Chapter 1: Come for Abundance
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
I’ll trust Thy love, believe Thy word,
Lord, I’m coming home.…
My strength renew, my hope restore,
Lord, I’m coming home.
He is fourteen. Tall, lean, full of exuberant, exhausting life. As I perch at our family room window, wondering blankly about the most life-giving thing I could do, he races up our hill, turns some cartwheels, cups his hand to his mouth, and erupts with a shofar sound. And keeps running.
At 6 feet 1½ inches tall and 145 pounds, our son runs, laughs, jiggles, fidgets, talks, shouts, and plays the piano like he lives his life: fortissimo and fast.
He is less worried about accuracy on the notes than he is about zest and gusto. He makes mistakes. He runs into things, breaks the occasional dish, bumps into chairs and doorjambs because his long limbs make big wide movements.
He has lows, but they are infrequent and brief. The buoy doesn’t stay under for long before bobbing to the surface. He spreads joy indiscriminately, like dandelion seeds in a breeze.
I think Jesus must love this puppy-dog boy very, very much, because he is so like Jesus. He is, in fact, Jesus’s namesake. Joshua. Yehoshua. God is my salvation; the God who saves. And in Joshua, I see lived out before me daily Jesus’s words in John 10:10: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
He is fourteen.
I am not.
And he is my new mentor.
Longing for Life
Doesn’t everyone long for more life, for life like that? For a sense of fullness and vitality and goodness to exude from their heart, through their pores, and out into their relationships in the world? Weakly, I can state that I’d like to be more alive. It seems like a nice idea. I’d like to feel alive, energetic, and fully engaged with the person or task before me.
Perhaps this is a personality issue. Maybe outgoing people, or cholerics (or whatever those tests label them), thrive on being with others and have this zest, and everyone else is left wading in the low energy, nonabundant gene pool. Or maybe the abundant life was a limited edition offer, a time-sensitive possibility, and we didn’t return our envelope in time.
Surely Christ’s promises are not limited by personality tests or time. Even so, LIFE in capital letters no longer seems to come naturally to many of us–not such exuberant life, not boisterous, engaging, laughing life.
We drag ourselves out of bed in the morning, make lists, slog through the day, do our work. And energy? Maybe after enough coffee or chocolate (or both in my case), but the high evaporates quickly, replaced by irritability. Eye contact–what’s with that? We avoid people’s eyes so that they don’t expect something from us that we cannot give. And laughter? Ha! When holding a microphone, I seem to be funny. But daily? Not so much. I often don’t even notice things are funny until the time for communal laughter has long passed. When I’m most alive, I laugh easily. Unfortunately, I’m not laughing much these days.
We’re not exactly dead women walking. But we’re definitely dazed, half-alive.
I don’t think this is the picture Jesus painted when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” But, hey, we make it through our days, fulfill our commitments, smile when appropriate. Isn’t that enough?
Maybe I’m just planting seeds of discontent in women’s hearts when talking about longing for more of life. After all, the apostle Paul said he had learned to get along in all kinds of situations. And if he can say that about his life, which was full of beatings and poisonous snakes and being dropped over walls and shipwrecked, well, we need to just put up or shut up.
I mean, some would suggest that simply watching out my family room window trying to think of something zany to do was wrong. I wasn’t being content with the life I already had. Somehow, contentment seems to slant us as passive passengers in the canoe, paddles on our laps. We exist in an emotional neutral and let the current carry us.
Frankly, that’s a lie. Although it fits with the paralyzed image many have of Christianity, the lack of longing is a problem. One friend, my mentor for years, e-mailed me this a few months ago: “What sounds like fun to you? I’m thinking about us spending the better part of a day together. Design a perfectly happy day, and let’s try and launch it.”
Guess what? I couldn’t come up with anything that seemed right. What if she laughed or yawned at my idea? Or it fell flat like old soda pop? Why couldn’t I think of something crazy–happy–to do?
Something is seriously wrong when we don’t long for life. We have so deeply buried our longings that we can’t access them anymore, like longings are some archaic computer language that no longer relates to current equipment.
But beneath our performance, perfectionism, and brokenness lies a common longing, if we excavate enough layers. Occasionally, as we sigh and wipe our brow or our tears, there exists, just beyond the known, just at the edges of our being, a hope for another world–a thought that there must be more: like a three-dimensional pop-up book instead of this black-and-white printout.
So why do we pursue hope’s fulfillment in the wrong places, expecting heaven on earth in relationships, jobs, husbands, children, careers, or house and home?
One woman’s answer made me laugh. She grinned wryly and divulged her latest hobby: triathlons. “It’s the bored housewife syndrome,” she explained. “It’s this or have an affair.”
There are options other than having an affair (and exercise)! Too many of us try this: work harder, smile more, do more, run faster. And when that doesn’t work, we pretend.
Meanwhile, the chasm between our promised abundant life and our day-to-day existence widens. And this is where we’re left: we’re torn between disappointment (Is this it? Is this all there is?) and hope (Are we almost there?).
Do You Wish to Get Well?
Jesus’s primary purpose was to reverse the curse–life is his raison d’être, his reason for coming! The gospel of John alone records the word life nearly fifty times. Jesus talks about life frequently–to the Jewish authorities, the lame, the lost, the bewildered, the heavy-hitting sinner. He offers life whenever it is opportune, especially on the Sabbath.
In John 5, Jesus comes upon a man who has been sick for thirtyeight years. Day after day, the man plops down at the pool, hoping an angel will materialize and ruffle the waters, hoping someone will hustle past, stop, drop him into the pool first, hoping for healing. Jesus halts with a soul-piercing question, a dive-to-the-bottom-of-the-problem question: “Do you wish to get well?” (verse 6).
In other words, what do you long for? What do you really want, sitting here day after day? The man avoids answering, describing instead his waiting process. After medicating with self-pity, he hears Jesus: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). Immediately the man is healed. He stands, rolls up his mat, and launches into his 3-D life on new limbs.
The Jewish authorities catch him carrying his pallet on the Sabbath and pounce, more interested in the Law than in the life represented by the bundle he carries. Do they recognize him as the man who always huddled in a heap by the sheep gate? Are they looking for evidence of healing, for signs of life?
No. And frankly, too often, neither am I.
Like the authorities, who want to snare the healed man with the letter of the Law, pointing fingers and assigning penalties, I watch for people who color outside the lines and I fumble for my whistle, ready to blow. I don’t notice the healing, the progress, the creativity, the life in another, as much as where they fall short
Jesus’s offer of life on the Sabbath–imagine that!–so offends the leaders that they begin persecuting him (verse 16). In the rest of John 5, Jesus offers testimonies proving that he came from God. In verses 39—40, he says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”
Life. And they were unwilling to come. They were busy about legalities and technicalities and making sure everyone else was in perfect compliance. They wrangled about distances and weights and pointed to the Law of Moses to justify their obsessive behavior.
This hurts my heart. How often do I resist Christ’s invitation, refusing to relinquish pain and problems, unwilling to come to him?
Unwilling to Come
Sometimes the honest answer to Jesus’s question, “Do you wish to get well?” is, “Not really. Not so much; not too badly.” As long as we aren’t well, we have an excuse. We don’t have to participate fully in the course presented to us or the options available; we make allowances, not expecting as much of ourselves but expecting more of others. Not being well provides us with unhealthy opportunities for self-indulgence, mollycoddling, and grasping for attention. Maybe the unwellness is anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, anxiety over relationships, or some other means of keeping people at arm’s length.
Sin makes us unwilling to come to the Author of life. When I relish the brick and mortar I stack between myself and another, hoping my distance and isolation strategy will garner attention and sorrow on another’s part, I sin. And part of me dies. Because any time I move away from relationships, I move toward death. And away from Jesus.
Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it” (Matthew 16:25). My resistance of relationships, my walls of separation, my legalism, and my whistle-blowing are all lifesaving techniques.
I don’t want to get hurt, so I hypercontrol everyone and everything around me. I’m so preoccupied trying to protect myself that I don’t head for home. To really live, we have to be willing to give up our life, to stop trying to save ourselves embarrassment, risk, pain, and problems, and give it up to the Author of life. We must release our tenacious grip and control efforts and throw ourselves into Christ’s arms, wholeheartedly accepting his offer. Life, abundantly.
The Thief Comes…
We move toward home, toward those deep but hidden longings, when we move toward Christ. But beware. Jesus prefaces his offer of an abundant life in John 10:10 with a startling statement that I am prone to ignore: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” An intruder creeps into the house, bent on destroying the very life Jesus offers. This is not petty theft–some cat burglar sneaking around for our silver candlestick or a loaf of bread. This is outright murder. This enemy will lie, connive, depress and suppress us, snuffing out life’s sparks at every opportunity.
He will try to twist our longings, convert them to something shameful, and use them to lead us into death, deception, decay, and sin. We know that drill, have danced those steps for too many years. And too often, the Enemy has a conspirator in crime. We collude with this thief, cooperating with the subterfuge, refusing Jesus’s offer of life. What steals our joy? What robs us of passion?
Abundant possessions become stones around our neck. “Be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). My husband was dismayed when we left the house and the doorknob came with us–Fixer-up Chore No. 163 on his evergreen list. He joins Thoreau, who was convinced that our belongings detract from the quality of life rather than add to it. We love our home, thank God for our abode, but truly, possessions should not be confused with abundance. Hefting the load of ownership bows our back. We are dragged under the waves by the anchor of duty, the weight of obligation, the bulk of financial responsibility. The waters of work bury us, when all the while, Jesus invites us to live weightlessly–to walk on
water!–by holding his hand.
Relational crises, when reinforced by the Enemy, can be twisted into an opportunity to abandon commitments. We ditch relationships because they don’t feel life-giving. “Bag the marriage if it doesn’t get you where you want to be,” the Adversary encourages. “Leave your family. Drop your best friend. Run away.” But are our relationships stealing our life? Or is it not breathing deeply of Christ’s life in the midst of them that robs us of abundance?
Past pain is an accomplice in the holdup. Relationships inevitably bring pain–pain that is difficult to surrender. A woman I know, Marta, can cite from memory a long list of people’s sins against her, dating from childhood all the way up to yesterday morning. Are they legitimate grievances? Absolutely. No one should have to endure such ugliness growing up.
Is holding on to the pain helping Marta heal? No. Her death grip on past injustices drains the cup of life offered to her and poisons the cup of life she is to extend to others. Unforgiveness plunders our daily lives and past pain fouls present living. The Thief lies to us, telling us that the other person deserves nothing from us, that we have every right to withhold forgiveness. And so we nurse our hurt until it curdles into resentment and bitterness.
Past sin can also collaborate in crime. In Psalm 51:3, David cries, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” He mourns his adultery with Bathsheba, his desperation to get his own way, his murder of her husband. Whenever the beautiful Bathsheba appeared, the reminder of his sin haunted David.
My sin haunts me when I see my children, my husband, my neighbor–when I feel my faults as a nurturer, when I’m aware of my not-enoughnesses. I don’t:
be still enough
go deep enough
I am not enough.
But here’s the good news: Jesus is enough. He’s more than enough. And we can’t hear it enough–his words: “I came that [you might] have life.” Life! “Vitality” in the original language. Not just something that will be good in heaven after we die, but vitality now.
Not in dribs and drabs or Depression-era rations. No, life abundantly. Literally: “I came that you might have life, superabundantly, beyond measure.” A lot of life, a blue whale lot of life.
And yet here we are, clutching the dock and slipping around in the shallows, on the rocks, with a minnow net. Paul uses the same word for abundantly in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (NKJV). It is totally unrelated to anything we can be, seize, or achieve. It is entirely related to Christ’s power, Christ’s life, working within us.
Contrast that overwhelming, exceeding abundance with the thieving, killing, destroying Intruder. Haven’t we experienced enough death?
Death of innocence
Death of a childhood
Death of a dream
Death of a relationship
Death of hope
“The thief comes” versus “I came.” My heart leaps in response to Jesus’s words. I want to grab my pallet and grasp that life, run after it, hold on to it, be transformed by it.
When we respond to Jesus’s offer of life this way, when our heart quickens and we begin to run for his arms, we are almost there. We embrace 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” Heaven will be great–one day.
No more tears, no more death, no more pain. When the roll is called up yonder, we’ll be there, and we can laugh–then. But Jesus offers us life now, today, when he says, “I came,” and holds out his hands.
When our children just toddled about, thick-legged and eager to explore everything, they would hold up their hands to their daddy, so tall above them. Rich would reach down, grip their empty, open hands in his, and spin around–the child an extension of his arms. The children flew out like the paratrooper ride at the amusement park, laughter pealing as their daddy’s large hands engulfed their small hands. They didn’t even need to hold on, because his iron fist wrapped around them.
So today, I hold out my empty, open hands to Jesus and wait for him to wrap his nail-scarred ones around me. As he picks up my heart and spins me about, my laughter mingles with my tears, and I whisper through a trembling smile, “I’m here. I come.”
Come and Consider
When Jesus says, “Come,”he is saying, “Follow me. Follow me to the desert. Dance with me at the wedding.
Feed the five thousand with me. Enter into my joy. Sit at my knee. Laugh at my analogies. Overturn the tables. Hug the child, heal the lame, raise the dead. Enter into my life.
To do so means you are willing to die– to your fears, to your hope for safety in this world, to your preoccupation with your possessions, your public image and your private self. Follow me to the cross, and to the life that never ends, but begins, now.
Laugh with me, weep with me, sit with me, watch with me, walk with me, live with me. Follow me.