Monday, March 24, 2008

Looking For Life In All The Wrong Places (Transcript)

Jesus said that He came in order that you and I might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

I want to explore a theory I have that a lot of Christians, if not most Christians, are looking for that abundant life in all the wrong places.

Maybe you are, too.

But first I want to look at a the more universal problem.

Everybody Wants Abundant Life

I believe that every human is born with a desire for abundant life. Even before we are Christians we see it as perfectly normal to go on a journey looking for fulfillment of some kind, looking for life.

In fact, if a person is not interested in seeking abundant life, if they're not interested in exploring ways to live life to the full, we may call them dull or abnormal or even give some psychological bad title to their condition.

And if a person doesn't yet know Jesus Christ, it's a given, isn't it?, that they will search for life in all the wrong places. And the places they search for life in may be morally evil, or they may be morally neutral.

We sometimes key in on the morally evil, and realize that the world seeks for life in things like drugs, or drunkenness, or illicit relationships, or even out-and-out big-time crime, of the Bonny and Clyde type.

But there are hundreds of morally neutral ways in which the world searches for life. And sometimes they convince themselves that they have really found life. You know, the mountain climber who wants the whole world to climb dangerous mountains because of the intensity of life it gives them. In today's language it's often called a “rush”, as in, “I do mountain climbing because it really gives me a rush!”

But it's not just mountain climbers. It's skate-boarders looking to perfect some flip jump ankle-breaking move. Or a skiers, looking for the right powder they can float to nirvana on. Or race car drivers whose adrenaline comes from high speed. Or race car spectators who don't have the opportunity to race, or don't dare to, but get their adrenaline from watching it, and wondering who will crash. Or movie-goers who willingly suspend disbelief for two hours to enter into the abundant life of imagination.

The list goes on almost infinitely to pie bakers, and ipod music addicts, and internet surfers, and painters, and sculptors, and poker players, and book readers, and hikers, and sleepers, and workaholics, and karate kids, and karate adults, and basket weavers, and scrapbookers, and singers, and dreamers of all kinds.

Me Too

Listen, I can identify completely. I didn't become a Christian until I was 26 years old. I looked for life in so many places, I couldn't even count them. Many I've already mentioned, but five more minutes of thinking would probably yield fifty more ways.

And during those years I heard about God, and about Jesus Christ, and about how becoming a Christian was where the life really is.

And there's certainly some truth to that. Real abundant life begins with knowing Christ. With being born again. With being transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. With having a new heart, and the forgiveness of sins, bought and paid for by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and becoming a child of God by grace, a free gift, through faith in Jesus Christ.

I don't want to diminish at all that experience, what we call conversion, or salvation. It's marvelous, awesome, and certainly life-changing.

But my subject is “looking for life in all the wrong places”, and too often, after we become Christians, we begin that journey of looking for life all over again, except with a Christian slant to it, or a Christian flavor to it.

Christians Are Not Immune

I see it all the time. And every case is different. That's why it's a ittle difficult to articulate in a broad sweep of Christians in general.

But I'm going to try.

It may apply to you. Statistically, it probably does. Statistically, you probably are swayed, at least from time to time, by the world, the flesh and the devil, to look for abundant life in places that are not the source of life. They may be perfectly moral, they may even be wonderful, and good, and blessed. But they're not the source of abundant life.

And so, when your day, or week or month is over, you have an experience of emptiness that you instinctively know is not the birthright of a believer in Jesus Christ.

So let's look at some of the wrong places we might look for life, and then we'll see if there isn't a better way.

Some of the wrong places, as I inferred before, are not wrong places to BE. They're just not sources of abundant life.

For example, let's start with the obvious. Church.


Now we know that the church is really the people of God, believers in Jesus Christ. It's not the building, or the sanctuary. But I'm speaking here of the gathering place we call “church”, as in, “I went to church today”.

We also agree, I'm sure, with the old saying, “There are no perfect churches.” But in general, going to church is a good thing. We think it should be a Bible-believing church, and ideally one in which there is a level of good teaching, good worship, and good fellowship among the brethren. But that being the case, going to church is a good thing. The Bible calls it “assembling together”, and it's not a good thing to neglect assembling together, all things being equal.

But let me say one thing clearly. It's foolish to think that assembling together, even under the most ideal conditions, is the source of abundant life. Not only is there no biblical warrant for such a belief, you only have to look around to see that there are plenty of believers who would never miss church, and yet have a lack of abundant life that is obvious. People who clearly know Jesus as Lord and Savior, but have an emptiness that you can see in their eyes.

You may be one of them. And you may have reached the simple truth that attending church, for the purpose in and of itself of getting abundant life, is a losing proposition. You may have even jumped from church to church, thinking that if one of them didn't give you abundant life, maybe another one will. You may have even attended a church with a name like “Abundant Life Church”, but you ironically didn't get abundant life by assembling there.

And so maybe you concluded that if you attended more activities at Abundant Life Church, that then you would have abundant life. So you attended the evening service, and the Wednesday night service, and Sunday School, and small cell group, and Ladies Retreat (or Men's Retreat, as the case may be), and Fish Fry and Easter pageant, and painting and mowing duty, and Visitation, and who knows what else?

And the nagging emptiness not only didn't go away, it intensified.

Your solution?

Spiritual Discipline

You read a book on the Disciplines of the Christian Life. “Yes!”, you shouted. That's what I've been missing. More Bible study. More meditation. More prayer. Make a list of all the missionaries, and pray for them. Start with yourself though. Get a good prayer formula going. How about A-C-T-S? Get it? ACTS, like the Book of Acts.

“A” stands for “adoration”. Start by adoring God.

“C” stands for “confession”. Confess every sin you can think of.

“T” stands for “thanksgiving”. Thank God for all your blessings.

“S” stands for “supplication”. Asking God for things.

But wait, A-C-T-S leaves out intercession. Praying for others. Maybe I can call my formula A-C-T-S-I? Doesn't sound as good, but Hey.

And so you do your Disciplines of the Christian Life for four days. But Friday you got too busy, and said you'd resume on Saturday, but Saturday you had errands to run. So you resumed on Monday, but you only got through A-C-T, and now you're running on empty plus guilty.

Maybe this Disciplines of the Christian Life thing isn't all it's cracked up to be.

But what else have you got?

Bible memorization, of course!

Should I memorize individual verses that are pertinent to my current life situations, or should I memorize whole passages that are universally applicable? John Chapter 1 maybe? Or how about Proverbs? We could all use some wisdom, couldn't we?

King James or New American Standard?

I'll think about that and start next week.

Let me get the MacArthur Bible Memorization course first.

No, maybe I'll just start right now. Or maybe I should do some intercessory prayer first.

No, maybe I should read my Bible first just to warm my heart for prayer.

Oh boy, it's time for work. I gotta go. Later, Lord.

Empty. Guilty.

Friend, is any of this ringing a bell?

Where is the Life?

Christian "Movements" & Roles

After you've gone Charismatic, and the hoopla and the so-called signs and the wonders aren't as wonder-ful as they were, and you've moved from jumping up and down in the front row, to just shouting in the middle rows, to sitting in the back row trying to be excited, but feeling pretty empty, even deceived, realizing that the tongues everybody else is speaking is just as phony as the ones you've been speaking....after all that, you ask yourself, “Where is the Life?”

After you've become a Deacon, or an Elder, or a Sunday School teacher, or a Pastor, or a leading Lady of the church, and you've tried to squeeze some juice of life out of the orange of your role, tried to make it fulfilling, tried to get some abundant life out of ask yourself, “Where is the Life?”

Denying Self

And you might have conflicting thoughts about whether you should even have abundant life. Aren't we called to suffer for Christ? Aren't we called to be servants, to life sacrificially? Should we even care if we have life? Abundant life? After all, aren't we called to deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow Him?

That's it! I'll be more sacrificial. I'll deny myself more. Maybe that's where the abundant life is. “Or should I not even care about abundant life?”, you ask yourself again. But you try more sacrificial living. You rake the lawn for the old lady next door, and work harder on your Sunday School lesson, you bite your tongue when you are tempted to lash out at someone who wronged you, you give more money to the church, you repeat “It's not about me” thirty times.

But you can never sacrifice enough.

Emptiness. Guilt.

Vicious Cycles?

Then maybe you reason, “Hey, God isn't a slave driver. He loves me. I don't have to be so religious. He wants me to have abundant life, and I love golf, so I think I'll just skip church today and go golfing.”

Or choose your favorite activity. You figure there's no abundant life in all those Christian activities anyway, so let's go camping. Or go to a movie. Or start a new hobby. Or go to the “Y” and work out. Or read some John Grisham.

And you start the cycle over again. You look for abundant life in the things of the world, instead of the things of the church. Not morally evil things, necessarily. Just fun things. Enjoyment. Anything wrong with enjoyment? You ask it with a chip on your shoulder, but you're serious. You've had enough sacrifice. You have a life to live, too, don't you?

And the cycle continues, and you block out the emptiness for a while with your activity. You still go to church, but only on Sunday morning. You still read your Bible a little, but it's kinda “same ol' same ol'”.

And you cycle back to realizing that there's no abundant life in all those activities either. And maybe you cycle back into more church, more Disciplines of the Christian Life, more dedication and re-dedication, and another round of sacrificial serving of the Lord.

And you find that you just can't stop looking for life in all the wrong places.

The Whisper of Jesus

And then through a verse of Scripture, or some Christian book, or a friend, or just a remembrance in your mind of a time with the Lord a long time ago, Jesus whispers in your heart:

“I am the Life.”

And maybe you weep with the “rush” of that truth.

And you don't know exactly what to do, but you sense that you can't let it get away this time. It's too precious. HE is too precious. Oh, my God, don't let it slip away again. Guard me from the world, the flesh and the devil that would steal it away from me.

You are the Life. You are my abundant life. Jesus is my life. Jesus is my everything.

I remember that song now, “He Is All I Need”.

I remember the saying someone said, “If you have Christ, you have everything.” I knew what they meant, but I forgot. I got too busy. I didn't write it down. I didn't meditate on it. I didn't take the time to commune with you, Jesus.

You are my Life. I've looked for life in all the wrong places, and you were, of course, there and I didn't even see you. I talked about you. I wrote about you. I taught about you. I spoke your name. I worked for you. I served you. I witnessed. I had you living inside of me all this time.

But I forgot that you are my Life!

I forgot that there is Life in no other thing, no other person, no religion, no church, no dedication, no re-dedication, no sacrifice, no fun, no games, not even in words in a Bible apart from you.

I forgot that you told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures thinking in them you have life, but it is they that speak of Me.”

Your disciple whom you loved wrote, “He who has the Son has Life”.

The apostle wrote to the Colossians, “...Christ, Who is our Life...”

You said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the Life.”

It's you, Jesus. You are the abundant Life. You are MY Life.

Please, please, don't let me forget that anymore.


Bino Manjasseril said...

Oh Boy! I can relate to so many things you told under "Spiritual Discipline". Oh My... I have tried pretty much all of it. Talk about guilt!

Wonderful article! Reminding us it is ALL about Jesus! He IS our life!

Terry Rayburn said...

Thanks, Bino, and Amen.