A couple of weeks ago, Olivia and I went on a date night. We went to see the movie The Croods. I am not a connoisseur of movies. I don’t demand a riveting plot or insist on well developed characters. So children’s movies tend to be right up my alley. I didn’t expect much more than a couple of hours of entertainment from this movie, but what I found was actually a deep truth that Jesus spoke of many times.
In the movie, we are introduced to a family of cavemen and women. They journey out of their cave only long enough to fight an elaborate fight to get not quite enough food. Grug is the dad of the family and his motto is “Never not be afraid.” He tells stories each night that end with the phrase “And she died.” They are living a life of fear and overprotection. One night, the teenage daughter, Eep, who yearns for something more ventures out of the cave while her dad is asleep. Eep meets a young man name Guy who is able to think and plan. When the Croods’ cave is destroyed, they are forced to roam in new territory. Guy comes to their rescue many times and promises to take them to tomorrow. He promises them a life better than they have ever known. Naturally, Grug fights against Guy, and tries to maintain control of his family by finding them a new cave to hide in. At one point during a heated argument, Grug yells to Eep, “But the rules kept us alive.” Eep replies, “That wasn’t really living. That was just not dying.”
This is apparently a universal challenge. In 1937 , Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book called The Art Of Living. In the introduction, he says:
“Everyone who scans these pages is alive. The fact that he is able to sit up and run his eyes over these words is proof of that. It does not follow, however, that being alive he knows the art of living. We are, many of us, in the strange anomaly of living and yet not living. The body functions; its surpassing mechanism does its part well. We live and move and have our being in the flesh, and yet, sadly enough, many miss the joy of life.”
Later, he says that the one question that every person wants an answer to is “how do I live here and now in a way that will bring me satisfaction and peace and give me a sense of worth?” This is still a question that each one of us asks. And one that too many people try to answer with things that don’t last.
This brings to mind a time when Jesus said something similar. Turn with me to John chapter 10 verses 1 thorough 10.
Now we look at this and say, oh yes, I want abundant life. But there are many misunderstandings about what abundant life looks like.
I suspect many of you have heard of the so called prosperity preachers who teach that if you please God, He will give you all the money, jewelry, big homes and shiny cars that you ever wanted. Or maybe you’ve heard someone say that a good Christian should never be sick. Or that all who are really following Jesus will always be happy and peaceful in every circumstance. The problem with many of these teachings is that they take a kernel of truth – that God does give good gifts to His children – and misuse verses like “I have come to give them life more abundantly” to play on people’s desires and lead them on a path to idolatry, serving the mighty dollar or perfect health, rather than the God himself.
Let’s take a look at one specific verse that is often misused in this way, John 10:10. What did Jesus mean when he said, “I have come to give them life, and life more abundantly?” This was not a statement made in a vacuum. It was part of a bigger discussion. Jesus had been wandering, healing and teaching. In his teaching, he often used word pictures to help the people understand complex truths. He has an encounter with the Pharisees and begins to speak of sheep, which the people of that time knew a great deal about. It was common for a man to own many sheep, and several flocks would often be kept in a pen together overnight with a watchman. In the morning, the shepherd would call out to his sheep and they would follow only him out of the pen. Jesus uses this imagery to announce that he is the Shepherd, calling to his people. The sheep are not to follow any other call but his, implying that there will be others who will call to them with false promises. As can only be done in imagery, Jesus depicts himself as not only the good shepherd, but also as the gate by which his sheep go in and out, experiencing not only the protection of the shepherd, but the freedom to enjoy the green pastures and plentiful water outside the pen.
The biggest clue we find to what Jesus meant by abundant life lies in the Greek wording. If Jesus had been talking about material possessions, the word used would likely have been “bios,” which refers to earthly, physical life.” But in this instance, the word used is “zoe,” which refers to essential, ethical, spiritual life. Jesus is talking about giving us a life in the Spirit which is beyond our imagination. Typically, when a truth is found in the scripture, it will be found more than once. This is no different. Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us that “eye has not see, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.” Romans 8 says that “Law of the Spirit of God has set me free from the law of sin and death.” Yes, through the work of the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus Christ, God gives His children supreme, extraordinary, surpassing, eternal life.
Jesus answers that age old question of how I can have satisfaction and peace and a sense of worth, by giving his children life – zoe life – abundant, eternal life more than we can even imagine – through His Spirit.
So doesn’t it follow that if God is giving me a life of satisfaction, peace and worth, wouldn’t he want me to have lots of money, perfect health, long life, and never have reason to be sad? Well, not necessarily. The spiritual life and the physical life are intertwined. Each affects the other. Yes, God certainly does promise many blessings for his children. But he also says following him won’t be easy. Those who use God as some kind of spiritual slot machine where they put in their tithe and maybe throw in a quick prayer, hoping God will give them the perfect job making $100,000 a year will fail.
Sometimes, we think we know what we need. God may know better. Like a loving parent, God wants to give us good things and he wants the best for us. But he knows better than we do. What parent would give thousands of dollars in cash to a child in Toys R Us. Even though the child thinks that would be a wonderful gift, the parent knows that would not be in the child’s best interest. God, likewise will not give us things even if we think they’ll be a blessing if he knows that if will derail our faith or if he knows that we need to mature before receiving the gift. Look at Abraham and Sarah. They had to wait 25 years for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son. God knew the right timing and Abraham was considered a righteous man.
Jesus even said in John 14:13, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The phrase “in my name” doesn’t mean simply adding on the name of Jesus to my list of wants. It means praying in God’s will. That becomes easier to do as we mature in our relationship with God, allowing Him to mold our will to His.
God promises to take care of us. Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Then why is there so much poverty and sickness among Christians? Although we can never fully understand God’s ways, he has given us some reasons. Sometimes, it is a curse for not following his ways.
Sometimes we don’t know or don’t follow his guidelines for good health and financial stability (and yes, there are plenty in the Scriptures). Sometimes it is a natural consequence of living in a fallen world. Sometimes God allows us to go through trials or temptations to strengthen us in ways that would not happen if nothing ever went wrong. But through it all, He is there, walking with us through the fire.
Could it be that the abundant spiritual life that God gives us allows us the freedom to fully live through the good and the bad times in life? Could it be that the abundant spiritual life is what gives us the freedom to grieve the loss of a loved one? Could it be that the abundant spiritual life lets us shout for joy when a friend makes the winning shot in a game? Could it be that the abundant spiritual life gives us permission to feel the joy, sadness, love, anger and millions of other feelings that God has created within us without shame, knowing that we have given them all into His capable hands?
Take for example, this Fireworks stand we have going as a fundraiser for the teens. I’m not sure that sitting on black pavement in 90 degree heat for 6 hours would rank on anyone’s list of fun things to do. Not one of those bucket list items. But we have adults and teens who are doing it, fully experiencing the tiredness, aches and pains, short tempers, laughter, time together, visits with friends we haven’t seen in a while, and satisfaction of knowing there is a bigger cause behind this.
Living the abundant life is about so much more than just some money or possessions. The key to those verses in Matthew chapter 6 lies in verse 33, “Seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added unto you.” This is our priority. Loving God 100%. Abandoning ourselves to Him. And trusting that He will never let us down. Let’s not trivialize the abundant life that God offers by focusing only on the physical. True abundant life shows up in an abundance of love, joy, peace and the rest of the fruits of the spirit. Physical blessings are icing on the cake.
CS Lewis wrote: “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” Let us ask God to open our eyes to his abundant life in us so that we no longer put our faith in the mud pies, but in the God who made the sea.