Jesus of Nazareth observed in his teachings the following:
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10.)
It is impossible to speak of the abundant life without speaking of life as a continuum. This life, this narrow sphere we call mortality, does not, within the short space of time we are allowed here, give to all of us perfect justice, perfect health, or perfect opportunities. Perfect justice, however, will come eventually through a divine plan, as will the perfection of all other conditions and blessings to those who have lived to merit them.
It is appropriate to note the ways in which the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth can be crucial in the living of our daily lives in this tiny sliver of time that we call mortality.
First, service to others deepens and sweetens this life while we are preparing to live in a better world. It is by serving that we learn how to serve. When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves! In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus that by losing our selves, we find ourselves!
Not only do we “find” ourselves in terms of acknowledging divine guidance in our lives, but the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. Indeed, it is easier to “find” ourselves because there is so much more of us to find.
George McDonald observed that “it is by loving and not by being loved that one can come nearest to the soul of another.” Of course, we all need to be loved, but we must be giving and not always receiving, if we want to have the wholeness of our lives and a reinforced sense of purpose.
Second, Jesus’s teachings help us to have a correct view of life and our circumstances. Sometimes the solution is not to change our circumstance, but to change our attitude about that circumstance and its difficulties so that we see more clearly our opportunities for more abundant service.
God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other. The abundant life is also achieved as we magnify our view of life, expand our view of others, and our own possibilities. Thus the more we follow the teachings of the Master, the more enlarged our perspective becomes. We see many more possibilities for service than we have seen without this magnification. There is great security in spirituality, and we cannot have spirituality without service!
The abundant life, of course, has little to do with the acquisition of material things, though there are many wonderful individuals who have been blessed materially and who use their wealth to help their fellowmen. The abundant life mentioned in the scriptures is the spiritual sum that is arrived at by the multiplying of our service to others and by investing our talents in service to God and to man.
Unless the way we live draws us closer to our Heavenly Father and to our fellowmen, there will be an enormous emptiness in our lives. It is frightening for me to see, for instance, how the life-style of so many today causes them to disengage from their families and their friends and their peers toward a heedless pursuit of pleasure of materialism. One of the differences between true joy and mere pleasure is that certain pleasures are had only at the cost of someone else’s pain. Joy, on the other hand, springs out of selflessness and service, and it benefits rather than hurts others.
Some observers might wonder why we concern ourselves with such simple things as service to others in a world surrounded by such dramatic problems. Yet, one of the advantages of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it gives us perspective about the people on this planet, including ourselves, so that we can see the things that truly are important.
If we would truly reform mankind, we must first reform ourselves. It was a wise man who observed that so often everyone meddles in everyone else’s matters instead of improving himself—and thus everything stays the same. The abundant life begins within and then moves outward to other individuals. If there is richness and righteousness in us, then we can make a difference in the lives of others, just as key individuals have influenced the lives of each of us for good and made us richer than we otherwise would have been.
Select just two or three individuals in your life who have been most influential, and ask yourself what they did specifically that was most helpful to you at the critical, important times of your life. You are apt to conclude that such people really cared for you, that they took time out for you, that they taught you something you needed to know.
That same Jesus who spoke of having life more abundantly gave us some basic rules in his gospel which will produce that abundance in life. There are many causes of human suffering—war, disease, and poverty—but the most persistent cause of human suffering, that suffering which causes the deepest pain, is sin—the violation of the commandments given to us by God. There cannot be, for instance, a rich full life unless we practice total chastity before marriage and total fidelity after. There cannot be a sense of wholeness and integrity if we lie, steal, or cheat. There cannot be sweetness in our lives if we are filled with envy or covetousness. Our lives cannot really be abundant if we do not honor our parents. If any of us wish to have more precise prescriptions for ourselves in terms of what we can do to have more abundant lives, all we usually need to do is to consult our conscience.
The fact that most of us are far from perfection does not mean that we can’t be perfect, but we don’t try to be perfect. Christ became perfect. He overcame. He suffered hunger, thirst, cold, heat, pain, sorrow, and all that life has to offer in suffering. Each time he overcame, he became more nearly perfect.
Every normal soul has its free agency and the power to row against the current and to lift itself to new planes of activity and thought and development. Man can transform himself. Man must transform himself.
Abraham did. He came out of an idol worshiping family; yet he headed a dispensation of worshippers of the true and living God. Moses was born to poverty and slavery, was reared in luxury and court honors, and had great opportunities. He rose to heights which man can attain and walked and talked with God.
Self-mastery, then, is the key, and every person should study his own life, his own desires and wants and cravings and bring them under control.
Man can transform himself and he must. Man has in himself the seeds of godhood, which can germinate and grow. As the acorn becomes the oak, the mortal man becomes a god. It is within his power to lift himself to the plane on which he should be.
Environment need not be our limit. Circumstance may not need to determine what we can be, nor do walls need to be our prison.
To be perfect, one can turn to many areas as a starting place. He or she must become the perfect husband, the perfect wife, the perfect father, the perfect mother, the perfect leader, the perfect follower. The way to perfection seems to be a changing of one’s life—to substitute the good for the evil in every case. Changes can come best if we take one item at a time.
The more we are guided by eternal considerations in our conduct, the better we will manage mortality. The more we understand Jesus’ teachings concerning the purpose of life, the greater will be our sense of belonging and our sense of identity. The more we come to accept the Fatherhood of God, the better we are able to implement the brotherhood of man. The more we understand what really happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in Gethsemane and on Calvary, the better able we will be to understand the importance of sacrifice and selflessness in our lives.
Finally, the abundant life does not simply consist of living longer or more years. It is a matter of height and attainment rather than mere length of life itself. Thanks to Jesus of Nazareth and his atonement, we will all receive the gift of immortality—endless individual existence—but only if we follow his teachings will we be able to live abundantly in this world and even more abundantly in the world to come.