By StephenW. Smith
When we want to live a life that Jesus described as the “abundant life” most of us don’t really comprehend what the abundant life really means? Does this mean something about living in heaven? Does it mean I have to wait till heaven to really live? Just what is the abundant life?
Most of us have tried and are still attempting to live a life marked with the synonyms describing the abundant life: a rich and satisfying life; a life marked by grace, peace and love; a life of well-being and more. But many of us are still trying to balance all of the competing demands and rivaling priorities we face day to day. There is the daily pressure each one of us faces. There is our busyness. There is our jobs. There is our family. And it all seems like a life we need to manage rather than a life we get to actually enjoy.
When I’ve asked people to offer me three or four adjectives that might describe the life that they are living right now, I don’t think I have ever heard “abundant” as one of the descriptor words anyone has ever shared. I wonder why—especially since the abundant life is precisely how Jesus shared a follower of his would be marked by throughout their life. I hear “tired”, “stressed”, “surviving” and “worn out” more than any other words when I listen to people.
Here's an idea I'd like to present--a way to re-think the abundant life. First, in order to live another kind of life, I must first deconstruct the life that has not been working. I may need to “unmake a living” so that I can actually live well. When we look at the first men and women who followed Jesus, they, too needed to re-think or deconstruct their lives. Peter had to leave the fishing nets--a life that was somewhat working for him vocationally at least, but there were obviously other deeper issues Peter wanted, needed and felt compelled to find a solution for in his life. We see this time and time again with the early followers. People began to follow Jesus but there was some inner and some outer business that needed attention. This is what I mean by "deconstructing" your life. To live the abundant life may mean that each of us needs to unmake or deconstruct the life that we’ve been living—that really isn’t working. Most people try to add-on to their lives and pile up so much information, multiple ways of doing life that we feel over-whelmed and burdened. The abundant life may be more about simplifying our life and the ways we have been living than any other notion. It is for me.
You might need to un-learn something that you've always held to be true--some false idea about God, yourself, relationships, etc. Some childhood belief might need to go. Some lie that we have held onto in our hearts needs to go. Maybe there was something in the way, preventing you from making progress--an old wound, trauma, habit, addiction or pattern of sin. Once things like this dawn on us, we find ourselves wanting to change; wanting to go a different direction and transform.
The abundant life is not something one just wakes up one morning and decides to start living. No, it’s a radical new way of living—a whole other way of living that just might be counter-cultural and also counter-intuitive. I believe this is precisely what Jesus meant when he told us he was the “way, truth and life.” We can’t have the life without the way. We can’t just claim to truth without establishing a real way to live. Jesus was a genius and his teaching here is foundational to how we can think about our lives in a better way—a more Jesus centered way.
As some of you know, I’ve been on a hunt to really understand the abundant life for 40 years. I’ve fleshed out my thinking and morphing understanding of this in three books: The Lazarus Life published in 2008, The Jesus Life published in 2012 and Inside Job published in 2015. This trilogy of books composes my personal journey to understand and also live this life. As I learned more, I was eager to share more and with my growth came new insights and new ideas.
I found that I could simply not just keep adding on these new insights and understandings like new rooms to my house. No, it was going to require a deconstruction of the many ways I had built my spiritual house and allow a whole new house to be constructed.
CS Lewis tells us: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
What has and is continuing to happen to me is just precisely as CS Lewis described in his best seller, MERE CHRISTIANITY. I’ve found that rooms in my house that I thought were just fine and nice, needed a massive re-do.
What is true is this: the abundant life is lived by many abundant deaths. In order to live the life Jesus offered us, we are going to need to let some things go; let some things die and deconstruct many of the illusions we hold on to about what we think life really is and how God actually works. There is some unlearning to do if we are ever going to first learn what Jesus meant.