#1 A Full, Abundant Life (shortened)
I want to do a very shortened version of my Iron Sharpens Iron Bible Study (this links you to the full version with the large font), pulling together my favorite parts of each lesson and some of my favorite questions. This should take us to about the New Year, with various other random posts thrown in here and there. Feel free to answer the questions in the comment section or simply among your friends. I love talking about theological things, but I never get much chance to do that anymore. (That's probably why I write so much about it.) And keep in mind I wrote this for mature Christians. It's not a basic, learn-the-Bible study. It explores the messier, more difficult issues and how to apply them to life.
So here is the first shortened lesson: A Full, Abundant Life (click for the full version)
So here is the first shortened lesson: A Full, Abundant Life (click for the full version)
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
We hear all different kinds of things today about the kind of life God wants for us. Prosperity-teachers tell us that God wants us to wear fine clothes and live in big homes because we are the “children of the King.” And so we shouldn’t be living like paupers.
And then there's the other side that says we should basically live as paupers, giving no thought to our needs while we take care of God’s Kingdom and the poor. And we shouldn’t do anything special for ourselves or worry at all about our appearance or happiness because that stems from vanity, pride, and self-centeredness.
So which is it? What kind of a life does God want for us? What does Jesus mean when He says that He wants to give us a “full life”? One female "minister" recently made the claim before the Senate Judiciary Committee that when Jesus said He came to give us a "full life," He was advocating for social rights that would allow us to have the life we want, which includes having access to birth-control. (And I say ... "What!?!")
Is that what Jesus means, that we should be able to have the life we want? Is the "full life" about our happiness and comfort and ease? About living fancy or plain lives? Does the “full life” even relate to physical life on this earth, or is it talking about our spiritual lives and eternity? Or is it both? And what does all of this mean for how we live our lives today? Do Christians today even look any different from the world, or are we pursuing the same things they are?
And where is the dividing line between enjoying God’s blessings yet not building up our treasures on earth?
Commercials tell us that if we buy their product, we will have a satisfying life. We’ll be pretty and popular, and people will want to be like us. And many ads tell us that “we deserve it” and “we are worth it.”
But is that true?
I mean, we have all heard stories about people who got everything they wanted, and they were still unhappy, some to the point of suicide. They found no real meaning or purpose or satisfaction in their possessions and accomplishments.
And it scares me (and humbles me) to read the Old Testament and see how many people started out with a passion for the Lord, and then fell away later in their life when they got too comfortable, when they got too much stuff. They are cautionary tales, reminders that it can just as easily happen to me.
But is self-deprivation the way to go? Does God want us to enjoy the blessings that He gives us today or to give them to others? Where is the balance?
And just what is a “blessing”? Do we view it differently than God does? We seem to think of ourselves as more blessed when things are going good and going our way. Good health and enough money and enjoyable opportunities mean that God is happy with us and is blessing us, right?
Some preachers even teach us that God will answer our prayers the way we want and will heal all of our ailments if our faith is strong enough, if we pray in the right way or follow the right “formula,” and if we are without sin. But is this the way the Christian life really works? Is this the way God works?
I don’t think so.
While there are biblical commands and instructions that need to be followed to have the best spiritual life and the best relationship with God possible, there is no formula for getting God to give you the life you want. (Trust me, I have tried!)
And if we live like there is, I think it shows that - deep-down and at the root of it all - we are really pursuing our happiness and not pursuing God. Because we are not seeing God for who He really is but for who we want Him to be. We see Him as a code to be cracked to get what we want. If we can just find the right combination of proper behavior and proper words and proper attitude then He has to give us what we ask for, right?
But I don’t think this is a genuine faith in God. I think it’s “faith in our faith” - faith in our ability to “pray right” or to live appropriately enough that we “earn” the right to get the life we want.
And the problem is that when trials come or we don’t get the answers we want in prayer, we begin to doubt our faith and God. We wonder what we are doing wrong and if God is unhappy with us. We feel abandoned by Him. We think, I did everything right, so why didn’t my “faith” work?
But is God a code to be cracked? Is faith a formula? Is prayer? Are trials and hard times always indications that something is wrong, that God is displeased with us? Does God always bless us in the ways we think He should? Or can trial and pain be a part of His plan for us? What does “the full, abundant, blessed life” look like and how might we be viewing it incorrectly?
Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Gen 6:8) And this favor earned him 120 years of hard work building an ark by hand, most likely facing ridicule the whole time from those around him. And then, he was closed up in a box for almost a year while everyone around him died off. And then, he got to work the ground from scratch in order to keep his family alive.
Abraham was childless for 100 years, waiting for 25 years before God fulfilled His promise to give him a son.
Joseph was favored by God, but it sure seemed like God had a funny way of showing it at first. When Joseph worked for Potiphar after being sold into slavery by his brothers, God poured out blessings on “the household of [Potiphar] because of Joseph.” (Gen 39:5) Someone else got the “blessings” because of Joseph’s faithfulness to God. And Joseph got slavery. And God showed favor to Joseph while he was unjustly imprisoned on false charges. (Gen 39-40) But even with this favor, he still spent at least two years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Job lost everything he had but his life and wife, despite the fact that he was fully committed to God. Because of the fact that he was fully committed to God.
And these are just four examples of what God's favor and blessing looked liked in the Bible.
And yet how many of us cling to God’s "promise" that we will be rich and healthy and have an abundance of stuff, whatever we want?
But is this promised in the Bible? Because what I find in Scripture is this:
But is this promised in the Bible? Because what I find in Scripture is this:
Matthew 10:22: “All men will hate you because of me . . .”
2 Timothy 3:12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . .”
James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Matthew 6:19-21, 24: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in a steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
How many people in our country have made idols of money and possessions? How about success and popularity? Health and youthfulness and happiness? How many have an abundance of stuff stored up on earth but nothing in heaven? And how many people fail to engage in the spiritual battle for souls because they are too busy playing with temporary toys?
Honestly, the “prosperity gospel” makes me queasy. In fact, I am more on the anti-“prosperity gospel” side. Not the one that says you should neglect yourself and practice self-punishment and deny yourself all pleasures, comforts, and possessions (extreme self-denial and self-punishment can be symptoms of an extremely damaged self-esteem, there it can also be a form of self-glorification, even though it looks super humble and sacrificial) ... but the one that says that God will bless our obedience, but that He gets to decide when and how. The one that says the best blessings are in eternity, not the ones that will burn up at the end of this life. The one that says we are to not worry so much about how much or how little we have, but that we are to honor and glorify God with whatever He has given us. The one that believes that trials grow our faith, that neediness and weakness humbles us, and that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters.
How many of us think that if we are pleasing enough to God - if we say and do the right things and act the right way - He will give us the life and happiness that we want?
I think one of the greatest risks with living this way is that is causes us to evaluate what kind of a God He is by our circumstances and by the answers to our prayers. It is putting our faith in ourselves and in the strength of our faith, not in God. Our focus and priorities are all wrong.
I have come to realize that what I am really trying to do when I believe that my “strong faith” will make things happen is to manipulate God to do what I am asking. I am saying, “See how much I believe in You to do this? So now You can’t let me down.” I am putting my faith in the strength of my faith to get God to do what I want, instead of putting my faith in God to work things out the way He wants. Does that make sense? Because it does to me.
While we are praying, “I have faith in You that You can do what I am asking You to do” ...
God might just be saying, “Yes, but will you still have faith in Me if I don’t do what you’re asking Me to do?”
And I think sometimes God deliberately denies certain prayer requests to test our faith, to determine if our faith is really in Him, as He is, no matter the circumstances ... or if it’s really in ourselves and our ability to get what we want and the version of God that we created in our mind.
Genuine faith in God is not one that says, “I prayed correctly and I am living the way I should, and so I know that You will do what I am asking You to do, that You will give me the life I want.” That’s presumption about what God wants and about how He should answer.
A genuine faith in God isn’t one based on what kind of answers we get. Genuine faith says, “I can’t see what’s ahead and I may not get what I want, but I still believe in You. I believe that You can do what I am asking; but if You don’t, I know that You are good and that You will work all things out for good. Whatever happens, I still believe in You and trust You. And I will follow where You lead. You are God and I am not!”
This is putting our faith in God. This is humility. And to be honest, this is very, very difficult! (Even though it shouldn’t be. Not when you have gotten to know God for the faithful, trustworthy, loving God that He really is.)
If we let trials, God’s “no” answers, heartache, pain, unfulfilled dreams, and unmet expectations destroy our faith in Him then we didn’t really have faith in Him to begin with, did we? We had faith in our faith, faith in our own ideas of how God should be.
But a faith that is grounded in God as He is in the Bible - mysterious, powerful, far above us, loving, holy, faithful, etc. – makes it easier for us to trust Him, even when things don’t go our way. Because we have learned to let Him be God. We have learned that - even in the pain - He is trustworthy. We have learned to take comfort in the fact that this life isn’t all there is and that He is working things out for eternity and that He will work all the bad into good and that He will someday make everything right again.
Oftentimes, many of our “faith struggles” during the hard times are because we are not looking for God as He is but because we are looking for an easily-manipulated, Vending-Machine God who will give us what we want when we put our prayer in and push the button. We want Him to be there when we want something, but to basically leave us alone the rest of the time.
But this is not who God is. And this is not what faith is.
And our thoughts of what makes a “full, blessed, abundant life” are far different from God’s. Just look at the lives of some of the greatest biblical God-followers. Their lives were anything but comfortable and “happy.” (They had joy, but not necessarily circumstance-based happiness.) Trials were a big part of what refined their faith, what helped them learn true humility, and what purified their trust in Him, their priorities, and their focus.
And as their faith was refined and grew, they learned to say (even with tears in their eyes), “No matter what happens in life, it is well with my soul! I will glorify You regardless. And I know that You are a good, loving Father who will redeem all things in the end and turn all ugly things beautiful.”
They lived for the eternal, not the temporary. They lived for the Lord, not for themselves.
I think a lot of us want to grow closer to the Lord, to have our faith grow more mature and be strengthened.
We just don't want the difficult journey that gets us there!
Jesus modeled the right kind of trust and humility and faith in the garden of Gethsemane. In His humanness, He desperately wanted to live, to not go to the cross. He pleaded with God three times to “take the cup” of suffering from Him. And yet in the end, even though things didn’t go the way He wanted, He still trusted and loved the Father enough to say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
He had enough faith in the Father to accept the hard times, to embrace the “no” answer, and to let His life – good times and difficult times, blessings and sacrifices – bring God glory. Can we expect to do any less?
Can we praise God in the pain and bring Him glory? Like Jesus in the garden, can we still call Him “Father” in faith and trust and love, even when the times are dark? Do we cling to Him in our desperate times because we know Him to be a good, loving, faithful Father who will work all things out in the end?
Or are we only faithful to Him when we are getting what we want? Are we serving Him ... or expecting Him to serve us? Do we live like God owes us something, like He is a Heavenly Vending Machine that is here to give us good things, and like we can only really be “happy” when we get bigger and better and more? Do we evaluate how blessed we are and how full our life is based on our circumstances? Should we? How different is God’s definition of “the full, abundant, blessed life” than ours?
When we have too much stuff or pursue too much stuff, it’s too easy to focus on stuff and to find our value in stuff. (Or maybe you find your value in success or relationships or your accomplishments or your looks or other people’s approval . . . or whatever your area of temptation/weakness may be.)
But when we struggle or lack something or fail, we are forced to find our value and our security in something other than our stuff and our strength, abilities, wisdom, and self-view. We are forced to find security, value, help, and contentment in God’s strength, abilities, wisdom, and His view of us.
In struggling with unmet “needs” and longings and failure, we learn lessons that we can’t learn when we have an abundance of stuff and when everything goes our way and when we are in control.
It is in the “lack of . . .” that we begin to understand what contentment really is and what “trust in God” really is, how to trust Him and praise Him and obey Him and bring Him glory even in the midst of “no” answers and heartache and disappointments. It’s where we learn to walk humbly with Him, letting Him lead while we follow and obey. It’s where we learn to let Him order our priorities. It’s where we discover a deep compassion for those who are in need, who fail, and who struggle, too. It’s where we learn that His grace is sufficient for us and where we learn to give it to others, too.
It where we learn about who He really is and who we really are.
Through the trials, you learn that you are not big enough . . . but God is! You learn that you are not the center of the universe . . . but God is. You learn that you are weak and that you need Him - really need Him - and not just the things He can give you.
And you learn that it’s okay that you are not big enough and that you are not the center of the universe and that you are weak and needy . . . because God loves you immensely and He is walking through the trials with you and He will work it out for good. Because He has a plan for you. He wants you to lean on Him, to need Him, and to let Him carry you. He wants you to find your strength and your worth in Him - not in yourself or your possessions or your accomplishments - because you matter to Him more than anything. Just because you are His! And He loved you enough to send Jesus to die for you so that you could have life. A full, abundant life! A life that can only be found in Him!
Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
And so once again, I ask, “What is ‘the blessed life’? What does the ‘full life’ that Jesus offers look like? How do we make sure that we have our priorities right?”
Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (Yes, it’s specifically about women, but apply it to all of God’s people.)
Deuteronomy 6:11-12: “. . . then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Matthew 6:25, 33: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (If you want to, open your Bibles and read all the verses in between, too.)
2 Corinthians 12:7-10: “To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
1 Timothy 6:6-10: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Questions (these are only some of the questions from the full study):
3. How has faith and life gotten easier over the years? How has it gotten harder? Was there a time in your life when your faith became most real, when it truly became "yours" or grew in a new way?
7. What do “blessings” and a “full, abundant life” look like to the world? To you? How might God see it differently?
8. What do you think Jesus meant when He said that He came to give us a “full life”? Is it about this temporary and physical life, or the eternal and spiritual life, or both?
9. How do trials factor in to a “full, abundant life”? How might we view them differently than God does?
11. What gets in the way of having the “full life” that Jesus is talking about? Expectations, misconceptions, sins, ritualistic practices, fears, the need to please, money, our stuff, etc.? What are some other “heart idols” that might get in the way, things that we pursue instead of pursuing God? How might all these things interfere with our “full life,” our relationship with God, our faith, and our spiritual growth? (How about for you personally?)
12. What does it mean to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”? And how can this be applied practically to our lives? Do you know of any examples of people doing this?
13. What are ways that we put “earthly treasures” over heavenly ones?
21. What should being a “child of the King” really mean for us and for how we live our lives?
22. Do you feel like you have a “full life,” physically or spiritually? If not, what is lacking and what is getting in the way of having a full life? But if so, what makes it full? (You don’t have to answer this out loud, but what sins, misconceptions, fears, heart idols, expectations, wrong goals, attitudes, etc. are keeping you from experiencing the life God wants you to have? What strongholds or toe-holds does Satan have in your life? Pray about it. Confess it. What does God want you to do about it?)
23. How would you define “faith”? How do we live it out, practically and daily? When and why is it hard sometimes?
24. What misconceptions might some Christians (or you personally) have about faith, prayer, and God? What are some ways we (you) might try to manipulate God into giving us the life we want? What effect does this have on us and our faith?
30. What does our willingness (or unwillingness) to praise God during the trials tell us about the condition of our faith? What does “praising Him in the pain” look like? Does it mean plastering on a smile and saying, “Yes, Lord, I love it! Bring more pain! Whatever You want is fine with me!” even when our hearts are breaking? What does He expect from us during the painful trials, and how can we genuinely humble ourselves before Him when we are hurting deeply?
35. In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. What does this mean in the broad sense? What does it mean for you personally right now? Is there any area in which God is calling you to "deny yourself"? Any cross you know you need to pick up and carry? Is He challenging you to follow Him in any new way?
The posts in this Bible study:
(And I didn't repost the last "lesson" because it's not really a lesson. It's meant to be a conversation-starter if you are doing this Bible study with others: 22. Gray Areas)