“The Abundant Life,” Ensign, July 1978, 3
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.)
This statement is sometimes misconstrued to mean that his teachings pertain only to ways in which mortality, or this life, can be a richer and deeper experience.
On the other hand, there was a time in religious history when people made the mistake of thinking that Christianity belonged only to another world yet to come. That idea led some to take a negative rather than a positive view of this life; it also dampened efforts to improve the human condition.
Today, more often than not, a balance needs to be struck by reminding ourselves that true Christianity is not something that is only mortal in its implications. Applying the teachings of Jesus Christ here and now can make this life richer and more abundant, but ultimately true Christianity focuses on man’s opportunity to triumph over all his enemies, including death.
Jesus of Nazareth came into the world to bring to pass the Atonement, which gives to all men everywhere immortality through the gift of the resurrection. Thus Jesus’ teachings can clearly help us to live a righteous life and to be happier here, but his great sacrifice guarantees to us immortality and the extension of our individual identity and life beyond the grave. Of course, there are those who do not accept the reality of the resurrection—and that is their privilege and their loss—but 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 ourselves, 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. We become more significant individuals as we serve others. We become more substantive as we serve others—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’ 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. It has been said that hell is to be frozen in self-pity.
Someone else observed:
“If we are not careful, we can be injured by the frostbite of frustration; we can be frozen in place by the chill of unmet expectations. To avoid this we must—just as we would with arctic coldness—keep moving, keep serving, and keep reaching out, so that our own immobility does not become our chief danger.”
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 would 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—and this is most commendable. The abundant life noted 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. Jesus said, you will recall, that on the first two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, and those two commandments involve developing our love of God, of self, of our neighbors, and of all men. There can be no real abundance in life that is not connected with the keeping and the carrying out of those two great commandments.
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 or materialism. So often loyalty to family, to community, and to country is pushed aside in favor of other pursuits which are wrongly thought to be productive of happiness when, in fact, selfishness is so often the pursuit of questionable pleasure which passes so quickly. One of the differences between true joy and mere pleasure is that certain pleasures are realized 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 matter and avoid getting caught up in the multiplicity of lesser causes that vie for the attention of mankind.
If we would truly reform mankind, we must first reform ourselves. It was a wise man who observed with regard to improvement that so often everyone meddles in everyone else’s matters instead of improving himself—and thus everything stays the same. The abundant life begins from 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.
If you and I would be good leaders, we should reflect periodically on the qualities of those who have served, led, and taught us. 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. On reflecting for a few moments, 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. Reflect now upon your performance—as I do on mine—as to whether or not we embody in our lives those same basic helpful attributes.
It is less likely, in stirring through one’s memories, that someone will be remembered because that individual used particularly influential techniques. Most often someone has served and helped us by giving us love and understanding, by taking time to assist us, by showing us the way through the light of his or her own example. I cannot stress enough, therefore, the importance of your doing these same things for those who will now depend upon you, just as you have depended upon others to serve you in the past by special leadership and special teaching.
If you were to think and to reflect and to identify those individuals who have been most influential in your life, this would give you perspective and would help you on your way to happiness. Upon reflection, you will no doubt find that these are individuals who have, in one way or another, achieved much by way of living the abundant life. Remember that true love is never wasted and true service is never without some significance.
I cannot be true to my task or my calling in speaking of “The Abundant Life” without noting also that the same Jesus who spoke of having life more abundantly gave us some ground rules in his gospel which will produce that abundance in life and that happiness about which he spoke. There are many causes for human suffering—including war, disease, and poverty—and the suffering that proceeds from each of these is very real, but I would not be true to my trust if I did not say that 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 and 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.
May I counsel you that when you select causes for which you give your time and talents and treasure in service to others, be careful to select good causes. There are so many of these causes to which you can give yourself fully and freely and which will produce much joy and happiness for you and for those you serve. There are other causes, from time to time, which may seem more fashionable and which may produce the applause of the world, but these are usually more selfish in nature. These latter causes tend to arise out of what the scriptures call “the commandments of men” rather than the commandments of God. Such causes have some virtues and some usefulness, but they are not as important as those causes which grow out of keeping the commandments of God.
You will find that the more you reflect upon what must be done to have a richer and more abundant life, the more you will be led back to central considerations that are contained in the messages of the Master. If we follow in his footsteps, we can live by faith rather than by fear. If we can share his perspective about people, we can love them, serve them, and reach out to them—rather than feeling anxious and threatened by others.
During youth and young maturity time flies with great speed. To travel listlessly is just futile. One should have a destination and a goal to reach. One should determine what he wants out of life and then bend every effort toward reaching that goal. He must realize that life is more than meat and drink and fun and fortune. However, it is often easy for young people to follow the line of least resistance and to be found to be “even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her.” (Morm. 5:18.)
Paul indicated that we all could attain this abundant life by perfecting ourselves. The fact that most of us are far from perfection is not to say we cannot, but we don’t. 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. Paul said:
“And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Heb. 5:9.)
“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb. 2:10.)
Perfection is a long, hard journey with many pitfalls. It’s not attainable overnight. Eternal vigilance is the price of victory. Eternal vigilance is required in the subduing of enemies and in becoming the master of our lives. It cannot be accomplished in little spurts and disconnected efforts. There must be constant and valiant, purposeful living—righteous living.
Do we have the power to attain this kind of abundance? The psalmist was inspired to write:
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
“For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
“Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” (Ps. 8:4–6.)
There are those today who say that man is the result of his environment and cannot rise above it. Those who justify mediocrity, failure, immorality of all kinds, and even weakness and criminality are certainly misguided. Surely the environmental conditions found in childhood and youth are an influence of power. But the fact remains that 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 worshipers 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 the heights which man can attain and walked and talked with God. Saul of Tarsus was born and reared and trained, but he completely transformed himself and became an apostle of the Lord. Saul, the king of Israel, came of humble birth—even the Lord did—but when Samuel had dealt with him and anointed him and trained him, he became another person. God gave him another heart and turned him into another man.
Arnold Bennett is quoted as saying:
“The real tragedy is the tragedy of a man who never in his life braces himself for his one supreme effort, who never stretches to his full capacity, never stands up to his full stature. To lie down and moan and whine about limited opportunities is the part of weaklings. To grasp the opportunities at hand and walk forward is the way of the strong.”
To the Corinthians Paul said this:
“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” (1 Cor. 9:25.)
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 and develop. As the acorn becomes the oak, the mortal man becomes a god. It is within his power to lift himself by his very bootstraps from the plane on which he finds himself to the plane on which he should be. It may be a long, hard lift with many obstacles, but it is a real possibility.
In other words, environment need not be our limit. Circumstance may not need to be our ruler, nor do granite walls or walls of steel need to be our prison.
To be perfect, one can turn to many areas as a starting place. (Converts join often in mid-life and old age.) He or she must become the perfect husband, the perfect wife, the perfect father, the perfect mother, the perfect leader, and the perfect follower. One’s marriage must be perfectly performed and perfectly kept on a hallowed plane. One must keep his life circumspect. Each person must keep himself clean and free from lusts, from adultery and homosexuality and from drugs. He must shun ugly, polluted thoughts and acts as he would an enemy. Pornographic and erotic stories and pictures are worse than polluted food. Shun them. The body has power to rid itself of sickening food. The person who entertains filthy stories or pornographic pictures and literature records them in his marvelous human computer, the brain, which can’t forget such filth. Once recorded, it will always remain there, subject to recall.
As we have stated before, 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 able we will be 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.
We live in a world in which there is increasing selfishness and increasing assertiveness on the part of many who make more and more demands of others and fewer and fewer demands of themselves.
Selfishness at either end of its journey makes of an individual a bundle of appetites. Such individuals neither have distinctive personalities nor are they interesting to know. But the person who lives the abundant life is the person we find ourselves wanting to be around, wanting to talk to, wanting to learn from. In this world, such individuals will be at a premium and will attract to them thoughtful and wise friends who want to partake of their influence.
Finally, the abundant life does not simply consist of living longer or more years. It is a matter of height and attainment rather than the 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.