It is easy to say “life to the fullest” and then walk away assuming everyone is in complete agreement as to what that actually means. The problem…as you can well imagine…is that if you asked 100 Christians what “life to the fullest” means…you would get 100 different responses. We use words and phrases so many times and just assume that people know what we mean…but in reality the words or phrases become empty with loads of ambiguity. So if we are going to talk about “life to the fullest” then it is important for us to find out exactly what it means…so that we may be able to work towards it.
Maybe the most appropriate way to answer the question is to determine what life to the fullest is not. Once we eliminate what it is not…then we may be able to begin piecing together what it actually is.
If we were to base “life to the fullest” upon what we see and observe each and every day of our lives in the world around us…one would come to the conclusion that it is comprised of pleasure, work projects, advancement, accumulation of wealth and possessions, entertainment, and many such things. And as advanced or evolved as we would like to believe we are in the 21st century…it turns out that we are not significantly different than those who lived even 3000 years ago, in terms of what we believe about “life to the fullest” and the things we value.
A very wise king in Israel nearly 3000 years ago considered everything that he had accomplished and amassed…and then determined it all to be meaningless. “Everything is meaningless. What does anyone gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Every pursuit and endeavor is like chasing the wind. Pleasures in life…meaningless. Work projects…meaningless. Advancement…meaningless. Accumulation of wealth and possessions…meaningless. Entertainment…meaningless. But the cycle repeats itself over and over and over…from one generation to the next. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
We see the same exact endless pursuit and rat race around us…and we are a part of it. We work tirelessly to accomplish, accumulate, amass so that we can partake in great pleasures and entertainment…but at the end of the day it is empty, meaningless, and like chasing the wind. It passes us by as if it was not even there in the first place and then we all wonder what are we left with in the end.
The king concluded that a person can do nothing better than “to eat and drink and tell himself that his toil is beneficial (or good). This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For without him who can eat or find enjoyment?”
In a complex world with complex rules, protocols, expectations, and agendas…this formula for “life to the fullest” seems too simplistic. But it is within this simple truth that we find the most profound and enlightening truth that will help us uncover the spirit of abundant living in the present.
When the casual reader of Ecclesiastes 2: 24 reads the words, “to eat and drink and tell himself that his toil is beneficial (or good)” one immediately thinks of this word toil as meaning hard work. It may even give one the impression that we ought to find satisfaction in our hard work or labor. And while this may in part be true, a closer investigation of the Hebrew word amal that was translated as toil may be more well-rounded and robust than we initially considered. For the word amal means toil, grievance, iniquity, misery, pain, sorrow, travail, and trouble.
Could it be that, while we have pursued those things in life that are truly meaningless hoping to find a more abundant life only to be let down time and time again, we have instead not taken into consideration that a richer and more abundant life is really quite simple? Maybe a more abundant life is appreciating and finding joy in the simple blessings and provisions God has given us, but also in finding benefit or good from the pain, sorrow, misery, and toil we experience in life.
But again this sounds completely contrary to what we actually believe in our lives. We avoid pain. We pray for God to get us out of these tough situations. We believe that God is cursing us in some way and is against us. But maybe we have had it wrong all along. Time and again we chase after those things that over-promise and under-deliver…yet we still continue to believe that it might be different for us. Like every generation before us, we buy the lie from the world that money, status, accumulation, and hard work will give us abundance and purpose in life. Yet time after time…the rug is pulled out from under us. And like King Solomon, the wise eventually come to realize that everything is meaningless and like a passing wind…but they find joy in the simple blessings and provisions God has given them. The wise also find the benefit and good that can come from…not just our mountaintop experiences…but also in the valleys of life. In those unsuspecting places…life to the fullest is found.
Could it be that in Jesus, this wisdom of life to the fullest is possible? Could it be that the wisdom of abundant living discovered by King Solomon can be found in the life of Jesus? And then…if both of those questions are true (which I believe that they are)…what does it look like for we, as followers of Christ, and we, as a community, to prioritize the way, life, and teachings of Jesus in order to experience life to the fullest here and now?
This is one of the great ironies of life…that while the world continues to over-promise and under-deliver an abundant life, we foolishly continue to pursue it with great strength and resolve…but when the one who can be trusted, Jesus, promises to give those who believe in him an abundant life if we follow him…his ways are left untried and viewed as burdensome and enslaving rather than full of blessing and liberation.
continue on to living beyond the church answer (part 4)…