The Abundant Life: What to do with the “Shoulds” (John 10:7-10)

John D. Basie

7So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you,(D) I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me,(E) he will be saved and will go in and out and(F) find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and(G) kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

So we’ve all heard of this before—that being a Christ-follower means we should experience an “abundant” life. Should. Hmmm…now that’s a word many of us in Christian circles hear even more than the word “abundant” itself. I’m no psychologist, but as far as I remember in my own journey, the Christian folks who chase the abundant life through shoulds are some of the most miserable people around. How does that work?

In his essay “The New Men,” C.S. Lewis points out that “until you give up your self to Him you will not have a real self…as long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all.” Maybe that’s it—shoulds in 99% of the instances in which we use the term are really pretty egocentric. That is, should statements applied to the abundant life and what it means to have an abundant life turn out to be largely self-focused, not Christ-focused. And if we’re self-focused in the very way we’re seeking Christ, it probably means that we really don’t “get” grace, because grace is the sort of thing that can only come from outside of us…we can’t somehow magically conjure it up from within ourselves.

This abundant life thing that Christ was talking about really isn’t so different from certain aspects of living ordinary life with others. What does that mean? If you reflect for just a minute on some of the best and most joyous times you’ve had with good friends, you’ll realize that perhaps the biggest reason why you found yourself lost in the moment and completely wrapped up in the enjoyment of it all was because you weren’t thinking about yourself—you were completely outside of yourself; i.e., you were others-focused. Christ would probably say that you were experiencing an “abundant” moment. You were not trying to appear a certain way to your friends in that moment…you were being completely authentic with them and them with you. And genuine fellowship and community was the result. As Lewis says, “Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making.”

Now, transfer this idea to the kind of life Christ promised us and what it might mean to live it abundantly. Lewis offers us yet another clue: “your new, real self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.”

So can the truly abundant life coexist with a life filled with shoulds? Maybe someday someone will show me how these can be held together, but I very much doubt it.