January 2010 Your faith
Why do so many of us feel unfulfilled and discouraged?
Jesus: The Life
He promised us “life in all its fullness”, so why do so many of us feel unfulfilled and discouraged? Anne Le Tissier explores the promise of Jesus, the Life
Last summer, I celebrated my 40th birthday and received a number of corny, derogatory, nostalgic and hilarious cards, including the familiar proclamations that at last, “life begins”. (Mind you, I’ve recently heard it said that 60 is the new 40, so I’ll leave that up to you to decide!)
As it happens, my birthday did coincide with a period of reflection and an unusual number of ‘life’ changes, but maybe some readers are hoping that their lives will ‘begin’ again with the onset of the new year. For if 2009 has worn us down with more than its fair share of difficulties, if we feel we’ve slipped into an unfulfilling or unfruitful rut or, if we sense God is guiding us in a new direction, the onset of 2010 may be filled with longings for something new.
Furthermore, we may be waiting on a pay rise, longing for the outcome of an unresolved situation, relying on a proposal to come our way, seeking a new home, alternative employment, or counting down the days to retirement . . .
And there is nothing wrong with harbouring hopes or aspirations, but if we put too much emphasis on those desires or if they remain out of reach, we can begin to feel as if life has been put on hold and in turn start to feel discouraged. We can keep going through the motions of our daily routines, but may feel our sense of purpose, happiness or fulfilment depends upon and waits until that desire has been fully satisfied, surpassed by a more favourable alternative or proven to be a no starter. And that certainly isn’t what God intended when he created us to “live and move and have our being” in him (Acts 17:28).
Jesus declared, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10); and he wasn’t just referring to a future hope, but of experiencing life in its fullness today.
It sounds great in theory doesn’t it? But if we don’t feel it has materialised in our present experience, we may be wondering why Christ’s promise seems to have passed us by.
So, at the start of this New Year, let’s consider what Jesus meant.
The meaning of Life
Jesus said, “I am . . . the life” (John 14:6). But he wasn’t just affirming his role in breathing life into creation – which, of course, he did (John 1:1-4). Nor was he only pointing towards the future when perfection will be restored and we’ll be raised to new life in heaven - which is also true (Colossians 3:4). Jesus was referring to encountering eternal life right now; experiencing his infusion of spiritual life unbound by physical restrictions, so enhancing our days in this world with the vitality, quality, power, provision and purpose of life that God intended.
Christ’s life in us does not promise physical longevity, material comfort or speedy resolution of problems; ideals which may surmount to all that some would aspire to. Jesus promised so much more both now and for the future.
He taught that, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions . . . Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (Luke 12:15,23). That doesn’t imply all Christians are supposed to live a life of austere, ascetic abstinence. I enjoy a trip to the shops to buy a new outfit and appreciate the comforts of my home. I feel contented in the company of loved ones and satisfied from a job well done.
Nevertheless, Jesus pointed out that all these possessions, pursuits and the ways that we feel fulfilled should never be our basis of life, our primary goal, our sole source of well being or motivation. After all, these things are only temporary; they often prove disappointing, short-lived, inadequate or unstable.
The focus of Life
Rather, Christ is our life. He is our primary source of peace, contentment, purpose, encouragement and hope. If only we would set our hearts fully on our relationship with him rather than let other aspects of life take over, we would experience what he really meant in giving us “life to the full”.
It only takes the reading of a challenging biography such as Brother Yun’s, who suffered years of brutal persecution at the hands of Chinese officials, to appreciate believers who know what it means to live a superabundant life in Christ no matter what their circumstances. We may or may not be called to endure such extremes, but such testimonies highlight our need to focus on our life in Christ more than we focus on the life of this world.
The choice of Life
So, as a New Year dawns, we have a choice. We can ignore Jesus’ instruction and continue to focus our primary attention on realising our goals. Or, we can reorganise our priorities and focus our primary attention on our relationship with him, seeking to live our physical life in the perspective of eternity.
I don’t know how that will look for you in practice, I only know I have a personal responsibility to set aside my own agenda and concentrate on Jesus, knowing that as I do so, his life in me will work out God’s loving purposes as he sees fit - and in so doing he will fulfil me beyond anything that this world has to offer.
Meanwhile, when we feel more inclined towards our hopes for this world or when the busy routine distracts us from his life, let’s recall Christ’s incredible promise: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). If we really believe his promise is true, then surely those words are all that we need to spur our hearts in his direction.
How to embrace the life Jesus promises us
Seek his guidance
“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11)
Have you ever been asked for directions, then watched as the thankful driver moves away but takes the opposite direction to which you advised?
If we are privileged to have access to God’s Word, then we have a treasure of a book to provide guidance and purpose for life: where we have come from, where we are going, how we should live, what we should prioritise, how to relate to others and of course, how to relate to God. Furthermore, we have God’s Word - his promise - regarding all sorts of matters, which we know he will not break.
But, are we sometimes like that driver, asking for guidance but either forgetting it immediately or deciding that we think we know better? If so, we can’t expect to receive the ‘superabundant life’ Christ promised if we then decide to live it in the way we prefer.
So perhaps at this start of a new year we might commit more time to read and reflect on God’s Word; to ask the Holy Spirit to show us how we can apply it to our lives, and then respond by putting what we’ve learnt into practice. And when we do that, we can rest assured that God will fulfil his promise (Numbers 23:19).
“Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says . . . the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22,25)
Submit to him
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4)
Jesus promised to give us what he would define as a “superabundant life”, but I recognise we may harbour a deep yearning for something or someone which may or may not be what Jesus wants us to have. I also know how difficult, even impossible, it can be to let those desires go if we feel prompted to do so. In fact, we may not even want to surrender something that seems so very attractive or important to us.
But if we believe in Jesus’ promise to give us “life in all its fullness”, then we do need to submit to what he knows is best. And, if we are struggling, then let’s not focus on that specific act of surrender, but let’s focus on our relationship with him.
As the psalmist says, let’s “delight” ourselves in Jesus. Let’s appreciate what he does for us, let’s savour his promises, let’s rejoice in praise and worship and take time to bask in his presence.
And as we turn our hearts to Jesus - as we remain in him (John 15:4) - so he pours his heart into ours. His desires become our desires and his promise to bring them about will subsequently be fulfilled. His promise to give us “life” will be our tangible experience and somehow that ‘want’ we found so hard to give up, gently slips out of our open hearts.
“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed” (Psalm 20:4)
“Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees . . . Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; renew my life according to your word. Fulfil your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared” (Psalm 119:33,36-38).
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