Here in the early days of 2014, we’re in that tantalizing space of opportunity. The reflection we do at New Years is still fresh. We haven’t quite settled back into the habitual routine of life. We still feel like change can happen.
As I’ve asked people what they want for their new year, not one of them has said they want a worse year. No one has told me they plan on more relational brokenness, more stress, and more spiritual emptiness. Everyone talks with hope about a better year. I want that. I’m sure you do too.
If John 10:10 is to be believed, Jesus wants a better year for you also. He said, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
Abundant life sounds good, right? That’s something I’d like in 2014.
Maybe the abundant life isn’t about your circumstances?
When I think of the abundant life, I start thinking of all the great things I wish would happen for my family and I. (Sorry for not being more spiritual!) I think about comfort, fun opportunities and rich relationships. It’s easy to feel disappointed when those things don’t show up in my life.
But what if the abundant life isn’t found in a change in my circumstances? What if the abundant life has more to do with a change in my mind and heart?
I was talking about the abundant life and this passage with some friends this weekend. One of them—the very thoughtful T.J. Arko—made a great point. Jesus’ promise of the abundant life falls in the middle of a comparison between two characters.
Before the promise, there’s a Thief. After the promise, there’s a Shepherd. Jesus says he isn’t the thief, instead he’s the shepherd. (You can read the whole passage here.)
In this verse Jesus is not just promising us abundant life, but telling us about the character of God. How we see God is important. God is who God is. We don’t change God. But our experience of life is deeply colored by our beliefs about God.
So, Jesus is giving us insight into two different ways we can relate to God. Whichever is more real to us will make an enormous difference on whether we experience our life as abundant or not.
Which picture of God do you relate to?
We can relate to God as if God is a thief.
The thief is always lurking in the background, ready to sneak in and take something from us. God in this picture is demanding. This God wants to judge us but won’t so long as we pay him off in the right way. This God wants to take our time, our enjoyment, our resources.
Our emotional response to this kind of God is anxiety and insecurity. Have we done enough to stay safe? Maybe if we do enough of the right things, we won’t draw this God’s attention.
If we’re living with a picture of God as a thief, then we will never really experience the abundant life Jesus promised. Why? Because we’ll always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’ll always be worried that judgement is just around the corner. We’ll wonder if the good in our life is some kind of test. We’ll fear that we’re not taking enough steps to ensure our security. Even if God provides an abundant life for us, we won’t experience it that way.
We can also relate to God as a shepherd.
The shepherd is also always there, but with a different intention. The shepherd provides what we need. The shepherd protects and gives us a place to grow. God in this picture wants us to mature, and will take steps to help us grow in the right way, but we can trust that those steps are always for our good. Our emotional response to this God is gratitude and security. We know that regardless of our circumstances, we are being cared for.
The thief comes to steal. The shepherd comes to give. The thief comes to kill. The shepherd comes to provide life. The thief comes to destroy. The shepherd comes to protect and build up.
This passage is an invitation to intentionally shift our picture of God. We’re not making something up. We’re choosing to shift our beliefs into alignment with the picture of God that Jesus presented to us.
If we see God as our shepherd, we will experience life differently. As we head into 2014 we get to choose which view we will hold. An abundant life coms from the hand of the shepherd.