Summary: What is the abundant life Jesus promised? Not activity, not longevity, not prosperity, not congeniality. It is generosity; giving returns fulfillment.
I was just making small talk, asking the kind of questions you ask when you have finished commenting about the weather and you are scared to discuss politics or religion. I asked him, “Have you lived here all your life?” Quick as a flash came back his answer, “Not yet. Not yet I haven’t.”
Oh, all right. You caught me. Of course he had not yet lived all his life anywhere. He expected a few more years. But his little joke reminded me just how we treat the precious gift of life. We have been given life; but do we stay alive all our lives? Do we live our lives to the full? Or is it more like they sing in Fiddler on the Roof, “Sunrise, sunset; Swiftly fly the years, One season following another, Laden with happiness and tears.” Just one season following another? Isn’t there more than that?
I want to be alive, fully alive, all my life, until its end. I want more than swiftly flying years, dwindling down to nothing. I want to be alive all my life. Zest and passion and vitality life long. Can we find that?
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to give us life, and not just barely hanging on, but abundant life. Alive all our lives kind of life. Plenty of life. Our Creator is not a God who pinches pennies; our God wants to give us ample, full, prodigious life. Our Maker wants us to have supercalifragilisticexpicalidocious life! “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Zest and passion and vitality life long. Can we find that?
What does it mean to have abundant life? Let’s explore some possibilities. Let’s turn this over in our minds several different ways.
Abundant life might mean a life filled with activity. A life with plenty to do. A life that is never boring. If you have abundant life, you never run out of things to do and you never fall short of interesting pursuits. Is that what Jesus wants to give us? Abundant life, active and busy?
I have a running “To Do” list on my computer, and every time I think of something I need to do for my family, my house, this church, the Baptist Foundation, the seminary, whatever, I add it to that list. Every now and then I get to take one off and mark it as finished. The trouble is the list keeps on getting longer and longer. So is my life a list of tasks to be done, jobs to be completed? Is my abundant life having so much to do that I can persuade myself I am somebody? I heard someone say once that she had so many things on her “To Do” list that if it is true that God gives you the time you need to do all the things you are supposed to do, then she would have to live two hundred years! Now is that abundant life? Doing, doing, doing? Staying busy with agenda? Marching forward and giving yourself to all kinds of important tasks?
Except that in the Bible there is an emphasis on, “Be still and know that [He is] God.” Be still. Doesn’t the Bible also tell us that the Lord is not in the earthquake, the wind, or the fire, but in the still small voice? In that same Bible there is also something about waiting for the Lord.
It may just be that hurry-up busy-ness is not all that abundant. It might even be unhealthy. You know the slightly revised nursery rhyme, don’t you? “Mary had a little lamb, it would have been a sheep; but it became a Baptist and died for lack of sleep.”
No, you see, merely staying busy becomes a mask. Behind all that frantic activity there is nothing else. It’s just sound and fury, signifying nothing. There is more to the abundant life than merely staying busy. What else might there be?
What about longevity? What about a lengthy life? Is that the abundant life? Living many years and experiencing many things? I expect all of us want that. I have yet to hear anybody seriously say that he or she hoped to have a short life. You may talk about heaven and the golden streets, but I don’t see anybody rushing toward those pearly gates. At Takoma Park one Sunday I was preaching out of the Book of Revelation and ended my message with the same flourish that John spoke, “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” But one of my parishioners hurried over to me after the service and said, “Now, brother pastor, let’s not be rushing things. I’m not quite ready for that.” We want long life. But is that the abundant life?