Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is the Abundant Life?

Jesus is all about giving people abundant life (John 10:10b).  For many, an abundant life is full of health, power, clarity of direction and ease.  This is a concept that flows well with our Western ideologies of life and within the church culture of success; larger houses, larger bank accounts, larger ministries.  The challenge of this concept of an abundant life is that you are hard pressed to find any Biblical character where this version is experienced (think Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus Himself).  A life of health, power, clarity and ease will be realized, but not until we are with Jesus forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Jesus teaches us that the path to an abundant life only comes by dying to ourselves while the enemy promises that life will come if you pursue your own comforts and ways.  Jesus tells us that in order to gain your life you have to lose it while the enemy disciples us in the way of self which only leads to a depleted life (Prov. 21:17).  Jesus would have us be powerful, but the power of Christ only comes through surrendering our life in exchange for His, something not many want to do.

In 1 Thessalonians, we find Paul recognizing the abundant life in the souls of these new believers.  Paul states that these new followers of Christ as having been powerful in their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:3).  Paul says this type of abundant life was given to them by Paul through the word proclaimed but also "in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5).  Paul goes on to say that these believers "became imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thess. 1:6).  If we think about these strong traits in light of our current culture or ease with its definition of success, we might believe that it came simply by exercising their faith to the fullest and seeing God do amazing works in their midst.  This excites our minds and hearts as we begin in envision the grand works that God wants to do through our lives and ministries.  But if we continue to read how a strong life like this is accessed, we find a different template for the abundant life.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 we read that this life is accessed through receiving "..the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit".  Gaining an abundant life through much tribulation is not what most people want to hear but it is the way of godly personalities all throughout the Scripture.  We can kick the enemies butt, but it comes with a cost of fighting battles against the world, the flesh and the Devil, not through stepping into the promises of God towards a life of ease and prosperity.  It is more about the surrendering of self in order to love others deeply which certainly involves pain, persecution and being sorely misunderstood.  This life of being others focused is deeply powerful because it demonstrates a reality of being that is realized through strength, endurance and giving of self.  That is an attractive life.  The believers of Thessalonica lived this abundant powerful life so they "...became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia" (1 Thess. 1:7).  That certainly is a life of impact!

So what kind of life did Paul give to them to imitate?  In chapter two of 1 Thessalonians. Paul said he came to them after "...we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." (1 Thess. 2:1).  Paul experienced a life of ease as a Pharisee but now he was willing to suffer and embrace the pain of life to be strong as Jesus was to the world.  Paul teaches them that the result of Jesus living out a godly, sinless life full of love and mercy got Him killed just as the prophets (1 Thess. 2:15).  

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jewswho both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. (1 Thess. 2:14-15).

Our enemy understands that life through surrender and opposition is not popular.  Therefore, he is about giving large doses of misdirection and deception which looks a lot like life but actually offers destruction and death (John 10:10a).  We also know that our common enemy can appear to be an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and will draw people away from the deeper life Jesus calls the abundant life.  The contrasts between Jesus' version of an abundant life and the Devil's version is stark and seductive but comes over us subtly as we buy the lie that abundant life is possible through our own devices to bring us comfort.

Our hearts are hungry for more.  We want to be revolutionaries that impact our world with the life of Christ.  We want our lives to stand for more than our own self desires.  We are created for much more in life than fulfilling the passions of the flesh.  We were made to impact people with others centered living.  We were made to point people in the direction of health which is living like Jesus did and following His ways.  We were made to bash the gates of hell which means there will be casualties.  The abundant life Jesus promises is full of power, pain and perseverance.

The power of the abundant life can only be realized through enlarging our faith.  Enlarging our faith is often taught as being gained by exercising our rights as citizens of Heaven.  The Thessalonians had their faith and love for one another enlarged through their "...perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure." (2 Thess. 1:4).  This is the way of our Master and an enlarged faith in God and love for others cannot be accessed any other way.

An abundant life is found through surrendered and sacrificial obedience of doing what love requires, "treating others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).  An abundant life will be powerful and impact many but is also costly.  Enter the abundant life and see the power of God flow through you to the world.

I would to hear your thoughts about the abundant life Jesus promises.