The other day while flipping through some of my old journals, I came across an entry where I berated myself for not attaining the “abundant life.” In the journal, I acknowledged God’s grace and goodness and that it took faith and faithfulness to attain the abundant life. I defined the abundant life as a successful life. None of that has changed; however, the problem was how I defined the success. My definition was shaped by the expectations of others. As defined by the Christians surrounding me, success would mean that I had my life together, effectively accomplished meaningful tasks, and was reliable. My reality was that I was becoming less and less reliable as a result of compounding health problems.
Without controlling my health, I couldn’t figure out how to change my behaviors that appeared to be the antithesis to the abundant life. My body and my life as I knew it were crashing. The self-discipline that had always gotten me through suddenly wasn’t enough. To others, it seemed that I had stopped trying. Suddenly, I was a failure. Failures don’t live the abundant life. While hating who I was, I persevered still hoping for a change. I became more of a failure.
So many folks over the years had prayed over me, rebuked my faithlessness, and told me that if I only had the right faith, or enough of it, that I would be completely healed. Others told me the way to succeed was to ignore my health conditions and limitations. That’s like telling someone to run a marathon with a crushed foot.
Ignoring facts doesn’t change them. But I still tried. Eventually, the limitations outweighed my want-to, and the fact that I live with chronic, disabling illness is something I now give myself grace for. I realized that God allowed the sicknesses and loves me no less because of them. God gives grace, and we should, too.
We all have obstacles in the way of our success. Whether it’s a health condition, addiction, the past, obligations, or one of countless other limitations, nothing is too hard for God. Nothing has to stay in between us and our Maker. He designed us all for the abundant life and makes it easily accessible—no tricks, gimmicks, or trying to guess the secret code. It’s a free gift for us to accept just as it is given-simply, in love, with no strings attached.
The abundant life is the successful life. While this is true, our definition of success is critical. Success doesn’t mean getting done what others think we should.
I love Thelma (Mama T) Wells’s formula for success: B+E+E=S
B—Be aware of who you are. What is your mission? What is your vision? What is your passion?
E—Eliminate the negatives. Or, better said, ‘Eliminate the effects of negativity in your life.’
E—Eternal value. Only what you do for Christ will last.
S—Success. Everybody wants success; everybody’s looking for it. I love what Booker T. Washington said: ‘Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed’ (Wells, 116-123).
The abundant life means living in faith and with faithfulness. It’s important that we acknowledge our power of choice when it comes to our faith and faithfulness. Christian Rapper and Preacher Trip Lee said God “hasn’t called us to worldly success; He’s called us to faithfulness. We need to adjust our goals, and further, adjust our dreams” (Lee, 116). What or Who we have faith in and live for matters. Christian Evangelical Author Timothy Keller said, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”
If we choose to have more than just a lip service faith in God, we will submit 100%, not holding anything back from Him. God gives us all a set of talents and expects us to be faithful to Him with each one. In the parable of the talents, Jesus shows that the servants given five and two talents worked and invested wisely, putting the talents to good use and returning to their master more than the initial sum they were given. The servant given only one talent chose to bury it instead of investing it wisely (Matthew 25:14-30). The lazy servant justified his choice with his flawed analysis of his master. Instead of obeying and putting the talent to good use, he analyzed and thought about it. This is always a mistake because God’s ways are not our own. His ways don’t always make sense to us at the time He instructs us to do something, but our obedience is always best. God tells us to do something. He doesn’t tell us to analyze to give our opinion about it. In Zechariah 4:6, God instructed King Zerubbabel to lead the people by His Spirit and not by power or might. In other words, King Zerubbabel was to put faith in God and not in common sense, and he was to faithfully rule the people God’s way instead of the common way of kings, with power or might.
Trip Lee describes the abundant life this way:
The good life doesn’t mean we get everything we want.
The good life is belief in God even when we don’t get what we want.
The good life doesn’t mean we live whatever way feels best to us.
It means we live how we were created to live.
The good life isn’t the high life.
The good life is the life that’s been laid down (Lee, 44)
God’s design in nature lends wisdom for putting life in perspective. In the oceans, there are tides and there are waves. The tide is “the rhythmic rise and fall of the water of the ocean which is caused by the strong gravitational pull on the Earth’s surface exerted by the sun and moon. Waves are formed because of the raging force exerted by the winds which blow over the ocean’s surface” (https://askanydifference.com). The tide in life can be seen as the expected ebb and flow, natural rise and fall, that occurs across stages and cycles in every life. The waves can be seen as the turbulence that comes to confuse our way. When the waves toss and turn a ship, it needs a way to find the right path again. We have the Holy Spirit available to us to keep us focused and on track, despite the waves. When General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, encouraged his daughter in her endeavors for the Lord, “he urged her to keep her eyes on the tide and not on the waves” (Blackaby, Blackaby, and King, 230).
The abundant life means knowing God is with us and cares every moment. Sometimes we are tempted to think that God got too busy to love us, that He forgot about us, or that He stopped caring. These are never true. Suffering is a part of every life. “Suffering is not always the result of sin…Suffering, in fact, is sometimes the result of righteousness and of God’s eternal plan for our lives. Satan has his reasons for wanting us to suffer, but God has His reasons for allowing us to suffer, and His reasons will ultimately bring perfection out of our pain” (Stedman, 67-68).
The abundant life is led by God’s Holy Spirit and bears good fruit. Galatians 5:16-23 outlines that if we walk in the Spirit we will “not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” We are to avoid and walk away from such things as sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. We learn that the good fruit we will live as a result of living in God’s Holy Spirit are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.”
The abundant life is humble. “Humility responds to failure with a sincere desire to grow, and sees itself as perpetually needy of divine forgiveness and empowerment” (Swindoll, 75). Psalm 51 is a prayer in complete humility.
Based on this prayer, Charles Spurgeon identifies four destructive flaws absent in complete humility as a result of God’s conviction:
Absence of self-importance. Any advantage you might feel over another is erased when you see yourself through the eyes of the omnipotent, holy God.
Absence of carelessness. A broken heart never tries to play tricks with God.
Absence of hypocrisy. A broken heart cannot bear hypocrisy, especially with itself.
Absence of secrecy. Broken, contrite hearts are remarkably transparent, almost inappropriately so, perhaps because they have nothing more to hide (Swindoll, 73-74).
The abundant life means abandoning sin. “Sin is its own worst punishment” (Blackaby, Blackaby, and King, 115). When we realize we have been in hot pursuit of a fraud, we can turn around. Abandoning sin grows us spiritually. But “spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes an intentional commitment” (Warren, 179).There are many examples in the Old Testament of God’s people repenting and turning from their self-centeredness back to God. King David, the only person God officially labeled as a man after His own heart, is a prime example of a man who got off track and quickly turned back to God once he realized his error. Look at Peter’s loss of focus in Luke 22. Jesus knew that Peter wasn’t as faithful as he should be, even though Peter himself didn’t know at the time. He told Peter that he would betray Jesus three times in the next few hours. Jesus warned Peter that satan wanted to ruin him. Jesus also showed His love for Peter in that He prayed for him and encouraged Peter to strengthen his brothers after he got things in proper perspective to live faithfully. All this before Peter denied him. God is the same today as He was then. He knows we will mess up, and He has already extended His invitation and helping hand for us to turn back to Him. Dr. Charles Stanley simplied it when he said, “We are never outside of God’s overarching plan. It may seem that we have taken a wrong turn, gotten off track, or that the sorrows of this life have caught up with us; but God is never surprised by our circumstances, and He is never out of control” (Stanley, 141).
The abundant life gives hope. God’s Word is a message and record of hope from the first to the last word. 1 Peter 1 speaks much of hope. I love verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We have hope because of God’s love and in that, Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. It is His mercy and grace that give us hope now and after this life is done. That hope invites us to exit what we have been chasing—the perfectionism and worldly success we may never attain—to pursue a life of faith in the God who makes the abundant life a reality for all those who put their trust in Him.
Blackaby, Henry, and Richard Blackaby. Fresh Encounter God's Pattern for Spiritual Awakening. B & H Books, 2009.
“Difference Between Tides and Waves (with Table).” Ask Any Difference, askanydifference.com/.
Lee, Trip, and Matt Chandler. The Good Life. Moody Publishers, 2012.
Stedman, Ray C., and Jim Denney. Let God Be God: Life-Changing Truths from the Book of Job. Discovery House, 2007.
Swindoll, Charles R. A Life Well Lived. T. Nelson, 2007.
WARREN, RICK. The Purpose Driven. ZONDERVAN, 2002.
Wells, Thelma. God, I'm Ready to Walk in Faith. Harvest House Publishers, 2011.