Life to the full, the abundant life, more and better life than you’ve ever dreamed of, everything you need. These are the ways different Bible versions say the same thing.
You cannot lead a small group to experience the fullness of God’s love and grace unless you are experiencing it yourself. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus presents three ways to respond to his offer of abundant life:
- Come to me … and I will give you rest.
Life to the full comes only through Jesus. Your response to him is to seek God and stay connected to him.
When you come to Jesus, as his first disciples did, you give your life to him, commit to following him, and let him mold you into what he wants you to be. When you come to him, he gives you rest, especially from legalism—following all the rules to be right with God. The abundant life is far more than living a holy and blameless life. The Pharisees worked hard at living like that, but their lives were empty. They were living religious, rule-keeping lives, but not full lives. When your life is empty—when you have not invited Jesus to take up residence in your life—you are in danger of having all kinds of other things—evil things—come in and take up residence. Being religious will not fill you up. It will leave you only empty and vulnerable. Only Jesus has the power to really fill you—to give you life to the full.
- Take my yoke upon you.
This next step, as you become more mature, is the place of surrender to God. It is not only accepting Jesus as your Savior so you have peace and security about eternal life. This place of surrender is about knowing him as leader of your life and living in surrender to his ways and his will. This is the place of service, using the gifts God has given you to administer his grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10). Remember that the “yoke” Jesus gives you always fits perfectly!
The abundant life is not the same as the “good life” that so many people run after. It is not necessarily a life free from pain, sadness, difficulties, or the other burdens people face every day. Jesus does not give us these difficult burdens, but he also does not always take away the difficulties and challenges we face in life.
The apostle Paul described how to live life to the full in Philippians 4:11-12, when he talked about learning the secret of being content, regardless of the circumstances. The abundant life is a life of joy—a joy that can be possessed regardless of the circumstances. It is a life of rest from burdens—a rest that only Jesus can give you. It is a life of freedom—freedom from the burdensome, ill-fitting yoke of rule-keeping.
That reminds me of a story I read about a man who was released from jail at 12:01 a.m. At 12:09 a.m. he was spotted climbing over a chain link fence, back onto the jail grounds, and attempting to pass a cigarette to an inmate through a steel grate covering a window. At 12:10 a.m. the man was back in custody, charged with illegal entry into a prison facility and disorderly conduct. True story! Can you identify at all with this stupid criminal? The apostle Paul wrote about all of us:
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. … I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace (Galatians 5:1-4, The Message).
What do you allow to take away your freedom? It’s probably not circumcision, as it was for Paul’s friends. You may not literally be breaking into jail, like our stupid criminal, but all of us, at one time or another, give up the freedom Jesus has given us, choosing to live as a prisoner.
I want to encourage you, leader to leader—don’t return to the prison cell of living by a list of do’s and don’ts. As a spiritual leader, you are a model of the type of life God wants everyone to live. The Judaizers (those who taught that believers needed to become Jews first by being circumcised in order to become Christians) were spiritual leaders who were not only living as prisoners themselves, they were trying to lead other Christians back into bondage. Be careful, then, not to be like these “agitators,” as Paul called them (Galatians 5:12). Rather, live your life in freedom in Christ!
In Matthew 13, Jesus told his small group a story about a farmer scattering seed on different types of soils. The seed is the Good News of the life Jesus came to give. But many things can keep you from living that life: obstacles, strongholds, worries, busyness, misdirection, and confusion between the “good life” and the abundant life. Jesus gives it freely, but you cannot always receive it. Your heart has to be fertile—ready to receive the good seed God wants to plant there.
Jesus reminds us often in the gospels about the costs involved in coming to him. These involve the possibility of losing your family members, finances, job, position in life, maybe even life itself. How can these “yokes” be easy and not burdensome? Only by putting your total trust in Jesus and learning from him how to live.
- Learn from me.
Part of the ongoing process of experiencing more of the abundant life is to learn from Jesus how to live. He teaches you by his example, his Holy Spirit, and his Word. As you yield to his will, you learn how to live life his way.
The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader lived life to the full himself. So he is a perfect model for us. In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Part of living the abundant life is living your life for God, not yourself, doing his will and living according to the purpose he has given you.
In Matthew 24-25, Jesus emphasized and re-emphasized the need to stay alert. The abundant life is lived with a constant focus on Jesus (Colossians 3:2). It’s all too easy to shift your attention elsewhere. Jesus is encouraging and warning you to stay focused on him.
When you are seeking him and focused on him, you can live life the way he wants you to live it: abundantly … actually, superabundantly!
-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group