rom time to time, place to place, and season to season, we as Christians need to ask ourselves this crucial question: How seriously do I take what Jesus said? In a country that has everything, what is to be gained under the sun? Comfort is the greatest illusion to be wrapped around the Christian walk. We find comfort in our homes, our La-Z-Boy, our television, our movies, the Starbucks on the way to work, the routine of nine-to-five, the grocery store, our friends, mobile devices, our Facebook posts, video games, and hobbies. Comfort has never been the centerpiece guarantee or promise in the Christian life--yet we hold it to be inseparable from it. Our attitude toward our Christian faith holds as near to comfort as the desire to seek out the safest, easiest, most prosperous pathway through life with the least amount of pain until the day we die. However, I yet again ask, how seriously do we take Jesus’ words?
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). And herein lies the source of our lukewarm lives: Jesus Christ is life, and we think that once we have that, we have our guarantee to heaven, our ticket to the other side, and our get-out-hell free card. We are forced to face this reality as Christians living in America--we take our salvation for granted. If you doubt this, try to recall the last time you pondered your own fear of the Lord. I believe it is this attitude that we have taken upon our lives, through the medium of comfort and prosperity, that will leave us ill-equipped and under-prepared to face real spiritual battles when we encounter them. There is nothing safe about the Christian life outside of our salvation in Jesus and being within the grip of His will. C.S. Lewis discerned this very well when he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lucy famously inquires as to the nature of Aslan: “Is he—quite safe? […] “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
Jesus said He had come to give life and that abundantly; I believe, with great confidence, that He meant it. The distinction that comes between this latter part of the verse—life, and that abundantly--is a profound attribute and calling beyond receiving just life. If Jesus only intended for us to make it to heaven, He would have left off by saying, “I came that they may have life.” But He did not. God did not call us to merely make it to heaven, but to travel this journey of the Christian life with a greater purpose. That purpose, I believe, shatters boundaries of comfort zones that we think we control and opens the world up to wonderful, fearful, and unknown pathways that only God can guide us through.
When I first wrestled with the verse, it was while I was a combat marksmanship coach in the Marines. As coaches and trainers, we instructed hundreds of Marines and naval attachments in not only marksmanship but also in acquiring and maintaining a combat mindset. This period of instruction, appropriately called “Combat Mindset,” makes a stark contrast and clear distinction between two sets of attitudes that will make the difference between life and death. And this is life and death not only in physical combat, I believe, but--when this understanding is extracted from this course we give in the Marines--in the Christian life as well. This distinction implores a renewed attitude and vigor to posses on this lifelong journey with the Lord we regard as “our walk.” Between these two ideas the lines are drawn: survive or prevail.
Survival, in its essence, is not a terrible thing. In fact, it is very good, but it is also very much incomplete and falls short of what God desires of us, which is so much more. The Israelites by all accounts survived hundreds of years under the oppression of several different Kings and rulers. But they were being oppressed – they did not prevail; they did not thrive. They made it through these trials, these times of testing, and were eventually delivered and restored time and time again. The key and fundamental difference, however, is found when we make the mindset shift from merely being alive during a period of history to really living out God’s purpose: to prevail. When the Israelites obeyed God and did as they were instructed, they were victorious, prosperous and upright in God’s eyes. This distinction is not only found with the Israelites, but throughout the entire Bible. The greatest Biblical heroes all found their greatest hour and their mightiest triumphs when they stepped out beyond the veil of comfort and uncertainty, bringing them to the heights beyond survival--prevailing. As true and applicable as this is to us in our present day, we must take the words of Jesus Christ seriously. This requires us to change our attitude, our mindset, and eventually our behavior.
As Marines, we wanted to enter the fight not only to survive, but to dominate, to thrive, to prevail. We need to take up this same mindset as Christians. Living the Christian life is a reality that exists beyond our perception at times. This fallen world exists in a constant state of spiritual battle, even in the most “peaceful” places. The context of John 10:10 strongly suggests this spiritual conflict and states what God’s intentions are for us: to have life . . . “and that abundantly.”
When we were baptized in the blood of the Lamb and became born-again Christians, we were volunteering our service among the ranks of spiritual warriors, not only to love God, but to engage in spiritual battle--and to prevail! It may seem cliché to call spiritual complacency an epidemic among inactive American Christians--but what else would you call it? The God of the universe died so that we might not only accept eternal life but glorify Him with it by living life to its fullest in His name. The abundant life did not come by becoming a Christian--it comes by living as one. Being willing to die as a Christian for the faith in Jesus is quite the challenge. How much more so, is it, to be willing to live abundantly as the Christian Jesus Christ calls us to be?
The New Testament is filled with verses that point to this intentional mindset of prevailing beyond the limited perspective and fringe of survival only. Paul did not just sit in prison marking time but instead spent it encouraging, rebuking, uplifting and writing to the young churches. This is an exemplary illustration of thriving without the comfort of being assured of what would happen to him. Not knowing when he would be persecuted or where he would end up, Paul fearlessly made known the gospel of Jesus Christ--the very reason for which he was eventually imprisoned and killed.
Tearing down the walls of uncertainty, fear and doubt does not eliminate them from our Christian walk. But it does place a precedence to what we will follow, who will dictate our actions, and for what reason and purpose we do these things. The proclamation of the gospel will start us on a path that, although seemingly lonely, is not truly so. Although it may be frightening, we are not to fear. Although it may be dangerous, we are to walk within God’s purpose and will, knowing that it is the safest place to be. Although it may cost us our lives, we will do it anyway. Jesus Christ has claimed the exclusive rights to truth by being Truth itself. And with His promise of life comes the responsibility to receive it and live it as he intended--“and that abundantly.”
The head coach of Wheaton College’s wrestling program, two-time Olympian Jim Gruenwald, frequently spurs on his wrestlers with the mantra of “Seek perfection, settle for excellence.” This is the same mindset switch that forces one to face the battles with an attitude of coming out on top--not just “getting by.” I submit to all who read this, and who dare to take its implications seriously, that if we are to adopt this ethos, this creed, this mindset, that we will not only have life within the salvation of Jesus Christ’s promise, but we will have it abundantly. The time we have is a gift that exists in a fraction of God’s created eternity. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master returns to find that two of his servants have thrived with the gift he gave them. They used the talents that were entrusted to them and multiplied them--they have prevailed. The servant who hid his talent in the ground, by all measures, had indeed survived while his master was gone. He was still alive, he still had the talent, and he had not lost it. He did not, however, step beyond the comfort or security of having his only talent put to any sort of use. The master’s response to the servant’s idleness goes beyond disappointment. The life we have been given through salvation is a talent. Its value and preciousness can be multiplied a hundredfold, but only after we take seriously the final words of John 10:10: “. . . and that abundantly.”
This mindset shift takes place when it is put into action. The fruits of one’s labors will show the reflection of what has taken place on the inside. As Christians, we should desire to reflect on the fact that we were bought at a price, that Christ is victorious, and that He has made us new creations. We will be known by our fruits . . . or our lack of them. Breaking outside the illusion of comfort we find in possessions, friends, financial security, or routine, and into the firm grip of God’s will is where the abundant life of thriving and prevailing can occur. None of this matters all that much, of course, if your answer to my original question is anything less than “very seriously.” So, having considered all this--what’s next? Is the Christian life about survival to you, or is it about prevailing, about thriving? How serious are you going to take Jesus’ words, “and that abundantly”?