Much of our self-imposed misery, disappointment, fear, and anxiety results from an inability or unwillingness to think rightly about the future.
The Bible speaks to living “abundantly.” Could it be that the ability to think long-term, about this life but also the life to come, is the single best measure of living “abundantly?” The phrase – “living abundantly” — must mean something more than just a churchy buzzword for living inside the truth of God and the nature of His relationship to us. Those things are necessary to living “abundantly,” but the word goes beyond spiritual health, to other elements that make us more energized and engaged and whole (to borrow another ill-defined but somehow apt word).
A Theme of the Prophets
If you have an interest in reading the Bible in its entirety, but find yourself giving up on the project when you get to more obscure Old Testament passages, here’s a suggestion. Set yourself a reasonable goal – say, 3 chapters a day – and read fast. Don’t slow down to take in the nuances, or try to reconcile the timing of this event with that one from another chapter. Just read. Concentrate on not getting bogged down over odd events and cryptic meaning, instead reading it as a novel, except even more quickly than you might read a typical novel.
An extra advantage to doing this is that you might pick up on themes you might not have otherwise. Chief among them will be the idea that God’s time frame for pretty much anything is beyond the stretch of elasticity for us. This is why the Hebrews kept turning from Him. If we imagine their lives in the same way we think of our own, it’s clear that God seemed absent to them, just as He does for us, for such long stretches that they began to simply regard Him as an airy concept, only. It wasn’t that they were suddenly hostile to God. It was that He seemed sufficiently absent that He was just out of mind altogether.
That fleeting feeling of life as being too vivid to be contained—abundance—comes with a long time horizon, and a long time horizon comes from seeing as God does. We’re not to despair because He stretches us beyond the elasticity of our sense of time. We’re to become more elastic in our understanding. If the expanded elasticity of our imagination stretches beyond our imagined conventional lifetime, then it necessarily stretches at least a tiny bit into eternity. Abundant life comes from that, but as with so much else, we’re to seek God, not abundant life in this moment, but then abundant life happens to follow. Seeking God involves thinking with a stretched time horizon. Perhaps the opposite is true, too. It’s difficult to imagine an expanded time horizon without including God in the calculus.
If we stretch our imagined time horizon to cover a whole lifetime, or if not a whole, then at least a significant piece of the whole, like 20 years, then that is going to change for the better our experience of these elements (among others) of abundance: curiosity, intellectual engagement, appreciation of people despite their plenteous foibles, having a sense of humor which has its center in our own absurdity, and of simultaneous but non-conflicting humility and confidence.
It’s hard to imagine what this is like if (that is to say, when) our appreciation of our existence is the opposite of elastic: limited by a self-preserving rigidity we adopt because we see our lives as something that flips on for just a moment and then expires forever, rather than seeing our very existence as part of a continuum that flows forever past this tough leathery now.
In some ways, difficulties in life might be easier to endure, for someone who hasn’t already been living closer to this ideal of abundance. That’s a backward kind of blessing, perhaps, like the blessing of being too naïve to appreciate a cruel and cutting insult. But for anyone, the greater blessing is to be sensitive and thereby stretched, rather than to be dulled, indurated, and hidebound, for sake of endurance.