Life to the Full – what does it mean?

copy-cropped-puzzled1.jpgThis is a tough question.

It sounds the sort of question that should be easy to answer, but the more you think about it the harder it gets.

I have asked many people what they think Life to the Full might mean, and I get the same increasing vagueness as they recognise how difficult it is to answer.  You see it depends on what we value in life. And the more we think about what we value, what we really truly value, the more challenging the question becomes.

It helps to imagine what our lives would be like if we had this Life to the Full. Or to ask ourselves if we know anyone who we consider has it.

The only answer I can find that feels right to me is to look at Jesus’ life. As the author of life, and the one who said he had come so that we might have life and have it to the full, the answer must be clear from his life. And what I discover in doing that is very challenging. Jesus worked hard for a living, then gave it all up to follow what he believed. He had no home of his own. He was criticised,misrepresented, harassed, rejected, betrayed and finally murdered. And yet the lives of those he met where transformed. He challenged their values and behaviour and modelled a different way of life.

What he lived and taught continues to challenge our lives today.

The apostle Peter, who travelled with Jesus for the three years of his public ministry, talks about life that is filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. And he also talks of getting rid of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of any kind. Any definition of Life to the Full has to acknowledge the negative aspects of our personalities for it to feel authentic.

Jesus used different words and metaphors to describe a new kind of life to those he met. He talked about being born again (a new spiritual beginning) so that we can see the Kingdom of God.  We can eavesdrop into his prayers where he says that he came to show us that this new kind of life was about knowing God.

And so it seems that Life to the Full is about knowing God and being honest with him, knowing and being honest with ourselves and having the courage to put the two together.

This brings us back to Brother Lawrence who made a life changing decision 500 years ago to choose to act as if what he read in his bible was true. The amazing outcome of his experiment was that the life he learned to live became powerful evidence of the new kind of life that Jesus spoke about.

How would you describe what it means to Have Life to the Full?

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LENT – making it meaningful

 giving up for lent

Twitter was buzzing recently as 140 thousand people shared information about what they plan to give up for Lent. While Twitter users are not necessarily representative of the general population, the results make interesting reading. Using social media, eating chocolate and drinking alcohol are high on the list. Ranked 11th is giving up Lent itself. Looks like we know our soft spots well –  the places where we give in to self-indulgence and carry a bit of guilt.

For years I put myself alongside those who gave up giving things up. I have dabbled in giving up chocolate, or coffee, but I usually struggled to stay committed. You see my heart has not been in it.  Lent carries us directly to Good Friday where we remember the suffering and death of Jesus. In contrast to this, my small attempts at self-denial felt trivial and led me to nothing that was remotely life changing. I couldn’t see a meaningful link between chocolate and crucifixion. The church I attended paid little attention to Lent. Easter for us at that time was about Holy Week – but it all seemed to happen too quickly.  The momentum of life charged on and I was left once again feeling cheated.  This was a big moment and I missed most of it.

Lent draws us in. We share an unspoken belief that self-denial is a good thing to do and 40 days feels like an amount of time that can be endured. Some of us use Lent to kick-start change in our lives. Others use it as a way of proving to ourselves and to others that our self-indulgent habits are reversible. We reckon we are in control of what we choose to do. And we believe that the tension between self-control and self-indulgence can be mastered. After all, we cheered through the Olympics as countless athletes panted through their victory speech, elated at their success and struggling to believe the unbelievable.

And yet there is a spiritual dimension to Lent that we also acknowledge. All of the major religions recognise a period of fasting for the development of the soul. This is about taking time to reflect on who we are becoming. It can be serious stuff. The ancient ascetics gave their lives to the pursuit of this spiritual maturity, practicing harsh penances and purging themselves of all comfort. Our meagre 40 days of giving up a few pleasures would be wholly inadequate in their eyes.

The story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness is sobering. It shows us that the battle against self-indulgence is part of being human. We constantly face temptation about who we are, what we own and what we do. Our choices have consequences.

So how can we engage with the tension between self-indulgence and self-control and use Lent in a meaningful way to gain some spiritual muscle?

Here are two resources that link together ancient spiritual practices with modern technology and amazing people. Together they have been transformational for me.

First I have read and re-read The Liturgical Year – the spiralling adventure of the spiritual life. This is a book written by a Benedictine nun that explores the liturgy – the major seasons of the church. In the liturgy, with its annual repetitions, we meet Jesus in history and we learn to recognise him with us today. Far from being a round of Christmas and Easter celebrations, walking in an annual cycle through the life of Jesus becomes ” an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fulness, the heart to alert and the soul to focus . . . It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life”.

Seeing the rhythm of the years from the perspective of Jesus’ life keeps me focussed on God’s bigger picture. It reminds me of the significance of time. It helps me to understand who I am and to explore the purpose of my life.

24-7 PrayerAnd the second change for me has been to engage with a rhythm of prayer, specifically to pray the Lord’s prayer at midday every day. I discovered the richness of this through 24-7 Prayer, an organisation that exists to encourage Christians in bringing prayer into all aspects of life. This online community has been an enormous encouragement to me. Many christians run away from set prayers that could become a religious ritual. But the Lord’s Prayer is deeply significant. It challenges who I am, what I believe and how I behave. And best of all, it reminds me at the very beginning, that I am a child of God.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, was once asked, “If you could reduce all of Christianity down to the back of a single envelope what would you write?” To which he replied: “Well that’s simple, I would write out the words of The Lord’s Prayer”.

The 24-7 community gave us a challenge to set an alarm on our phones and pray the Lord’s prayer with them at midday every day. Have a look at the website here and consider whether this might work for you. The challenge is for life, not just for Lent.

How do you make Lent meaningful?