The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10 (NIV)
Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?* Sometimes we need the reminder that life is meant to be lived to the full. That it is OK to enjoy ourselves, to let our hair down, to worry less, and to really suck the marrow out of life (who even says that? I guess we do now.) Because as far as we can tell, this is exactly how God intended for us to live- fully and abundantly.
It’s easy to forget what that feels like, though. One day we’re wide-eyed and the possibilities are endless, and then slowly, without even realizing it, we find ourselves dulled by the routines and disappointments that are a part of being human. We slowly start to lose our optimism and zest for life.
All that is about to change, because this next year is about the full life. Which means living grateful, joyful, and hopeful. It means being led by the Good Shepherd and trusting that everything is working out exactly as it should.
We’ll say farewell to auto pilot and regain our vitality. We’ll have more fun, get to know new people, stop fearing what could go wrong or being so afraid of what others think. We will enjoy our kids like never before, and someday, when they wonder what life to the full looks like, they will look no farther than how mom does it.
But here’s one important thing to remember: this idea of life to the full isn’t about striving for more. It’s not about striving at all. It is about recognizing that life isn’t a bunch of goals to achieve, or people to please; but an invitation to savor, delight, and enjoy your life just a little more.
If you have ever felt like you aren’t enough, if you have forgotten to have fun, or feel like you have lost your spark, then this is the fresh start you have been waiting for.
In order to live life to the full this year, let’s:
Have More Fun
Fun is often the first thing to go when life gets hectic because it seems frivolous and extravagant. This year we are going to remember that we can still have fun even when life is hard. We are going to let the laundry wait and build a fort with our kids. We’ll stop waiting until everything on our to-do list is finished until we have fun, and do one thing a month just because it makes us happy. This is our year to remember what it feels like to enjoy ourselves.
No more fearing what people might think or say. No more letting fear paralyze us or concern about the future rob us of the present. At any given moment, there is courage inside of each of us that may be lying dormant. This year we’ll bring it to life. We’ll change our ways of thinking, calm our anxiety, and surrender our need to control. This is the year of faith over fear, and abundance over scarcity.
Find our People
This year we’ll meet our neighbors, learn the name of the cashier at the grocery store, and invite our MOPS table over for dinner. We need our people, and they need us. Maybe it means asking someone we respect to be our mentor, or perhaps it means marching in a parade, throwing candy and inviting other moms to MOPS. Finding our people takes some vulnerability, but it will also mean being known, belonging, and helping others feel the same. Life to the full happens best with people by our side.
Here’s to a year of living the full life. Full of fun, joy, refreshment, trust and rejuvenation.
[An “exegesis” is a deeper interpretation and explanation of the Biblical basis of our theme for Leaders.]
In order to grasp the idea of life To the Full, we need to get to know the Good Shepherd and understand where our theme verse lies in the context of God’s bigger story. In John 10, Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. But Jesus isn’t just a shepherd, he is a good shepherd and that makes all the difference in how we experience life to the full.
Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Here are the things a Good Shepherd does:
A Good Shepherd Pays Attention
In the spring, sheep become susceptible to tormenting insects. They are annoying flies who torture sheep by laying eggs in their nostrils and eyes which turn into worms and drive the sheep crazy. In order to try to find a reprieve from the pests, sheep will rub their heads in the dirt or bash their heads against trees. In extreme cases, a sheep may even kill itself trying to find relief. In the spring when flies begin to hover around the flock, some of the sheep become frantic with fear and start to behave in ways that mimics panic in humans. They will run from place to place, exhibit anxiety and high levels of stress, all of which have a disorienting effect on the herd. When a shepherd notices flies among the flock, a good shepherd will anoint each sheep’s head with oil. The oil creates a barrier that protects the sheep from the flies. Once the oil has been applied to the sheep’s head, there is an immediate change in behavior. The sheep start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment. Do you have anxious thoughts that fly in and out of your head? Worries that torment your sleep? Thoughts that make you feel so fearful you want to run away? Do not fear, for your Good Shepherd wants to offer you comfort.
A Good Shepherd Provides
Sheep need food, a place to graze and plenty of clean water to survive. The first job of a good shepherd is to lead the sheep to wells and springs, and to be aware of the land and to the weather, so they can provide for their flocks. When we think of a shepherd leading his flock to green pastures, often times we imagine lush, green meadows, but in Israel, pastures look like rocky, barren hillsides. Scattered amidst the rocks are tufts of grass that sprout up when a drop of dew collects beneath a rock; these are the provisions a shepherd would look for. A flock would graze on these tufts of grass, often consuming all of the green shoots in a pasture in one day. Even though they have eaten all of the pasture’s grass, the sheep do not worry about where tomorrow’s grass will come from. Sheep trust their shepherd for whatever they need at that moment without fear of the future. As sheep, we can trust God for what we need for today, instead of worrying about the future.
A Good Shepherd Is Hospitable and Lays Down His Life
The Bedouin, who still to this day live in the Middle Easter desert, have preserved traditions that give us a glimpse into a lifestyle which dates back to this passage in the Bible. In Bedouin tradition, guests, even if they are strangers, are given great honor. They are considered to be under the protection of their guests and it would be considered customary for the Bedouin to fight to their own death to defend their guests from any harm. This is a glimpse into God’s hospitality; the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for us. He has given us a place of honor and we are under his protection.
A Good Shepherd Is the Gatekeeper
At nighttime, a good shepherd would gather his flock into a pen and then lay across the opening of the door to sleep. A good shepherd knows which sheep are in the pen and which ones don’t belong with his flock. Jesus is the gatekeeper. Acknowledging that we are the sheep in this story also means remembering what we’re not. We are not the gatekeepers. And it’s also not our job to bad-mouth the sheep outside our fold. What we read in John 10:16 is those sheep belong to the good shepherd too, and he’ll bring them along in his timing, I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. The Good Shepherd determines who His sheep are, we don’t have to worry about anything except looking to our shepherd, follow his voice and live expectantly in the good news that a beautiful full life is available to us.
The Good Shepherd Has a Familiar Voice
Sheep hear their shepherd’s voice so frequently that they can recognize it from far away, they can pick it out in a crowd of other voices, and they instinctually know that living well means listening well. Even when several flocks stay together for a night, the sheep always recognize their shepherd’s voice in the morning. The question for us is do we recognize the voice of our good shepherd? Life to the full means living under the care of the Good Shepherd. May this be the year you get familiar with the voice of the still-speaking God, and rest in the care, protection, hospitality and life that he provides.
Sisters, this is our chance for a fresh start.
Suggested Reading on John 10 and the Good Shepherd:
- Phillip Keller, A Shepherd’s look at the 23rd Psalm
- Ray Vanderlaan, The Lord is My Shepherd Article
*** From the poem, Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?
by Mary Oliver