Life to the Full
Seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously wrote that human life in its natural state is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes argued that our instincts tend toward war in a bid to attain dominance over others; thus the establishment of government would be necessary to maintain law and order.
The bleak view of humanity sounds like the state of affairs that Jesus described when He said, “All who have come before me are thieves and robbers” (John 10:7). But Jesus offers hope in the midst of despair. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” but then the good news: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (vv. 10–11).
Psalm 23 paints a refreshing portrait of the life our Shepherd gives us. In Him, we lack nothing (v. 1) and are refreshed (v. 3). He leads us down the right paths of his perfect will, so that even when we face dark times, we need not be afraid; for He is present to comfort us (vv. 3–4). He causes us to triumph in the face of adversity and overwhelms us with blessings (v. 5). His goodness and love follow us every day, and we have the privilege of His presence forever (v. 6).
May we answer the Shepherd’s call and experience the full, abundant life He came to give us.
At a gas station one day, Staci encountered a woman who had left home without her bank card. Stranded with her baby, she was asking passersby for help. Although unemployed at the time, Staci spent $15 to put gas in the stranger’s tank. Days later, Staci came home to find a gift basket of children’s toys and other presents waiting on her porch. Friends of the stranger had reciprocated Staci’s kindness and converted her $15 blessing into a memorable Christmas for her family.
This heartwarming story illustrates the point Jesus made when he said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
It can be tempting to hear this and focus on what we get out of giving, but doing so would miss the point. Jesus preceded that statement with this one: “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (v. 35).
We don’t give to get things; we give because God delights in our generosity. Our love for others reflects His loving heart toward us.
What Comes Next?
On the night of April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” In it, he hints that he might not live a long life. He said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. . . . [But] I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The next day, he was assassinated.
The apostle Paul, shortly before his death, wrote to his protégé Timothy: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. . . . Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:6, 8). Paul knew his time on earth was drawing to a close, as did Dr. King. Both men lived lives of incredible significance, yet never lost sight of the true life ahead. Both men welcomed what came next.
Sculptor Liz Shepherd’s 2018 exhibition The Wait, was described by a Boston Globe correspondent as “evok[ing] the precious, exposed, and transcendent in life.” Inspired by the time Shepherd spent at her dying father’s bedside, the exhibition attempts to convey yearning, the emptiness of loss, and the fragile sense that loved ones are just out of reach.
The idea that death is precious might seem counterintuitive; however, the psalmist declares, “Precious in the sight of the
Who are these faithful servants (“saints”
In so doing, we find ourselves in the company of Jesus, who is “chosen by God and precious to him . . . for in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:4–6). When our trust is in the Lord, our departure from this life is precious in His sight.
The Reality of God
In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, all of Narnia is thrilled when the mighty lion Aslan reappears after a long absence. Their joy turns to sorrow, however, when Aslan concedes to a demand made by the evil White Witch. Faced with Aslan’s apparent defeat, the Narnians experience his power when he emits an earsplitting roar that causes the witch to flee in terror. Although all seems to have been lost, Aslan ultimately proves to be greater than the villainous witch.
Like Aslan’s followers in Lewis’s allegory, Elisha’s servant despaired when he got up one morning to see himself and Elisha surrounded by an enemy army. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” he exclaimed (2 Kings 6:15). The prophet’s response was calm: “Don’t be afraid . . . . Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Elisha then prayed, “Open his eyes,
Our difficult circumstances may lead us to believe all is lost, but God desires to open our eyes and reveal that He is greater.
When God Intervenes
In a poem titled This Child Is Beloved, Omawumi Efueye, known affectionately as Pastor O, writes about his parents’ attempts to end the pregnancy that would result in his birth. After several unusual events that prevented them from aborting him, they decided to welcome their child instead. Omawumi’s awareness of God’s intervention in preserving his life motivated him to give up a lucrative career in favor of full-time ministry. Today, he faithfully pastors a London church.
Like Pastor O, the Israelites experienced God’s intervention at a vulnerable time in their history. While traveling through the wilderness, they came within sight of King Balak of Moab. Terrified of their conquests and their vast population, Balak engaged a seer named Balaam to place a curse on the unsuspecting travelers (Numbers 22:2–6).
But something amazing happened. Whenever Balaam opened his mouth to curse, a blessing issued instead. “I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it,” he declared. “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The
Whether we see it or not, God still watches over His people today. May we worship in gratitude and awe the One who calls us blessed.
Scientists know our planet is precisely the right distance from the sun to benefit from its heat. A little closer and all the water would evaporate, as on Venus. Only a bit farther and everything would freeze like it does on Mars. Earth is also just the right size to generate the right amount of gravity. Less would make everything weightlessly sterile (the Moon), while more gravity would trap poisonous gases that suffocate life (Jupiter).
The intricate physical, chemical, and biological interactions that comprise our world bear the imprint of a sophisticated Designer. We catch a glimpse of this complex craftsmanship when God speaks to Job about things beyond our understanding. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” God asks. “Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone?” (Job 38:4–6).
This glimpse of creation’s magnitude causes us to wonder at Earth’s mighty oceans bowing before the One who “shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, . . . [who said] ‘This far you may come and no farther’” (vv. 8–11). In wonder may we sing with the morning stars and shout for joy with the angels (v. 7), for this elaborate world was made for us to live, know, and trust our God.
The Giver’s Delight
Remember Tickle Me Elmo? Cabbage Patch Kids? The Furby? What do they have in common? Each rank among the twenty most popular Christmas gifts of all time. Also included on the list are familiar favorites such as Monopoly, the Nintendo Game Boy, and Wii.
We all delight in bestowing gifts at Christmas, but that is nothing compared to God’s delight in bestowing the first Christmas Gift. This gift came in the form of a baby, born in a Bethlehem manger (Luke 2:7).
Despite His humble birth, the Child’s arrival was proclaimed by an angel who declared, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (vv. 10–11). Following this magnificent news, a “heavenly host” appeared, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (vv. 13–14).
This Christmas, enjoy giving gifts to your loved ones, but never lose sight of the reason for the giving. The spectacular favor of God on His creation crystallized in the gift of His own Son to save us from our sin. We give because He gave. May we worship Him in gratitude!
In the ancient fable The Boy and the Filberts (Nuts), a boy sticks his hand into a jar of nuts and grabs a great fistful. But his hand is so full that it gets stuck in the jar. Unwilling to lose even a little of his bounty, the boy begins to weep. Eventually, he is counseled to let go of some of the nuts so the jar will let go of his hand. Greed can be a hard taskmaster.
The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes illustrates this moral with a lesson on hands and what they say about us. He compared and contrasted the lazy with the greedy when he wrote: “Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind” (4:5–6). While the lazy procrastinate until they are ruined, those who pursue wealth come to realize their efforts are “meaningless—a miserable business!” (v. 8).
According to the teacher, the desired state is to relax from the toil of greedy grasping in order to find contentment in what truly belongs to us. For that which is ours will always remain. As Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul” (Mark 8:36).