Many of us fail to live our lives to the full. Countless people reach old age wishing they had done things differently, and that they had made more of their time on earth…
Here’s the second half of my rant on the subject of boredom. It’s the biggest half (joke). I wrote in the shortest half that I’m convinced vast numbers of us are bored, and this boredom drives us to attempt to fulfill our lives in many ways, some of which are wasteful or wrong in the eyes of our Creator.
Our society has reduced the human mind to a manageable size in order to maintain a controllable populace, while at the same time convincing us that life is getting richer. As I wrote last time, our modern world seeks to profit from the problem it creates, taking natural freedoms and real, free, God-given paths to fulfillment from us, and then providing endless forms of what it calls “entertainment” at our expense to fill in the gap.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).
What did Jesus mean by “abundant life”?
WHAT THE ANTIDOTE ISN’T
We tend to expect that a “real” and a “loving” God should be at our disposal twenty-four hours a day, like some supernatural Jeeves, fulfilling our every desire, fixing all our problems and just generally facilitating our own idea of happiness. This, according to our carnal minds, would be abundant life. However, you only have to look at the lives of some of the richest people around, who have all the time in the world to enjoy their wealth, to see that money and privilege don’t automatically provide happiness, contentment or a trouble-free life. And to make it worse, “The eyes of man are never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20).
When it appears God has failed to deliver all the goodies we think a loving God should deliver, and failed to perform all his duties as we see them, we’re prone to giving up on him. I’ve written extensively about this subject, particularly as it relates to the whole question of suffering. Here we’re being more specific and considering fulfillment and the enjoyment of life.
What did Jesus mean by “abundant life”? When we read the gospels and particularly the letters of the apostles, we don’t read about a Church having a swinging time, overcome by ecstasy and euphoria. In fact, if we look at the life of Jesus himself- our example-we see that he was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Then he was crucified. Perhaps this “abundant life” we’re promised doesn’t necessarily include all the good things we want out of this world: perhaps it means something else.
THE FIRST SHOT
I think abundant life in this context means that we have an inner joy of communion with our God, with the peace and hope it brings, and a spiritual life which will never end. It could be the subject for an entire series of posts. I just want to make clear here that the Christian life is not always one of earthly delights and delirious deliciousness in the way people who don’t know God would expect. It may instead be one of suffering and persecution, as it is in many parts of the world. Our consideration today is about whether, and if so how, we who are (in theory) free to pursue life, liberty and happiness should actually go about doing the same.
The first answer must be a scriptural one, because we’re told that we are to “die to self”. We’re supposed to pick up our cross daily and follow him, and to serve our brothers and sisters. Paul said, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1-2 NIV).
The Christian life isn’t about fulfilling our own needs, but how we can minister to each others’ needs. In that way we fulfill our obligation to our God, we express the love we’re supposed to be expressing, and as a result we find deep meaning in life for ourselves.
Having made that priority clear, I’m convinced that God doesn’t expect us to sit around groaning and sighing for the rest of the day in order to “die to self”. Dying to self doesn’t mean we have to be miserable, morose and moribund to be a good Christian, or that we have to be straight-laced, bored and boring: it means we put God and others first before ourselves. And don’t forget that joy is one of the fruits of the spirit: it’s for the believer (Galatians 5:22). We gain joy (the real thing-not that elusive stuff the TV waves in front of our noses) by knowing Him and being in a proper relationship with Him. However, on top of that God has provided many ways and possibilities for us to enjoy life.
When I first became a Christian I was so intent on parting myself from my former way of life and all that I perceived to be “of the devil”, that I purged myself of almost everything I possessed, everyone I knew, and all I had previously enjoyed. I cut myself off from all my former influences and pleasures. Friends thought I had been brainwashed by some American cult (cults from anywhere else in the world were acceptable). They were so “concerned” that they avoided me like the plague (a little irony there)…perhaps a hint that I was actually on the right track, because:
“What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Having been a bass player by profession, I sold my bass and my amp. I detached myself overnight from my musical and theatrical contacts. I disposed of all my books, memorabilia, photographs, and my entire record collection-all the music I had loved, enjoyed and been musically influenced by for years.
All I had left was a bed and a Bible, and I was considering getting rid of the bed…
GREY AREAS (UK spelling)
Two years later I began to swing back the other way. Now, many years on, I find myself, without any feelings of guilt, enjoying things which some Christians would consider unacceptable, ungodly, far too worldly, and maybe even damnable. I regularly thank the Lord for what he allows me to enjoy and blesses me with.
No, I’m not one of those people who gets high every day and has a string of live-in lovers. Such things are among the “black and the white” as far as I’m concerned, the things we can know are wrong in the eyes of God, and as Paul said:
“…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
I’m speaking of things which are not forbidden or perhaps not mentioned in the Bible, but which some people think are out-of-bounds for Christians: things sometimes called “grey areas”:
“Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (Romans 14:22).
That’s a verse some people would like to have removed from the Bible. But grey areas do require some thought and prayerful Biblical consideration. We shouldn’t allow anything which will control us or harm us:
“Everything is permissible for me-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me-but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Paul counseled the consideration of others as our ultimate guide in those grey areas:
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak… “…so this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8: 9, 11).
I believe in raging against the mold our own society attempts to squeeze us into. We all have different DNA. We’re all different in character for a reason: let’s tap into that difference, and use it for God’s glory first, and then for our own satisfaction. This applies to our careers, our pastimes and hobbies, our relationships, and to all of life. Some people are so busy trying to be different in the way they think the world will be impressed by that they’re actually all “different” in the same ways. They completely miss and mask their own, true characteristics. For goodness’ sake-for God’s sake-be yourself.
Who gave humans the capacity to laugh, to run, to see the world’s beauty, to make love, to read, to create, to imagine, to play, and to do so many other things? It wasn’t the devil, and it certainly wasn’t Charles Darwin or the process outlined in his theory. God made man (men and women) in his image: we’re able to do what we can do because of His loving, incredible design.
GOD’S WILL FOR YOUR LIFE
Look for the things you love to do and which are not ungodly, and do them to the best of your ability. This includes your career. Don’t spend years trying to discover “God’s will for your life”. His will is simple: that you be conformed to his Son. He may well have a specific plan for you: he will make it happen without you having to know in advance what it is. He has given you talents and gifts. He has given you a love for something-a passion. Do it to the best of your ability, and God’s will will be manifest in your life.
Life is to be lived: family; love, romance and sex (in its proper place and form). Adventure: why would God tell man to “fill the earth” if he didn’t want us to explore it? Challenge, learning, friendship…it can all be within his will, and it can all be enjoyed to the full. The world is a big, beautiful place, and life can, at times, be amazing: make the most of it.
If the Bible doesn’t condemn it; if doesn’t hurt you or anyone else; if it doesn’t damage or neutralize your faith-do it, and enjoy it.