The Abiding and Abounding Life

Written by Mary Rearick Paul
From her column Dwelling with God

Quite some time ago John Ortberg visited the university campus where I work and talked with us about the practice of living in abiding and abounding ways. My synopsis of his message is that if we don’t keep these two words in balance, we could easily fall into scrambling (trying to abound on our own energy) or depression (unfocused stillness that leads to lethargy). This resonated in my spirit as I reflected on the times when I sensed God calling me to “Be still,” and other times when I sensed God saying, “Rise up.”

Paul’s prayer in Philippians reflects a deep desire for the church (corporately and individually) to know an abounding and abiding life:

  • “And this is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-13 NIV).

It is also clear this kind of abundant life doesn’t just happen because we have received the gospel. The gospel must continue to form us and re-form us. This takes prayerful scrutinizing and testing to determine what it looks like step by step.

The gospel must continue to form us and re-form us.

Abundant life doesn’t come without a commitment to reflecting on the ways God’s abiding and abounding love is flowing or stifled in our lives. As I strive, like many of us, to find a healthy rhythm, the organizational tricks and tools that work for others have failed me. If, for example, I try to illustrate my priorities for a given day or week using a pie chart (or similar measure), it would soon lack any sustaining meaning as emergencies, interruptions, and natural demands of work and life blur the lines between self-imposed categories. Instead, the inventory I am called to do on a regular basis is to review what the day, the week, or last few weeks have held in the abounding and abiding categories.

One method that has worked for me is the so-called Questions of Examen, a pattern of guided reflection attributed to Ignatius of Loyola. There are many variations of these questions that can be found through multiple sources.[1] The practice is intended to help us create space for an honest life review. This can be as frequent as every day. If it’s daily, the time given for this practice is around 15 minutes. A journal can be helpful as we reflect and pray. Here is the general pattern I follow (the language is based and adapted from many sources):

1. Am I willing to look honestly, guided by the Holy Spirit, at my life? Invite God to join you as you reflect on the rhythms of your days/weeks/months.

2. Where do I recognize God’s good gifts in my life? At what times have I sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence? Pause to give thanks.

3. Where do I see places of abundance, abiding, scrambling or depression? Take time to list these. See if there is a pattern or practice that needs to be addressed.

4. What is God revealing in this review? Practice confession of situations where repentance, change, restitution, adjustments need to be made. If you know you have a general tendency/temptation that gets in the way of the life God has called you to live, you might want to add a question that addresses that concern.

5. Am I willing to address areas of my life that need change? If “Yes,” commit, by God’s mercies, to walking in the ways of God’s leading and convictions. It may be important to share your plan for change with a trusted soul friend. If “No,” ask God to help you grow in your willingness and commitment.

In all of this we are reminded that the abiding/abundant life is received by God’s mercies. We are just creating space to listen in deep and wide ways. My confidence is in God’s faithfulness and power at work in these lives of ours: individual and corporately. I join Paul in saying over your life and mine, “Being confident of this, that [God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Dr. Mary Rearick Paul is vice president of spiritual development at Point Loma Nazarene University.

[1] One resource for deeper study is