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However, despite Christ’s promise to give His followers a rich and abundant life (John 10:10), many Christians feel that this kind of life eludes them. As they take stock, all they see are disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. If not careful, this thinking can tempt them to question God’s goodness (unbelief) or to give in to cynicism or bitterness.
Their Christian life becomes a “going-through-the-motions” exercise. They have an underlying instability in their souls. They know God’s truths, but their faith is waning (James 1:8). They are at a crossroads, to choose to take the narrow or broad gate. Not from a salvation standpoint, but a sanctification standpoint.
You get a glimpse of those who chose the narrow gate when you meet a mature Christian who, despite the marks of age and trials, has a sense of peace about them. There is a spark in their eyes and solace in their speech.
Their story is not without seasons of loss or hardship, nor is it necessarily filled with an abundance of worldly blessings. Yet, there is a grace to their conversations, and they are genuinely interested in you. As you speak, they respond by sharing laughs and sometimes tears. Upon reflection, you find that there is nothing extraordinary about them; they just live an abundant ordinary life.
On the other hand, you will find those who have taken the wide gate; individuals whose response to life in a fallen world has left them depleted. Their character now reduced to two-word descriptions of a bitter woman or angry man. Their conversation is unwholesome and focused on the injustices done to them. It seems that life has stolen much of their humanity.
What path are you taking?
How you respond to sin in your life ultimately determines which path you will take. The road signs are not clear, and you can easily find yourselves on the wrong way, not quite knowing how you arrived. To stay on the correct path, you must recognize the internal workings of sin and the weaknesses of your flesh.
You, like all of us, are born with the indwelling impacts of sin, fracturing God’s original design of wholeness. Your will is now bent away from God. And your soul experiences the encumbrances of fear, shame, and guilt, which act like an undertow, carrying you away from joy and thankfulness.
These encumbrances leave you longing for a sense of control, acceptance, acknowledgment, respect, comfort, satisfaction, etc. You project wholeness and despise any sign of weakness. This perspective is the shared experience of all.
With this backdrop, you step into the grand adventure of life. You pursue relationships, excel at careers, look to marry, and have a family. You want a life worth living. With spiritual enlightenment, you recognize the wisdom in God’s design and look to pursue His good gifts. You have the right heading, but the ongoing presence of sin will add complexity to your journey.
Your good desires will morph into demanding needs. And your enemies will use these desires to tempt and entice you to extend them beyond God’s original design (James 1:14-15). You delightedly give yourself over to falsehood, not realizing that the game of the modern world is playing against you.
As a result, your hope and trust for living a satisfying life become dependent on achieving your chosen storyline. As a result, your worship becomes displaced (Romans 1:21-23). As a Christian, this does not change the status of your regeneration. But it does have a significant impact on the health of your soul.
Think of your life as a circle with your heart at the center. And all of the aspects of your life making up the circumference. The first sketch on top represents God’s original design; He is the center of your heart, bringing a healthy balance to all of the aspects of your life. There is no compartmentalization or distortion. You live life in the present, and you process life’s events on a firm foundation.
The second sketch at the bottom represents an example of an improper response to a fallen-life. Life’s events can give rise to fleshly desires, tempting you to elevate different aspects of your life. A boy picked on by his peers elevates the importance of power, which translates into becoming a workaholic. A girl with a distant father elevates the importance of male attention, which translates to her making bad choices in relationships.
This dynamic is a result of your enemies leveraging your internal discord and selfish hearts to tempt you to pursue counterfeit solutions (Ephesians 2:2-3, Romans 1:23). As a result, your self-reliant solutions to fallen life distort and stretch your existence. The elevated features act almost like cancerous tumors, stealing all your energy and robbing you of life.
As a result, your center shifts away from God-centeredness. You become fixated on a few aspects of your life. You are now on an emotional roller coaster with the peace of your soul dependent on the status of fulfilling these specific idols.
The life of a 38-year-old woman, whose dream of becoming a mother, shrinks down to her reproductive status. The life of a middle-aged man, who has elevated and distorted God’s design of sex, finds his life one-dimensional, as he mentally perverts every interaction with the opposite sex.
If left unchecked, you will become enslaved to habitual thinking patterns, which leads to strongholds in your life. This enslaving process moves you towards death. You are engaged with your inner voice and not with those around you, and you begin to lose your humanity.
Regeneration brings new potential for restoration, but a conflict remains between the Spirit and the flesh (Galatians 5:17). If you walk in the Spirit, the restoration process continues to restore your wholeness. The fractures within soften, and your heart will align with a true “in-Christ identity.” However, your sin-impacted flesh can quickly tempt you down the wrong path, repeatedly.
The book of Ecclesiastes provides an excellent case study in the trappings of the flesh. Solomon describes the results of his almost systematic pursuit of finding fulfillment in many aspects of his life; wisdom, pleasures, entertainment, possessions, women, work, riches, etc.
This pursuit was not to satisfy intellectual curiosity, but a result of a powerful man giving the full pursuit of his heart’s desires (Ecclesiastes 2:10). In the end, he found the searches were pure vanity, and in turn, documents his pilgrimage to serve as a warning to future generations.
At the end of the book, he provides a very brief instruction to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This summary can leave the reader wanting more guidance on how to find joy in life. For that, you must look at Chapter 5.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).
You may recoil at the terms “toil” and “lot,” yet they align with proper theology. Toil in our labor is one of the consequences of the fall (Genesis 3:17-20). And accepting one’s share in life, blessings, and trials is in line with a proper view of God’s sovereign plan and our responsibility (Proverbs 16:9).
With a proper gospel foundation, these verses reveal Solomon’s key to a fulfilling life; a humble acceptance and trust in God. And a willingness to receive all of life’s ups and downs with thanksgiving. You will have peace in your soul and gladness in your heart (Psalm 131). You will live in the moment, no longer burdened with the anxieties of fleshly living.
However, you can only achieve this kind of life by choosing the narrow path of gospel-driven sanctification. You need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to undo the effects of sin’s power in your heart. It is a return to God’s original design of a balanced life, a changed heart, living in proportion to God’s plan, and activities reflecting Him.
I am not saying you shouldn’t pursue a better life, a better marriage, or a better career. You are a steward of what God has given, and within that role, you must always look to improve, to build up, and to protect.
Stewardship requires you to continually choose the narrow gate of surrender (Luke 9:24). You must “be still, or stop your fighting and know that I am God,” as translated in some versions (Psalm 46:10 HCSB). It is a call to stop the internal fighting against God and faithfully follow Christ.
The most pressing challenge for a Christian is to rediscover the real experience of wholeness. To retrain the palate to taste and enjoy the pure goodness of God.
When this happens, you will authentically interact with the world; see others as Christ sees them; serve others by sharing God’s blessings of mercy, peace, love, grace, and wisdom. Then you will experience abundant life.