What’s keeping us from living the abundant life that Jesus promised us for here and now?
“A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. But I came to give life—life in all its fullness” (JOHN 10:10).
THE ABUNDANT LIFE that Jesus came to bring us is to be lived in the present tense! It’s not a life that could have been or might someday be; it’s a life for here and now. It’s not for an elite class of people; it’s for you and me!
Jesus is not merely a means to this life, he is the life—“The way, the truth and the life.” If we have invited Jesus to live in us and if we allow his power to work through us, we can experience to the fullest the life he promised!
Unfortunately, for many of us, it doesn’t work out that way. Why do we fail to experience what Jesus promised and why do we feel that we maybe never will?
Abundant living doesn’t come without a struggle. Jesus revealed what he came to do, but also what “the thief,” Satan, comes to do. What stark contrasts we find between the two!
Robs us. Enriches us.
Cheats us. Blesses us.
Brings us grief. Brings us joy.
Deceives us. Enlightens us.
Drives us. Leads us.
Enslaves us. Frees us.
Defeats us. Empowers us.
Seeks to kill us. Gives us life.
This promise of abundant life comes at the heart of a message in which Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd,” who daily comes to care for his sheep.
“He calls his sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).
Picture a communal sheep pen where several flocks spend the night together under the care of a watchman. Then, each morning the several shepherds appear to lead their flocks out for feeding. Each shepherd calls his own sheep. The sheep know him and trust him because he always comes for them. They are hungry and confident in their shepherd, so they fol- low. They know he will take them to green pastures.
It’s likely that many who heard Jesus speak these words did not understand what he meant, so he provided more details: In addition to calling himself the Good Shepherd; he said, “I am the gate”—the way to enter the pen for rest and shelter, and the way to go out to find food. We, his followers, must trust his leading. When we do, we experience his care.
But there are other voices—voices of thieves who circulate uninvited among us and try to seduce us. Just as children are warned not to go with a stranger, we are warned to not be carried off by one whose voice sounds strange to us, one who will take us on a dangerous, destructive journey.
Twice Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd:
“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know Me.”
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down
his life for the sheep.”
The Shepherd knows us by name and loves us. But do we know him and follow him? He laid down his life for us. What are we doing with our life for him? He calls us to abundant living. He promises to give us hope and a future.
So what keeps us from that life?
I can think of dozens of answers to that question. Most of them obviously have to do with a lack of hearing and following the voice of Jesus. But I don’t want to go down a long list of reasons. I prefer to focus on one specific cause for failure: Often we fail to live the abundant life today because we are reliving negative experiences from yesterday and dreading or avoiding repetition of those experiences tomorrow.
Feelings of sorrow, guilt, shame, rejection, fear, anger, resentment, humiliation, and/or inadequacy chain us to the past and obstruct our future. Even when actual memories fade or are repressed, we discover within ourselves negative responses and reactions that we cannot explain even to ourselves.
Satan uses our past to effectively deny us peace, freedom, victory, and enjoyment of God and life here and now. What can we do?
No going back. Time marches on!
If we could go back in time we might attempt to avoid errors we have committed and painful things that have happened to us. But time tunnels work only in fiction. We can’t go “back to the future” as in the movies. We may regret bad yesterdays and dream of better tomorrows, but our future is determined by the way we live now. So how are we living?
Time is an almost undefinable word. My dictionary has thirty-one entries that describe different aspects of time, but —at least for me—they all fail to define it. Why do we fail to understand time? I think it’s because we only experience it as a sequence of events. In fact, “a sequence of events” may be as good a description as we can find.
Israel’s astute King Solomon said,
“All things continue the way they are since the beginning. The same things will be done that have always been done. There is nothing new here on earth” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
What is he saying? First, I think he simply recognizes that life goes on. Then he observes that events keep repeating themselves. We get up, work, relax and go to bed again. We take in food; we eliminate it. We get dirty; we clean up. We go away; we come home. Though time is a straight line from past to future, our lives run in cycles. The tide, seasons, and even the weather all move in somewhat predictable, repetitive patterns that we call the “same ol’ same ol’ ”.
It’s true in physical, emotional and spiritual realms. Thoughts, reactions, and emotions result from the experiences we relive. Memories trigger undesirable conditioned responses. We would like to break loose from the reruns and our reactions to them, but we feel powerless to do so. We hope time will make us better. Alas, what a futile hope it is, for time has no transforming power.
I challenge the idea that “time cures all ills”. If time is a sequence of events and events have hurt us, how will an extension of the sequence heal us? We need a powerful intervention into our lives that comes not from time, but from eternity.
God’s powerful intervention
Here’s amazing news: The God who dwells in eternity allowed himself to be compressed into time in the person of Jesus Christ, His Son, who experienced time as we do and offers us abundant life—always in the present tense.
“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things have gone. Everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Without Jesus there is nothing new under the sun. With Him we have everything new—new standing, new birth, new life, new peace, new access, new joy, new resilience, new security, new friendship—new life! In Him we are new creations. We know this is true, but sometimes such enthusiastic statements make us nervous. They sound unreal or naive. We become cynical regarding these exciting possibilities.
New life, new wardrobe
Before we can enjoy the new things that are promised in Christ, establishing new patterns of thought and behavior, we must make a clean break with whatever chains us to the past.
Pastor and psychologist Glenn Pickering points out,
“In the world that God created, every yes starts with a no. Everything that God calls us into starts with what looks like a loss. Until I say no to my old life I cannot say yes to Christ. There is an ending for every beginning.”
The transition from past to future is a process comparable to changing clothes: We don’t put on new clothes until we have taken off the old; nor can we move into new life with Christ until we put an end to the life we formerly lived.
Do you recall the word repentance? It doesn’t get used enough these days. It’s about change—changing our mind, changing behavior, changing allegiance, and changing direction. It’s turning —180 degrees—away from sin and turning to Jesus.
Unlike Jesus, who came preaching repentance from sin, modern teachers tend to avoid the subject. We are invited to “accept Jesus” or encouraged into “a relationship with God” but before we can do that we need to face the truth regarding our sins. Someone needs to tell us the truth and say that we must repent. Are teachers today afraid that if they confront sin too strongly, they will offend us and frighten us away? Doesn’t that do us a disservice? We are encouraged to accept the Savior without leaving the sin that separated us from him.
Then, when we become encumbered with troubles in our “Christian life,” we are encouraged to lower our expectations and be more realistic. We are told that there are carryovers from the old life from which we probably never be free.
Why don’t we hear a gospel of powerful transformation like Jesus and early Christian leaders taught?
Today is the day!
Let’s talk about our favorite subject—ourselves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live without bitterness, anger, guilt, regrets, fear, addictions and recurring bondages? Wouldn’t we love to find healing for the complex, confused, hurting persons we have become? Let’s remember Christ’s gospel— the power of God to all who believe!
Let me state again that we are talking about the present tense—God’s work here and now! Some say that because God lives in the “eternal now,” he can go back and forth in time and heal the person we were when past experiences occurred. sounds nice, but what does it mean? Yes, God lives in eternity, but let’s not make that too mystical. Even eternity—with no beginning and end—plays out in a sequence of events. We live in time and we must choose today. We can never again be the person we were before or are now. We will be better or worse.
Lets choose better! God can change us now and in an ongoing process. He can erase the marks that our past has stamped upon us and break the chains that keep us repeating the “same ol’, same ol’” again and again. He can remake us into the victorious person He designed us to be. I love to think about this wonderful truth: God loves me just as I am, but He loves me too much to leave me as I am.
Let God reshape your life!
Jeremiah the prophet went to the potter’s house to watch him work and then gave this report:
“I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. He was making a pot from clay. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (Jeremiah 18:3-4).
Even though the vessel broke, it never left the potter’s hand. He remade it into something beautiful—just as God wants to do with you and me. Even when we feel that our life has fallen apart, God has a plan for us. He never gives up.
“We are God’s workmanship [work of art], created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
“God began doing a good work in you. And He will continue it until it is finished” (Philippians 1:6).
Embrace the present
The Apostle Paul, before his conversion to Christ, was a persecutor of Christians. After Paul met Jesus, and began to serve him, his memories could have crippled him with guilt. Yet Paul found freedom through a wonderful formula:
“One thing I always do: I forget the things that are past. I try as hard as I can to reach the goal that is before me”( Philippians 3:13).
These words—though easy to understand—are hard to follow. We forget things we should remember and remember things we should forget. We focus on regrets about the past or fears about the future. We bury memories in convenient places where we can come back to them and use them. We push them back to alleviate pain, and pull them out when we must suffer again or make someone else suffer.
In contrast, King David asked to have his thoughts and sins exposed so he could deal with them in a permanent way:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23,24).
When the Holy Spirit shows us sin, we can confess and repent. When he reveals pain, we can forgive those who have caused it. When we bring closure to our past by confession and repentance, or by forgiveness and reconciliation, then we are ready to move on and receive God’s promises.
“The Lord says, Forget what happened before. Do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:18)
If we put our past behind us and live the present enabled by God in appropriate ways, we will see something new that will impact us positively and help us say YES! to our future!
Grace to get on with life
Today can be the deciding day. You can resign yourself to defeat and unhappiness, or you can choose the abundant life. These five will help you start living the abundant life that God intends for you here and now:
- Know that Jesus wants to heal and restore you! No matter what you have done, He can forgive you! No matter what you have suffered, He can heal you! Christ is committed to finish his work in you! “God began doing a good work in you. And He will continue it until it is finished” (Philippians 1:6).
- Choose recovery. Sure there are people you could blame, but what good does it do? If they caused you pain, you can’t expect them to bring you healing. People may attack you, but they cannot destroy you. “If God is with us, then no one can defeat us” (Romans 8:31). God will put your life back together if you do your part. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
- Ask for and extend forgiveness. As you recall your sins, admit your guilt and ask forgiveness. As you recall your pain, forgive those who caused it. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other. Do this so that God can heal you” (James 5:16). Be kind and loving to each other. Forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32).