John 10:10: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
A couple of years ago, I came upon this passage while reading the scripture. I was taken by the promise Jesus gives us in this verse. I don’t know about you, but when I look around the pews of most of the churches I have worked with in the last decade, most people don’t seem to be living the abundant life. It makes me wonder why.
Dictionary.com defines it this way: a·bun·dance
1. an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply: an abundance of grain.
2. overflowing fullness: abundance of the heart.
3. affluence; wealth: the enjoyment of abundance.
As I worked in the Lutheran tribe, I found a mentality of scarcity pervades the institution, from local churches to regional Synods to the Churchwide organization. When I went to the Churchwide Assembly in 2005, the underlying reasoning became clear. We voted on a budget that year that was the same dollars as the first year the ELCA Lutheran church came into existence through merger in 1988. I’m not talking inflation-adjusted dollars, but real dollars. In other words, the church had been in retrenchment since it was formed, trying to figure out each year how to do more with less.
At the time of the merger, leaders did not make the tough decisions to merge seminaries, and today several of them are arguably circling the drain, unable to attract enough donations or students to be sustainable. Since the vote to allow same sex clergy in committed relationships a couple of years ago, the organization has seen a 25% reduction in budgets and staff, with no hope of recovery.
From my earliest experiences learning about Jesus, and his life, I have wondered why people I met in church did not seem to really believe all those promises He made.
Ask, and it will be given...
Knock, and the door will open....
My peace I give to you...
Do not let your hearts be troubled...
Worry not what tomorrow brings....
So, what are the obstacles to receiving Jesus’ promise of abundant life? Probably the first reason is where we get our identity. In my life, I have sought solace from many sources other than Jesus. (See the post: Does your identity limit spiritual growth?) I have put trust in my abilities, my business, my financial resources. However, none of these left me to experience the peace of God.
When everything was put at risk, and I was facing a judgment of several million dollars, which would have wiped me out, God invited me to reexamine this simple question: Where do you put your trust? (See that post here) Through my time of trial, God enabled me to see that anything I try to substitute for my trust in Him will fail me.
As I have begun to find my identity as an adopted child of the King, I have begun to experience abundance. Don’t get me wrong, I was truly blessed before, but until I started daily to live into the Kingdom, I did not really experience abundance.
Another key component was my recognition that all I have is truly a gift from God. I spent many years trying to prove how smart I was, how capable, how good a leader. But, in my striving, I was trying to overcome a feeling deep inside me that I was not good enough. Most of my striving, in life, at work, and in church, was driven by the need to prove myself. I was operating under obligation. Robert Fritz helped me see that in reality, I could never overcome the feelings of inadequacy that had driven me. So, I embraced them.
God has helped me to see that I could never be good enough to earn His love or my salvation. Even though I fall short, God loves me anyway, and Jesus went to the cross for me, a sinner. As I look through the scripture, I’m amazed at how God continually using imperfect humans to do his will. I am so thankful to be in a place where my ego does not depend upon my accomplishments.
As I give thanks each day for the blessings, and for the growth that was born of pain in my life, I open myself to be available, and expectantly wait to see what the Spirit brings across my path each day. I am amazed at the opportunities to serve others that flow from my availability.
The joy that comes from using my gifts to help others see and use their gifts brings more satisfaction that my greatest business success. Seeing how the Spirit uses me to touch others encourages me to deeper obedience and submission. The good life that flows from this posture is amazing. Serving out of our giftedness, allowing ourselves to become channels of God’s grace, instead of reservoirs of His blessings, is a key to abundant life.
Bill Easum suggests a process of discipleship employed by healthy churches as a powerful catalyst to the abundant life. In healthy churches, Easum says we are first changed by an experience of the living God in worship. Then, we are helped to discern our gifts. If we believe that God has a plan for us, a calling for our lives, then it makes sense that he has gifted us, and led us through experiences that have grown our abilities and evoked our passion in order that we can discover and live out our calling. Once we have discerned the calling nested in our gifts, the healthy church helps equip us to live out our gifts in support of the calling. Finally, we are sent out into the community to serve others out of the abundance of the gifts the Father has given us, and in so doing, we live into the abundant life.
For those who still use fear to motivate people into church as a after-life insurance policy, the ability to unlock an abundant life is thwarted by the motivation of fear. When we are motivated by fear, by obligation or anything other than gratitude, we are burning a fuel that drives us, not one that draws us deeper into the love of God. When we are drawn, rather than driven, we can experience peace, and live abundantly. May it be so for you and your family.