A few months ago I was listening to a message by David Platt, author of the New York Times bestselling book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. In this particular sermon he challenged his listeners to be looking at every verse in the Bible with one thing in mind: what does it say about God? The idea being that God can be found in every page of Scripture, that His letter to us is one way He teaches us about Himself. I started thinking about this concept in the everyday and began asking God to show me Who He is in the everyday. What do I not know about Him that He wants me to know?
At the same time I was beginning to really search out this idea of abundant life. What does it mean to have abundant life? Is it reserved only for eternity, and life on this earth is merely surviving the best we can until we finally reach this mountaintop of abundance? What does Jesus mean when He says,
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV)?
And what about this verse?
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).
How can God promise abundant life on the one hand and tell us that we will have tribulation in the world on the other? And be of good cheer? In the middle of trouble? Seems a bit impossible if you ask me. And then I learned something.
This past spring I interviewed for and got a job as a teacher of English as a second language. It seemed perfect for several reasons:
1). I was going to get paid to talk about one of my favorite things: the English language
2). It involved spending time with people from all over the world-another one of my favorite things.
3). It would begin the process of getting me out of the housecleaning business once and for all.
4). It would provide us with some much-needed extra income.
I spent the summer going to department meetings, preparing with my mentor and meeting my coworkers. I had an aide, money for teaching resources, my own classroom-things teaching dreams are made of. About a month out, I started to get a little nervous. Attributing it to new job nerves, I attempted to stifle it by both preparing and procrastinating. A couple of weeks before the semester began, my nervousness gave way to sleeplessness. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t fill the three-hour time slot? What if I looked like a fool?
And then a week before classes started, something happened. My nervousness exploded into full fledge fear, undeniable, uncontrollable fear and anxiety in the form of panic attacks in public and seven days of uncontrollable crying. The last time I experienced something even remotely similar was the months of post partum depression after my daughter was born. Neither experience is anything I would wish on anyone.
My what-if questions turned into I-can’t statements. Despite the prayers of friends and family and my own appeals to God for peace, there simply wasn’t any which did nothing more than open the way for an onslaught of frustration at my lack of trust in God. To make matters worse, my first class did not go that well. I called my boss later that day and asked if there was any way someone could take the two evening classes I was assigned, and I would concentrate on the two morning classes and try to get through the semester. To make a long story short, by the time I went to bed that night, I’d lost both classes. The shortest employment in the history of the world.
What followed was a week of self-loathing, feeling like I’d failed my family, convinced I’d disappointed God to the point of possibly burning all my bridges with Him. Was this it? Had I ruined what He had for me? Would I be left living a subpar existence? Had He grown tired of me and my questions and doubts and failures? The worst part was that I was so relieved that I didn’t have to teach anymore that I began feeling guilty about that! I imagined myself feeling relief over what I perceived as sin which left me in an even deeper pit.
Those two weeks were not my finest moments to say the least. What I will never forget are the words that kept coming back to my mind despite my wrong thinking, and that is this: Jesus Loves Me. Jesus Loves Me. Jesus Loves Me. I will go to my grave believing that God Himself planted those words in my brain amid all the muck, and for the moments I concentrated on them, there was relief.
Among all the religions and beliefs out there is Deism. Deism is less of a religion and more of a perspective of God that believes once He wound up the world and got things going, He retreated and became uninterested and unapproachable. If you adhere to the Deist school of thought then you believe God is uninterested in your worship that He doesn’t desire to have a relationship with you. Deists believe that their knowledge of God comes from applying reason and studying the universe.
We sometimes treat the love of God the same way. We accept and lean into it for our salvation-clinging to His love to avoid the fiery flames of eternity without Him. And somehow once we’ve accepted this love, the rest of our Christian experience, whether good or bad, becomes solely dependent on us and our behavior. The love of God never factors into anything. We live by the law the enemy has inflicted on us completely devoid of the love of God. While the love of God is the most basic tenet of the Christian faith, I believe it is grossly underestimated.
In my own example I had based my belief about God on my own reason-human reason. I judged Him according to lies from the enemy and my own warped thinking, and what I came to realize is that I really don’t have the first clue about who God is in a way that is deep and meaningful and applicable to my everyday life. The question in all of this is not whether I handled my fear incorrectly, or whether I should have even taken the job. It was never a question of disappointing God and finally pushing Him to the point of being done with me (which of course is impossible). It was all about Him. What does He think of me in every situation? How does He feel about me? What emotion, if you will, drives Him to stay in the fight with me everyday? Love. We learn it as children in the Sunday School songs and in the memorization of John 3:16, but love goes beyond the initial coming to Christ. It’s woven into our days and experiences, good and bad. And if we can get a handle on this concept of God’s love in our limited thinking, than all of His other qualities like justice, and holiness and His need to discipline and our unpleasant experiences will have new meaning.
Maybe we’ll believe things like Lamentations 3:22 which says “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep’).No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37, NLT).
In the weeks to come I will share with you what I’ve learned and am still learning about abundant life. It’s not the least bit elusive, nor is it nearly as difficult as we make it. Abundant life is simply wrapped up in our view of God. A correct view of Him colors all of life with the beauty of who He is, what He has for us, and dare I say, what He wants from us. The only way to get there is by going deeper. Going deeper with God can only benefit us both for our life here on earth and the one that is to come.