Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV)
In one of the Bible study sessions that I had with my DG (discipleship group), the topic of abundant life was brought up for discussion and there were different responses as to what it means – a meaningful and purposeful life, a life overflowing with joy, a life that desires God, eternal life, etc. Although ‘abundant life’ was not directly dealt with by the Bible study materials, I was glad that we took a closer look at it since as disciples of Jesus and God’s beloved, we ought to live life abundantly as Jesus has promised us. But what is abundant life? It is important for us to have a good picture of what it is before we can say whether that picture fits our life right now?
Abundant life surely does not refer to life filled with an abundance of wealth, riches and health. Some churches teach that Jesus is made poor so that we can become rich. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8.9) For these churches, they would thank Jesus for doing all the suffering so that they can now enjoy all the prospering! Jesus is indeed rich. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the Creator of the universe. Yet He was willing to give up the comforts of heaven to come into this world, borne in a manger, borne into a carpenter’s family, lived a simple life and died a cruel death, so that through His poverty, we can become rich. Is it material riches that the apostle Paul was referring to? If so, we should be seeing the first century Christians prospering. Instead, the early church was bombarded with persecutions and sufferings and the disciples of Jesus continued to live life simply following the example of their Lord. Even if the apostle Paul was initially well-to-do as a Pharisee, he became a tent-maker in order to support himself and not become a burden to the churches he was ministering to – hardly a picture of prosperity. Shall we conclude that Paul did not live life abundantly or is the understanding of those churches erroneous?
The contemplatives who spend many hours behind the walls of the monasteries put much emphasis on taking delight in God, enjoying the presence of God and spending extended time in silence and solitude so as to reach ever deeper levels of intimacy with Him. Their theme verse must be “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46.10) Is this living life abundantly? Is contemplation alone enough? On the other hand, there are those who are always on the go. I call them the actives, the opposite of the contemplatives, as Martha was the opposite of Mary. They would be the first to step up to serve whenever there is a shortage of manpower; they are seen wearing a few hats at the same time; some are content in serving quietly behind the scenes. We are always very grateful for their selfless service. But they can be tired people, and sometimes disillusioned too. Is this living life abundantly?
Growing up with Campus Crusade for Christ where we often use the Four Spiritual Laws as a tool for evangelism, we are quick to define abundant life as living a purposeful and meaningful life. First of all, this is only possible when we have a relationship with God. That is why Jesus is the One through whom we can live life abundantly since He has done everything that is necessary for us to be reconciled to God and thus have a relationship with Him. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3.18) Living life abundantly must begin with the love relationship we have with God, delighting in His presence just like we delight in the company of some special people in our lives –a child taking delight in the presence of his sacrificial mother, a student taking delight in the presence of his caring teacher, a friend taking delight in the presence of his thoughtful buddy, or a girl taking delight in the presence of his loving boyfriend – but multiply the intensity many times over! To delight in God is to love Him but how can we even begin to love Him? “We love because He first loved us.” (1 Jn 4.19) So to be able to love God, we need to constantly go back to the cross and reflect on God’s amazing love for us. As we do that, our hearts are filled with gratitude and humility because we are least deserving; our hearts are filled with delight and joy in God because we are so overwhelmed by His love for He calls us His beloved. Here the contemplatives will do well but contemplation alone is not enough.
Contemplation and action must go hand in hand. As we delight in God, we must express that delight. We can express our delight through a grateful heart that is constantly giving thanks to God for all His blessings, great and small, that He has showered upon us, beginning with the cross. We can also express our delight through our worship when we sing praises to Him, when we serve Him according to our spiritual gifts, when we offer our very best at work or school, when we extend love to one another by meeting each other’s needs, when we carry out the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations, when we live in obedience to His Holy Word. Look back at the structure of the previous sentence and you will realise that I am trying to stress that every act that we do constitutes worship and when we worship God 24/7 out of our love for Him and our delight in Him, we are living purposeful and meaningful lives. If we are doing that, we are not too far from fulfilling the mission of the church – love God and make disciples. We love God and out of the love for God, we love people and how best to love them than to invest our lives in them, share the Gospel and if they come to the Lord, build them up in their faith, and that is disciple-making.
We can never claim that we have arrived where living life abundantly is concerned, at least not on this side of heaven. It is a process; it is ongoing; it is a journey. As we grow in our love for God, and out of that love, that delight and joy in the Lord, go forth to love others more and more by influencing them for and building them up in Christ, we will truly live a meaningful and purposeful life and that, to me, is to live life more abundantly.
Pastor Kien Seng
September 18, 2011