Jesus promised believers an abundant life. “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10). But He also promised us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33).
If Jesus promised an abundant, rich and satisfying life, how could He also promise many trials and sorrows? Aren’t those opposites? Why is the Christian life abundantly difficult at times? How do we find the balance between abundant life and challenges?
Was Paul enjoying an abundant life as he suffered through the experiences he wrote about in 2 Corinthians 11:23–25?
I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.
That doesn’t sound rich and satisfying to me!
Still, some Christian teachers and preachers would have us believe that having a rich and satisfying life means a life free from challenges and full of lavish wealth, health, and prosperity. They say you can just name it and claim it and if you are experiencing poverty, it is because you lack faith.
But those claims just don’t square with Scripture or reality. Consider those who were commended because of their faith but who were tortured, jeered at, whipped, imprisoned, stoned, sawed in half, and killed with the sword. They weren’t materially rich, they were destitute, oppressed, and mistreated. “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith” (Hebrews 11:35–39).
Therefore, don’t expect to have a comfortable and happified life as a Christian. In fact, sometimes becoming a Christian will bring greater challenges. Why? Because Satan becomes more set against you once you are a Christian seeking to live righteously. You will also face persecution and hatred. Because God’s Spirit lives in you, you will struggle against the sin in your own life and be grieved at the sin in the world around us.
Abundant life is eternal life. It’s a quality of life that begins the moment we come to Christ and receive Him as Saviour, and goes on throughout all eternity. The biblical definition of eternal life is provided by Jesus Himself: “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” (John 17:3).
This definition makes no mention of length of days, health, prosperity, family, or occupation. As a matter of fact, the only thing it does mention is knowing God, which is the key to a rich and satisfying life.
Think again about the challenges that Paul, early believers, and many Christians in history and even today experience.
Yet, in the midst of difficulty, persecution, and suffering we can still have the abundant life Jesus promised because we know God, His Spirit indwells us, and we are heaven-bound. Someday we will achieve an eternal glory in heaven thanks to Jesus’ death.
In 2 Corinthians 4:8–9, 16–18 Paul wrote about the Christian life,
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.... That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
So where’s the balance between abundant life and challenges?
A truly rich and satisfying life consists of an abundance of love, joy, peace, and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), not an abundance of stuff or creature comforts. It consists of life that knows God, experiences the fruit of that relationship, and is eternal.
Although we live in a material world and may naturally desire comforts and material things, our perspective on life as Christians must be transformed as we let God change the way we think about abundance and challenges (Romans 12:2).
We find balance when our true interest and abundance is in the eternal, not the temporal. And as that as our focus the things of earth and its inevitable challenges will be marginalized. As Paul admonishes us, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2–3).