the prayer life. Jesus makes it clear that those who live with Him can ask whatever they wish, and it will be done (John 15:7). The Father will give them whatever they ask in Jesus’ name (15:16).

Prayer is not simply a matter of drawing up lists and making demands upon God. Fundamentally, a life of prayer grows out of fellowship with Jesus Christ. It grows out of living with Him. Christians live with Jesus when they hear His words and make room for them in their hearts. Christians live with Jesus when they begin to shape their lives around His perspectives, preferences, and requirements. Christians live with Jesus when their love for Him is so genuine that obedience comes as a natural outflow of communion with Him.

When Christians are living that way—when they are living with Jesus—then their prayers will be answered. How could it be otherwise? When they are living with Jesus, they will want what He wants, and consequently their requests reflect His will. The Lord will lead them to ask for the very things that He most longs to give them. Living with Jesus is the heart of the life of prayer.

See, the Word is Incarnate
Godfrey Goodman (1582-1656)

See, see the Word is incarnate; God is made man in the womb of a Virgin.
Shepherds rejoice, wise men adore and angels sing,
“Glory be to God on high: peace on earth, good will towards men.”

The law is cancelled,
Jews and Gentiles converted by the preaching of glad tidings of salvation.
The blind have sight and cripples have their motion;
diseases cured, the dead are raised, and miracles are wrought.
Let us welcome such a guest with Hosanna.

The Paschal Lamb is offered, Christ Jesus made a sacrifice for sin.
The earth quakes, the sun is darkened, the powers of hell are shaken;
and lo, he is risen up in victory.
Sing Alleluia.

See, O see the fresh wounds, the gored blood,
the prick of thorns, the print of nails.
And in the sight of multitudes a glorious ascension.

When now he sits on God’s right hand
where all the choir of heaven all jointly sing:
Glory be to the Lamb that sitteth on the throne.
Let us continue our wonted note with Hosanna:
Blessed be He that cometh in the Name of the Lord;
with Alleluia, we triumph in victory,
the serpent’s head is bruised, Christ’s kingdom exalted,
and heaven laid open to sinners.


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