When I was little, I dreamed of being an elementary school teacher. I imagined that I would teach children, have a nice home, a husband, a family. I imagined that my life would be insulated from trouble and heartache, life would be an adventure, and I would be comfortable, secure, and happy.
When I read Jesus's words in John 10, where he promises abundant life for his followers, sometimes I picture abundant life like that--a warm, safe, vibrant life where there are no worries and there is no pain. And an expectation creeps in that my life will look like that and feel like that.
But as I've studied the stories of Jesus over the last couple of years, I've come to believe that this abundant life is eternal life. And eternal life is not just everlasting life--the life we have with God after we die, but the life with the Eternal One that I have right now if I follow Jesus and allow him to transform me.
Life with the Eternal One is always abundant life--it is always the life we were meant to have and the fullest that life can possibly be, no matter what the other circumstances of our lives.
But the way to this abundant life is not what I would expect. It's not seeking after safety and security and comfort. It's seeking the kingdom first. And it's not seeking the kingdom only when it's convenient for me, it's seeking the kingdom though it costs me everything. Jesus called us to death, just as he died. He said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." Mark 8:34-35.
As I've pondered this juxtaposition of abundant life and self-death this week, I've been amazed at how a change in my thinking about suffering affects my feelings about it. As I've meditated on Paul's statements in Philippians 4 about being content in all circumstances, I think this is the secret that he mentions. Abundant life is life with God. Period. No circumstance, pain, or suffering can take his presence away. And his presence and communion is what makes life abundant. A living, growing relationship with the Eternal One is the goal and the reward of life surrendered to Jesus. Whether I have money or power or family or friends, I know that I belong to God and he is walking with me. This is abundant life.