Jesus wants us to experience life to the full. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”(John 10:10). He speaks to a rich and lavish blessing from God—abundant life.
To know God is to truly live. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”(John 17:3). When we know him, we fulfill our purpose, connect with our maker, see ourselves rightly, and hold the promise of life beyond death. Jesus came so that we could have this life and died to achieve it.
Yet abundant life speaks to having more than we need. The prodigal returns home because he remembers that his father’s servants “have more than enough bread”(Luke 15:17). Jesus makes so much food from five loaves and two fish that there are twelve baskets left over (Matt 14:20). Paul describes God as “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”(Eph 3:20). In Jesus, God does more than bless us with what we need. He gives us abundance. Our cup runs over.
No more living in the shadows, chasing fulfillment. No more running from my past. No more worrying about my significance. No more feeling inadequate, underfunded, unaccomplished, overlooked. I am full. I have enough. My cup runs over.
Since we aren’t always able to see inside our bodies, we learn to pay attention to outward symptoms. Chest pains, trouble breathing, digestive issues, loss of feeling—these indicate something is wrong.
So how do we know how our hearts are? We can’t see them. Self-examination can be challenging if we only ask how we feel about how we feel we are doing. Jesus tells us that there is a better way.
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”(Luke 6:43-45).
Like physical pains, our words inform us as to the state of our hearts. Just as fruit defines the type of tree, so words define the type of heart we have. Words tell the story.
If my words are corrupt, crude, or perverse, I learn that my heart is polluted.
If my words are critical and harsh, I learn that my heart is resentful.
If my words are aimed and intended to hurt, I learn that my heart is full of hate.
If my words celebrate sin, I learn that this is what I truly love.
If my words are pure and good, I learn that there are positive things in my heart.
If my words are encouraging and kind, I learn that my heart is gentle and good.
If my words are aimed and intended to help, I learn that my heart is full of love.
If my words celebrate God’s word and will being done, I learn that this is my heart’s passion.
What would my family think about my words? My brothers and sisters in Christ? My co-workers? My spouse?
How is my heart? Words tell the story.
How many of your childhood birthday or Christmas presents do you still have? In our family, the initial rush of excitement at receiving a gift is followed by a few weeks or months of use. Over time, it begins to gather dust. Eventually we wind up giving it away or putting it in the garbage.
This experience helps me connect to an odd story Jesus tells:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be wit this evil generation”(Matt 12:43-45).
Jesus is criticizing his “generation” because they have condemned his disciples (Matt 12:2), conspired to kill him (Matt 12:14), accused him of working for Satan (Matt 12:24), and afterward demanded a sign (Matt 12:38). He has come to them and attempted to bless them—healing, teaching, and offering himself for them. And they are willing to receive some of the blessings. Yet it is clear that they are not willing to be changed by Jesus. They are stubborn and resistant. They are like people who have their demons cast out, but then invite seven times as many demons to take their place. Receiving the blessing is not part of a life change for them, but only a temporary interruption in their service of evil. “The last state of that person is worse than the first.” We might even say it would have been better for them never to have seen or heard from Jesus.
How should disciples understand this story? We have received this great blessing from Jesus. We have been cleansed from our sins and given hope of eternal life. What do we do with this blessing? Does the offer of salvation lead us to continual life change—or is it merely an interruption in our service of evil?
How are we building on the blessing? What changes are we making to avoid sin in the future? How are we fighting against the pride that led us down our previous path? What habits are we changing? How are we gaining momentum to make spiritual progress? What people are we allowing to influence us? Are we keeping our hearts soft?
We have a lot of experience receiving gifts that lose their meaning. Eventually they grow so unimportant to us that we dispose of them. Jesus deserves better. How are you building on your blessings?
I am a recovering people-pleaser. Everyone likes for people to be happy with them, but this impulse has led me to compromise what I believe is right, do things I am not comfortable with, and grow upset or depressed when others are mad at me.
Jesus points out people-pleasing as unhealthy and spiritually dangerous.
People-pleasing impedes faith. He interrogates a group of unbelieving Jews: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”(John 5:44). Whose “glory” do we seek? Who do we want most to be happy with us? If people are this important to us, faith (the unseen) will always take a backseat to people (the seen).
People-pleasing robs us of courage. How can we stand up to people when we feel so strongly that we need their approval? John tells us of some Jewish rulers who believed in Jesus, “but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God”(John 12:42-43). We need courage to follow Jesus—bucking the trends of our culture, insisting on holiness in our own lives, and holding up under the assaults of skeptics. People-pleasing makes us afraid.
How do we overcome it?
We seek God’s glory. Jesus says flatly, “I do not receive glory from people”(John 5:41). His self-worth and praise come from another source. He is driven by what God thinks of him and his choices. People can think what they want. For his disciples, each moral issue or concern boils down to the simple question: Will God be pleased with me if I do this?
We serve in secret. In advanced cases, people-pleasing can lead us to do good things just so that people will see us and respect us (see Matt 6:1-18 and Matt 23:4-7). Jesus’ antidote is to give, pray, fast, and do our righteous deeds where no one can see us (Matt 6:1, 3, 6, 17-18). This is brilliant. It sifts our motives. If we are people-pleasers, we will have little use for service to Jesus that the broader world overlooks. Do I still serve Jesus when no one else knows?
We remember that others’ rejection is their problem. Jesus excels at this. He never seems to take rejection personally: “I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you”(John 5:41-42). Notice that Jesus pins their rejection on them, not him! He does the same with those who reject him in his hometown (Luke 4:22-30). He encourages his disciples not to take rejection of their message personally (Luke 10:16). Of course, it is always appropriate to consider whether we are at fault. Yet even when we are doing right, there are some people we will never be able to please. When others do not like some superficial trait about me—or treat me poorly—or do not respect godly priorities in me—or are unwilling to accept some imperfect part of me--that is not my problem. People-pleasing is not always possible—and Jesus teaches me to be OK with that.
As Jesus works on my unhealthy devotion to people’s approval, I find freedom. I can make my own choices without worrying about their popularity. I find courage to say and do what I believe is right. I find comfort in knowing that God is pleased with me. And I find peace in knowing that others’ rejection is not my business.