What is it that you long for? Dream about? Hunger after?
We all desire more than just the endurance of our daily routines. But often we feel limited and stuck — like we’re merely existing instead of living.
That’s not the way it was meant to be. God intends the humanity in each of us to be deeply experienced, lavishly enjoyed, and exuberantly celebrated. In fact this is what the gospel is all about.
Yes, the gospel. Contrary to conventional thinking — inside and outside the church — following Jesus is not about denying our humanness but embracing it. Rather than acting more spiritual or being more religious, we’re called and enabled to become more fully human… and alive.
Matt Heard escorts us on a journey of discovery: that Jesus didn’t come to save us from our humanity — Christ instead yearns to restore it to what God originally intended. Matt then explores ten key areas where everyday life can become extraordinary Life.
Christ promised we could “live life to the full.” He didn’t just mean eventually.
Life with a Capital L is the Life you are longing for. Now.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
There Is Life Everywhere
It is not that they chose to die, but rather that they could no longer figure out how to live.
It was a moment that changed me, and I almost missed it. Touring the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, I was rushing through a small room to catch up with some friends when the painting caught my eye. Russian artist Nikolai Yaroshenko had purposefully layered his oils on this canvas back in 1888. Five diverse prisoners—a soldier, a worker, a peasant, a mother, and a child—are huddled together, peering through the barred window of a halted prison railcar. The child reaches through the steel bars, feeding pigeons on the railway platform.
Even in the midst of an awful predicament, the five prisoners were making a choice to engage with something. With what?
Yaroshenko’s title gave me the clue: There Is Life Everywhere.
Regardless of the day or the dilemma, we each have an opportunity to embrace something, not only the fact that our hearts are beating, but why they’re beating. Yaroshenko beckons us to look beyond our immediate circumstances and seize the privilege of being human.
There Is Life Everywhere. With his title, Yaroshenko is making a statement. But with the deliberate, thoughtful strokes of his brush, he is also asking a question. A question posed to those who will turn down the volume of their circumstances and listen. A question addressed not only to our ears but our hearts: will we embrace the Life that’s everywhere?
Like a well-aimed arrow, his question pierced the silent space of the gallery and penetrated my heart.
I sat down on the only bench in the room. Not only had I been rushing through my tour of the museum, I was just completing a season in which I’d been rushing through my life. Standing there, I realized I had been imprisoned by my busyness, difficulties, and burnout. Yes, hectic and challenging seasons in our lives are unavoidable, and they can even be invigorating. But they can also turn deadly if we let the sound of the chaos drown out the question Yaroshenko is asking.
~ ~ ~
Life. People define it in many ways. Is it merely when our cells are reproducing and our hearts are beating? We know there’s more to being fully human than that. And we all have our ideas about what that element of “more” should include:
Some fulfilling relationships.
An enjoyable family.
The attainment of a particular bank account balance.
A gratifying career.
The accumulation of enough stuff.
A particular level of health and fitness.
The absence of disease and difficulty.
Plenty of exciting vacations.
Enough fun along the way to keep at bay the ache that’s deep within our souls.
I sit back and look at that list. Is that it? Is that life? A cycle of well-crafted circumstances? Really?
Deep down, my objection comes in the form of a persistent suspicion, even a deafening hunch, that there’s more to the dance and drama of my life on this planet than air in my lungs and even circumstances to my liking.
Take the characters in Yaroshenko’s painting. Most of us think that a prison trip to Siberia would be a surefire snuffer of any kind of life worth experiencing. We’d think that humanity could never thrive in the context of conditions so inhumane. But Yaroshenko didn’t think so. Even in less-than-ideal circumstances, he envisioned a type of life that’s within reach.
Yaroshenko’s painting was actually inspired by a short story written by Leo Tolstoy three years earlier. In “What Men Live By,” Tolstoy, a follower of Christ, begins by quoting 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” Those words reference a central theme of Jesus’s teaching, one that goes to the core of why he came: to usher us into a new way of being human.
Before each of us is the choice to remain in a realm Jesus calls death or to allow him to transition us into the realm of life. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). So many people miss this—that Jesus is referring to something that happens right here and now.
Yaroshenko’s “life” that can be found “everywhere” is this life into which Jesus invites us. Today.
It’s a way of doing life that can be present in every nook and cranny of our days—from heartbreaks to hobbies, client meetings to birthday celebrations, dinner parties to soup kitchens, funerals to vacations. From enduring an illness to enjoying concert tickets in the front row.
And, yes, even in prison railcars.
I’ve started calling it Life with a capital L.
Everyone experiences heart-beating, lung-breathing life. Some are able to add to that existence some enjoyable relationships, a satisfying career, and maybe a level of financial success. Some will even add a bit of religiosity or maybe even spirituality to their repertoire. But not everyone experiences Life with a capital L.
For some, it will be a surprise to learn that Life with a capital L doesn’t start by trying to be more spiritual. It starts with becoming more fully human under God’s direction.
It doesn’t come with a permanent, plastered-on smile, a get-out-of-jail-free card, or an exemption from pain. But it does come with Jesus Christ’s assurance that he will put our feet on the path and get us Home.
In the midst of Monday morning realities that can range from busy to broken to beautiful, Jesus can breathe Life into our life. He can overcome the problem of a life consumed by merely existing. He can satisfy our yearning to actually Live.
Go back with me to that museum in Moscow. It was only after staring at the painting for a few minutes that I saw him. He, too, was inside the railcar.
A sixth prisoner.
In the shadowed background, he is silhouetted against the light of the barred window on the opposite side of the carriage. With an empty stare, he looks the other way, into a stark, gray sky. Missing out on the Life-filled moment unfolding behind him, he is lost in a sea of his own hopelessness.
It struck me. Yaroshenko wanted me to see him—this other guy on the opposite side of the railcar who was missing the Life. Because too often I’m that guy.
How many times in my journey have I moved to the other side of that railcar and stared out through prison bars of pain, disappointment, or just plain busyness? How often do I look in the opposite direction and miss out on Life? Those are questions I’m still asking, and they are changing me. Deeply and positively.
The ultimate question is not whether Life—with a capital L—is everywhere.
The question is whether I’ll experience it.
reclaiming our humanity
Chapter 1—Fully Human: Realizing Life While We Live It
If the church is not a place where we not only learn something about what it means to be human but also a place where seeds of a fuller humanity are planted in us and watered, to grow, then all our hymns and prayers and preachments are vanity.
A graveyard can be an effective setting for thinking about your life. Especially when the occupants are having a conversation with one another.
I was attentively perched on a chair in the century-old Greenwich House in the West Village of New York City. Within the past decade, it had been converted into the Barrow Street Theatre, a small, intimate off-Broadway venue. Along with less than two hundred other people sitting in the three-quarter-round space, I was witnessing a favorite story of mine and, over the years, thousands of others.
Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize–winning play, invites us into the everyday life of the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, at the turn of the twentieth century. As the narration of Wilder’s stage manager, being brilliantly portrayed that evening by David Cromer, explains to the audience, “This is the way we were—in our growing up and in our marrying, and in our living, and in our dying.”1
Serving as a window into the extraordinary nature of ordinary living, the play opens by including us in the daily routines of a group of the town’s residents, focusing in particular on two families—the Webbs and the Gibbs. Act 2 takes place three years later and centers around the romance and eventual marriage of Emily Webb and George Gibbs. The third and final act takes place nine years later in the cemetery on the hill overlooking the town.
A funeral procession is arriving at the burial site of Emily Webb, who has died way too young—in childbirth. As the ceremony is taking place, we listen to the occupants of the cemetery, residents of the town who have already died, talk in a detached manner with one another and with Emily, the newest arrival. Emily misses her life and longs to go back. She discovers from the other deceased occupants that it’s possible but not advisable. Emily ignores their caution and chooses to relive one day from her youth—her twelfth birthday.
During her experience of repeating that wonderful day, she notices details, moments, and nuances that she’d overlooked the first time around—when she was living. Overwhelmed by the way she and others missed the significance of those moments, she’s ready to return to the cemetery.
Now realizing how “in the dark” living persons are, Emily turns to the stage manager and regretfully reflects on her journey by articulating a haunting realization.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
The stage manager quietly responds, “No.” Then he modifies his answer with a couple of possible exceptions. “Saints and poets maybe—they do some.”2
The theatre, filled with the palpable echo of Emily’s piercing question, was frozen in reflection. Sitting next to me was a gentleman in his later middle years, dressed in a charcoal pinstripe suit and crisp shirt. From a brief comment I had overheard as he was taking his seat before the play began, I’d discovered he had rushed up from Wall Street that evening, just in time for the performance. Now, in this moment that was inviting each of us to evaluate whether we were truly experiencing our life while we were living it, his hand moved to his face to wipe away some tears. I understood. I was right there as well, wrestling with my own, probably similar, thoughts.
But not everyone was in that same place. One row in front of me, on the other side of the aisle, were three high school girls. I had noticed them previously and wondered if they were there just to fulfill a school assignment. My suspicion was affirmed because, in this same powerful moment that had brought tears to the businessman, these girls were giggling. Though struck by the contrast of their out-of-place chuckles to the response of the man next to me, I entered back into the final moments of the play—which culminated with a standing ovation.
As I walked into the fresh air of a Manhattan May evening, I thought about those two divergent reactions I had witnessed. Obviously, I didn’t know all the reasons for the executive’s tears or the students’ snickers, but because of what was ricocheting around in my own heart, I had a strong hunch. As I walked, I pondered.
A middle-aged businessman has lived long enough—as have I—to know what all of us discover sooner or later: life, at least in some ways, has a way of turning out to be less than what we expected when we were younger. That’s something those teenage girls probably hadn’t yet come to grips with—or didn’t want to. When your entire life’s ahead, you just want to assume all your dreams will be delivered to your doorstep.
But eventually life happens. It’s a sobering moment when we recognize that we’ve not been realizing life while we’re living it, that we’ve not been living full lives, that we haven’t wholly engaged in the privilege of being human for the few precious years we have on this planet. It’s difficult to face the truth—that we’ve just been going through the motions and playing around with our lives. As the poet Robert Abrahams once articulated,
Some men die by shrapnel,
And some go down in flames.
But most men perish inch by inch
In play at little games.3
Are we just playing little games?
Or are we realizing life while we live it? Are we each experiencing—truly—what it means to be a human being? Are we really living? Are we engaging our full humanity?
It’s one thing to wake up and realize you’ve been asleep.
But it’s another to wake up and actually start living.
To realize life while we live it involves more than merely trying to pay attention. Sure, if we’re just the protoplasmic product of an evolutionary accident, that’s all it will be. But most of us, deep down, sense there’s more—we just can’t quite put our finger on what it is.
Even though we might struggle to articulate it, what we’re sensing is the dignity of a calling that is embedded in each of us—the calling to fully experience our humanity. When we’re born, we instinctively embark upon that quest. Kids celebrate their fresh and flourishing humanity with abandon. But somewhere along the way, we become sleepy regarding our significance, and we wearily shift to survival mode. That might involve days of busyness or boredom, but either way, the ultimate result is an “empty way of life” (1 Peter 1:18).
We have lost our ability to realize life while we are living it. We’ve lost touch with the day-in, day-out experience of being fully human. That realization is behind T. S. Eliot’s words as he wistfully contemplates, “Where is the Life we have lost in living?”4
The stage manager in Wilder’s play muses, “Every time a child is born into the world it’s Nature’s attempt to make a perfect human being. Well, we’ve seen Nature pushing and contriving for some time now. We all know she’s interested in quantity; but I think she’s interested in quality too.”5
A quality human being is someone who is realizing life while he or she is living it. That requires fully embracing the privilege as well as the calling that’s central to being human. It means grappling and fighting to engage with my full humanity. It means beginning a journey of exploring and unpacking what that looks like.
A natural first step is to ask a simple question: What is my humanity? Is it just a reference to being a part of this species called Homo sapiens? Obviously it’s much more. So what does it mean to be human? What is a healthy human being? What distinguishes us from animals? Webster’s defines humanity as “the quality or state of being human,”6 but I need more than that when the alarm clock rings.
So here’s a place to start: My humanity is my capacity to embrace the significance of my existence—and yours—as images of God in his creation.
The more willing and able I am to embrace my significance and yours, the fuller my humanity. The less I embrace that significance, the more dehumanized I’ll be—existing but not living.
An animal’s life is one of mere existence: eating, sleeping, finding shelter, seeking safety, having sex, producing offspring who will go through the same cycle. But God’s Word is clear about the dignity and uniqueness of our humanity.7 We are more than mere animals. Embracing my humanity means going beyond mere existence to the realm of engagement—engaging with the meaning behind my existence and the significance of the people, environments, and events around me.
Fully embracing my humanity will obviously be multifaceted. It will involve embracing the significance embedded in the two primary realms of my existence: the physical and the spiritual.
By physical I’m not just referring to my heart beating. Realizing life while I’m living it involves physical, tangible experiences of human life:
• Relational: my connections with family and friends
• Sensual: my enjoyment of the ability to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste
• Healthful: my body’s fitness and wellness and my commitment to rest and recreate
• Intellectual: my rational growth in knowledge about my world
• Emotional: my ability to experience and express all my emotions in a healthy way
• Creativity: my capacity to be imaginative and generative
• Vocational: my ability to contribute to my world through my occupation
• Material: my financial health and ability to acquire food, shelter, and clothing
• Cultural: my service in society and care for my culture
• Environmental: my appreciation of and care for creation
Fully experiencing my humanity requires engagement with all of those, deeply.
But—and this is critical—for full humanity to be tasted, I need to experience my humanity in spiritual terms as well. In fact, my humanity shrivels up when I focus on only one or a combination of these physical arenas without paying attention to my spiritual side.
For example, if I experience only the sensual arena of life while neglecting my spirituality, I’ll head down a path of hedonism. If I experience only the vocational dimension of my life without a spiritual component, workaholism will result. If my focus is only in the relational arena without a spiritual foundation, I can become codependent. If I am preoccupied only in the emotional realm, a dysfunctional selfabsorption will follow. If my life is dominated by material things, you guessed it—stifling materialism will be the result.
Carl, an incredibly successful entrepreneur, had developed and sold several companies, becoming very affluent in the process. For years he had no time or interest in spiritual things because they were irrelevant to him as he constructed his empire and accumulated a wealth of possessions and properties. That’s until he had, in his words, “the conversation.”
One day, his adult son opened up in a painfully honest way, telling his dad he was more like a machine that churned out money than a human who could give love. That led Carl into some serious soul-searching. He realized that God and spiritual conversations might just have some relevance. He had been pursuing his vocation with intentional excellence, been generative with ideas and businesses, become materially prosperous—but because he was only focusing on the physical side of his humanity and ignoring the spiritual, even though he was doing some very human things, he was ironically becoming less human in the process.
In our life journey, the spiritual is what makes the physical significant. Most of us, including Christians, already suspect and even accentuate the importance of the spiritual realm. But some Christians emphasize it to the extent of having such a deep preoccupation with the spiritual that the physical experience of life is downplayed and even squelched.
And not only Christians, but many who come from any number of spiritualities—from Buddhism to Judaism to Hinduism to Islam to witchcraft to Christianity—all of which have some followers who want to distance themselves from the physical in order to become more spiritual.
But I especially want to focus on those of us in the Christian traditions who’ve let the pendulum swing so far to this other side. Somewhere along the way, Christians, in their emphasis on the spiritual, started viewing the physical as something we should downplay, distrust, and guard against. The outcome is a compartmentalized existence that highlights and even worships spirituality while ignoring and even denouncing the physical aspects of life.
I got caught up in that perspective early in my journey, and the result is something that tragically departs from what Scripture actually teaches.
Too many Christians believe that the physical realm is contrary to our relationship with God, that things in the physical realm are at best distractions and at worst sinful, that physical experiences in life can’t help us get closer to God but \ instead lead us away from him.
In church history, gnosticism and docetism were a couple of ancient heresies that were rightly jettisoned. Gnosticism emphasized that the material world was evil, and to walk toward God, you had to shun the physical because the spiritual needed to be freed from the material. Docetism followed that logic by saying that Jesus only appeared to be human—he wasn’t really. He couldn’t have had a physical body because all matter is evil.
Sadly, even today, in Bible-based churches, some of us are naively flirting with similar trains of thought—that our walk with God only applies to the spiritual realm. Humanity isn’t seen as something that is physical and spiritual, only physical. Consequently, our humanity becomes something negative, even to the point of being viewed as the enemy of spirituality.
The tragic result is too many people, by emphasizing their spirituality in isolation from the physical realm, are unknowingly dehumanizing themselves.
In essence, when I take this path, I end up thinking that to become truly spiritual it’s necessary to deemphasize and even overcome my humanity. In doing so, I confuse worldliness with being human, sinfulness with humanness, and dying to self with dying to my humanity.8
Again, this isn’t what the Bible teaches, yet it’s what many Christians believe. It contributes to a common perception about Christians, who, as some have observed, “are often weird where they should be normal and normal where they should be weird.”
The credibility, uniqueness, and power of Christianity are rooted in its embrace of both the physical as well as the spiritual. Hear the words of famed twentiethcentury theologian John Murray: “The highest reaches of true spirituality are dependent upon events that occurred in the realm of the physical and sensuous. A religion that can be indifferent to the bodily, to the physical, to the phenomenal, has no affinity with the Christian faith; it is a spurious religiosity that does not warrant the name ‘spirituality.’ ”9
Just the other day, my friend Wayne and I were talking about the damage he’d experienced as a result of his upbringing. We also were discussing this issue of God’s designing our humanity to be a combination of the spiritual and the physical realms.
He grew up in a Christian home and fundamentalist church environment. He trusted Christ as a youth. But, he conveyed to me, for much of his life his understanding of following Christ revolved around the chilling notion that “God had saved me from my humanity.”
He grew up thinking that the elements of the physical realm are, at most, sinful or, at least, a waste of time and needed to be ignored or shunned. So vocations that were not ministry-related were less than God’s best (left out was the logical fallacy that if we all were in vocational ministry, this would be a pretty lopsided world, and civilization wouldn’t last too long). Being passionate about anything in life was considered sinful excess and dangerous temptation—“moderation in all things” was what was valued. Feelings and emotions were distrusted.
Wayne picked up the notion that the more spiritual he became, the less involved he’d be with these “human” pursuits. In his words, his daily goal, “even as a young boy, was to spend as much time in a spiritual state as possible, and I tried to focus on Bible reading and prayer. But I never had the willpower or capacity to live that fully in just a spiritual state of being. I couldn’t sustain my spiritual focus. I perceived that as failure, weakness, and sin.”
Essentially, the version of Christianity he had been taught was that Christ was anti-humanity.
My heart sank as he told me this. Since when did Jesus come to dehumanize us? That’s not at all good news. Christ came to save us from our empty rebelliousness, not from our humanity.
Then there’s Sarah. Not only was she a long way from being a follower of Jesus, but to her, Christians seemed odd, irrelevant, and out of touch. She didn’t consider herself to be religious in any way. A marketing executive and an artist, she was wholehearted about being generative with her life.
But in her early thirties she also realized that just devoting her energies to the physical side of the spectrum was leaving her less than fully human (my words, not hers—she termed it as “out of balance as a person”). She realized she needed a spiritual component to her life, but she didn’t look to organized religion as an answer.
So the pursuit of soul harmony and peace through spiritual practices—meditation, deep-breathing exercises, nature trips, values clarification, and connecting to the unifying spiritual essence of the universe—all became part of her journey. She believed it helped get her into better balance as a person.
Even so, she still didn’t feel it was enough. So she kept trying new things, new techniques for wholeness and balance and a fuller life—as she put it, “like an orphan looking for my parent.”
All three of the people I’ve mentioned were on different paths of trying to be fulfilled human beings. Carl was pursuing the physical without the spiritual. Wayne pursued the spiritual without the physical. Sarah sensed the need to combine both the physical and the spiritual, but there was still something missing.
Here’s what I began to discover: Sarah, contrary to what I would have thought years ago, was probably the closest to at least being on a path of experiencing full humanity. Yes, early on, Wayne’s trust in Christ obviously equipped him better than the others for such a purpose, but while his future in heaven was secured, the “spirituality isolated in a vacuum” he had learned from his upbringing was hindering the fullness of his present-tense humanity.
Instead of the secularism of Carl or the religiosity of Wayne, both of which dehumanized them to various degrees, \ Sarah was trying to engage with her full humanity.
She just needed to meet Someone.
Sarah had a friend who made the introduction. She was a woman whom Sarah trusted and admired for being an authentic, “normal” person, so, as she later explained with a smile, she was surprised to find out her friend was a follower of Christ. In a conversation many months into their relationship, Sarah’s friend challenged her that, if she was really wanting to be honest in her pursuit of being a “balanced person,” she should not let religious caricatures keep her from finding out who Jesus really is.
The friend gave Sarah a copy of the gospel of John to read.
One evening, Sarah read half of the gospel in one sitting. Later she recalled three passages that had a particularly potent impact.
The first was in the second chapter, where Jesus turned water into wine. Of course she had heard of the miracle, but it was the occasion—a wedding—that struck her. Here was Jesus enhancing a celebration (I’ll add, a very human celebration) in a very down-to-earth way.
The second, in the fourth chapter of John, was his conversation with the woman at the well. Sarah didn’t quite understand what was going on with the “living water” thing, but she caught Jesus’s genuine care for a woman who was obviously on some kind of quest for fulfillment.
The third passage she later recalled was the biggie. It was a statement Jesus made—and that her friend had underlined—in John 10. The context is Jesus explaining that he is the gate to a new way of living. He contrasts himself with other proposals and pursuits that offer to fulfill our lives but instead end up taking Life from us. In John 10:10, he promises, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
This verse is one of the most popular statements Jesus made. Early in my walk with Christ, like many others, I became so familiar with it I missed what it’s really saying. Until I started paying closer attention to who’s speaking and what he’s saying:
• Jesus Christ—fully God and fully human10—was the image of true humanity, the incarnation of the perfectly spiritual with the perfectly physical. The first human since Adam who is fully alive.
• He has come to conform us to that image11 and bring us into that Life.
So to Carl, Jesus—fully God—is saying that there is more to life than physical things; the physical, apart from the spiritual, is empty.
And Jesus—fully human—is saying that if Wayne desires to become like him, it requires more than just the pursuit of the spiritual.
And to Sarah, Jesus—fully God and fully human—is saying that he himself is what makes a balanced life possible: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Today Sarah credits that statement as being the one that launched her into a relationship with Christ, led her into a truly meaningful balance of the physical and spiritual, and introduced her to Life with a capital L.
And now to me and you, Jesus is saying he wants to do something in us that’s far beyond merely increasing the octane level of our spirituality or religiosity.
I need to emphasize something. Sarah didn’t have the baggage a lot of church people have when they read that promise of Christ’s in John 10. Over the years it’s a verse that has been misused in Christian circles that emphasize the spiritual while seeking to disparage the physical. So they force their dualism (separating the physical from the spiritual) into that verse, and it becomes a promise only about spiritual life.
I’ve heard people talk about this “abundant life” that Jesus promises (other Bible versions, instead of “to the full,” translate it “abundantly”) as a sort of superspiritual existence that we must achieve if we really want to fully follow Christ. Actually, when bringing John 10:10 into this discussion, I wince at the thought of some Christians seeing my reference to this particular verse and jumping to the conclusion that they already know what I’m talking about—a superspiritual approach to life. (Many will even add the word Christian to the phrase—the abundant Christian life—underscoring their bias that it’s only a different kind of spiritual life that Jesus is promising.)
Bottom line, Jesus is not about making us superspiritual but fully human. He’s not only interested in our spirituality but our humanity as well. For some of us, this helps explain why we aren’t interested in cultivating a spiritual journey that’s irrelevant to the rest of our lives. For others of us—haunted by the guilt of failed spiritual disciplines—we’re intrigued.
And for others, this whole discussion just makes us uncomfortable. “But doesn’t Jesus care about my spirituality? Didn’t he come to make us more spiritual?”
Of course, but what’s the purpose of my spirituality? He didn’t come to enhance my spirituality as an end in itself. If I’m experiencing deeper prayer times but not deeply relishing sunsets, if I’m involved in my church but not in my community, if I’m worshiping God but slandering people, if I’m saying “Amen!” to sermons more than I’m saying “Awesome!” to the privilege of being human and created in God’s image, there is still an outcome of my spirituality that’s missing.
When God brings me to life by his Spirit,12 the purpose is to enable me to be reborn into a new way of being human—a return to my original purpose of appreciating and living out the privilege and responsibility of being part of the Creator’s creation. My spirituality isn’t something to be developed in a vacuum; it’s not an isolated compartment of my life but a central part of being human. An engaged and healthy spirituality should breed an engaged and healthy humanity.13
This is a major reason the outcasts and party crowd, instead of the religious people, were drawn to Jesus. It’s what made him so contagious. They were looking at Someone who modeled the real deal to them. They weren’t interested in some sort of fabricated religiosity or irrelevant, compartmentalized spirituality. Instead, here was Someone who would do life with them (so much so that the religious crowd accused Jesus of being a drunkard and glutton14). Here was Someone who showed them what being fully human looked like and offered to lead them in the same way. They probably wouldn’t have described it in terms of “fully human,” but many could recognize a perfectly fulfilled human being when they saw one. Unbeknown to them, he was the first person, since Adam and Eve before the Fall, who was fully human.15
But Christ didn’t become fully human only to model full humanity for the first time since Adam. He came to repair our broken humanity. As one early church father, Gregory of Nazianzus, summarized about Jesus, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed”16 So what he has assumed—our full humanity—he heals. What Adam, along with all of us, forfeited through sin, Jesus came to restore: our full humanity. When Adam sinfully rebelled, he died spiritually. At that point, obviously his relationship with God was broken, and in the process something tragic also happened to his ability to fully experience his humanity.
The worst thing about sin is that it dehumanizes us—it is devastating on both a spiritual as well as a physical level. Sin hijacks our humanity from its original, fulfilling, and God-glorifying purpose. Ironically, sin does the opposite of what we desire—it lures us away from experiencing the fullness and freedom of being a human created in the image of God.
Jesus didn’t just come to forgive my sin as an end in itself—it’s not just about relieving my guilt but restoring God’s glory to my humanity. His forgiveness is meant to free me to once again be fully human. My humanity actually needs to be unshackled from sin in order to be re-created into the new humanity Jesus came to restore.17
A fulfilled human is someone who is becoming fully human under the grace and guidance of Jesus.
So I head back to John 10:10 and dig deeper. In Christ’s statement, the word translated as “to the full” or “abundant” in English is the Greek word perissos, which means “exceeding, going beyond the ordinary.” He’s talking about doing life in a way that goes beyond what is normally experienced by human beings, but not beyond what was originally intended.
He comes to us in our small, shriveled routines of daily life—in which we’re not realizing life while we live it—with an offer to take us back to the original purpose we were made for. God’s purpose for creating us hasn’t changed; his original blueprint doesn’t need to be improved or modified—but simply restored to us.
That’s what Jesus came to do. Casting a powerful vision, he beckons us into a larger realm of living than what has become disappointingly normal because of the great loss of Life brought on by the Fall (which we’ll discuss later).
Jesus is saying he wants to reclaim the originally intended, fully human version of you and me.
To be fully human, I must engage with life in both a physical and a spiritual way, and not just as two parallel, unrelated compartments. This is where the debilitating division between the sacred and the secular enters the picture.
Religion tends to idolize the spiritual, and secularism tends to idolize the physical. But the boundary between sacred and secular is fabricated. To be fully human is to take down that boundary and live our days in an integrated way on both a physical and spiritual level.
When were Adam and Eve “spiritual”?
Before the Fall, everything they did was equally spiritual. They weren’t more spiritual when they were talking with God than when they were tending the soil or enjoying each other’s love. They were perfectly spiritual in whatever they were doing, even without hymns or Sunday schools. Their relationship with God involved all of their humanity, the spiritual and the physical.
They didn’t have to become less human in order to be closer to God.
Both the physical and the spiritual should fuel each other. The way I relate with God should enhance the enthusiasm and appreciation with which I applaud at a concert. The beauty and creativity I experience at the concert should deepen my grasp and worship of the beauty and creativity of God. From serving at a soup kitchen to enjoying a sports event to grieving more authentically to laughing more deeply to tasting chocolate to celebrating a milestone at work to reflecting about a historical event to conversing with a friend about life and God and a medical appointment— those should all be ways for me to engage with my humanity and with God at the same time.
Contrary to what many of us think, the more healthy we become in our spirituality, the more—not less—of our humanity we experience.
David has become a hero of mine in this journey. The second king of Israel, he was a man who fully engaged with his humanity—in both the spiritual and physical realms. He was a worshiper, warrior, poet, leader, dancer, teacher, party lover, businessman, hunter, actor, musician. He was passionate. He was reflective. He was prayerful. He was courageous. He knew heartbreaking failure firsthand. He also knew what God-glorifying victory tasted like. He experienced God’s blessing, God’s intimacy, God’s discipline, God’s grace. He was a man after God’s own heart18 and lived Life with a capital L.
David was a man’s man, a human’s human. He was the epitome of what God can do in and through a flawed but faithful human being.
Which is why twenty-six-year-old Michelangelo Buonarroti, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, devoted himself with such passion for three years to sculpt the colossal—in both size as well as cultural impact—David.
If you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing the historic seventeen-foot-high marble sculpture in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, you’ll never forget it. It’s the majestic dignity of our humanity on display.
What deepens the impact is the path you take in order to approach the masterpiece. As soon as you enter the long hall, the massive figure at the other end grabs your gaze. As you make your way toward him, many overlook what’s on the sides of the corridor: four sculptures of four slaves that are “non finito”—unfinished. Michelangelo had begun work on them in 1519 for the tomb of Julius II, but a combination of busyness and changing plans left them incomplete. They were found in the artist’s studio in Florence when he died in 1564.
The rough, partial sculptures are labeled The Four Prisoners, partly because they depicted slaves, but also because they seem to be imprisoned in the marble, still trying to break free. Art historians convey that they illustrate Michelangelo’s sculpting philosophy as one of freeing form from matter. He once wrote to a colleague, “I mean by sculpture what is done by removing.”
Michelangelo fashioned the epic figure by applying his vision to the marble and removing that which hindered the statue of David from becoming what he was meant to be. To see the completed, magnificent human form framed by four non finito others seeking to become like him is to catch a striking vision of what God is up to with fallen, imprisoned humanity.
That includes you. And me.
When I begin to experience Life with a capital L, the gospel begins to actually inspire me as well as inform me. I begin to see that the gospel is not an optional, sidebar method for just making us more religious or spiritual. It’s the vision and work of God to reclaim our full humanity. Jesus came to do battle for us, and his triumph is over the sinful fallenness that hinders us from becoming the human beings he originally intended for us to be.
The great hope for my humanity—and yours—is to allow Christ to breathe his vision into us and free us from what is holding us back from being fully human, to redeem us from the “empty way of life” (1 Peter 1:18) that keeps us from really living to his glory and realizing life while we live it.
Let the sculpting begin.
Table of Contents
Introduction: There Is Life Everywhere 1
Part 1 Reclaiming Our Humanity
1 Fully Human: Realizing Life While We Live It 7
2 The Hunger of Being Human 22
3 The Depths of Our Desire 30
4 Life, Our Ultimate Longing 39
5 Grace, the Doorway to Life 50
Part 2 Ten Experiences of Life with a Capital L
6 Freedom: A Matter of Life and Death 69
7 Heart: The Wellspring of Life 87
8 Beauty: Relishing Life 103
9 Illumination: The Light of Life 117
10 Story: Your Life Is Bigger Than You 132
11 Worship: Living Coram Deo 148
12 Love: Giving Life Away 164
13 Time: Life Is Daily 180
14 Brokenness: Living with a Limp 196
15 Heaven: Undiluted Life 212