As we start a new year, it’s common to ponder where we’ve been and where we’re headed. It’s also a very good idea to take a long look at who we’ve become and line it up with who God says we should be. If you dream of living the “good life” I urge you to put checking your definition against Scripture at the top of your goals this year.
Socrates said, “Not life, but a good life, is to be chiefly valued.”
And Scripture says, “The good life is reserved for the person who fears God, who lives reverently in his presence” (Ecclesiastes 8:12, MSG).
Are you living the good life?
People define the good life in different ways, but everybody wants to live it. After all, what’s the alternative? Living a bad life? A pointless, guilt-ridden, or miserable life?
We’d all choose the good life any day, and yet we often don’t understand how to make it happen.
A quick online search reveals that most people’s idea of the good life includes happiness. That makes sense—nobody wants to be unhappy. Most of us also want to make other people happy and help them if we can. But when it comes down to it, even Christ-followers suspect that spending our lives serving God and others might cost us our happiness.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could do what pleases God and what’s best for others, while at the same time enjoying happiness and deep satisfaction?
But that’s not possible, you may think.
Or is it?
What if we really can live the good life without being selfish? What if God not only wants us to live life more abundantly, as Jesus put it (John 10:10), but also provides clear instructions for how to actually experience it? What if it’s possible to discover what to embrace and what to avoid so we can live a meaningful and fulfilling life—the good life—even in this broken world?
Does that sound too good to be true?
Actually, it’s both “too good” and true.
The Good Life Is Countercultural
We live in a world that screams, “Make lots of money and spend it on yourself, and you’ll be happy. That’s the good life!”
There’s just one problem. It’s a lie.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly turned our definition of the good life on its head. For instance, He said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35, GNT).
Jesus told us that parting with money to help others will bring us more joy than hanging on to that money. Counterintuitive as it may seem, our greatest good, and the happiness that accompanies it, is found in giving, not receiving.
In other words, generosity is the good life.
This idea that giving away money and possessions equals happiness is a paradox. Human reasoning says that spending money on ourselves is in our best interest—and to a degree, that’s true. We all need food to eat, a place to live, clothes to wear. But once our basic needs are met, money can easily stop helping us and start hurting us.
Debt is routinely incurred in pursuing the good life, yet psychologists attest that a debt-funded lifestyle leads to depression, anxiety, resentment, stress, denial, anger, frustration, regret, shame, embarrassment, and fear.
This is the very opposite of the good life. It’s the terrible life!
Here’s a truth that can set us free: “living large” actually makes us smaller. Living “the good life” (as our culture defines it) results in missing the best life.
Deep down, we all know it’s true: you can spend every last cent you own on yourself—and, through credit, far more—and still end up miserable. In fact, if you want to be miserable, greed and stinginess are the perfect recipe. Those who hoard their money, like those who spend it all on themselves, are the unhappiest people on the planet.
Jesus calls us to do something radical: love others by giving away our money and time. That sounds like loss, not gain. Yet in God’s economy, that’s exactly how we can expand and enhance our own lives.
Generosity Pays Off
You may wonder if I’m trying to make the generous Christian life sound easier and happier than it really is.
First, I’m not suggesting that giving always comes easily or without sacrifice. What I am saying is that in God’s providence, the payoff far outweighs the sacrifice. Generosity is God’s best, designed just for us. This is always true in the long run, and usually it’s true in the short run too.
Suppose I give up some vanilla lattes and two lunches out each month in order to support a child in Haiti. There’s nothing wrong with lattes or meals out, and I may miss them, but thoughts of how the money helps a needy child flood me with happiness greater and far more enduring than twenty minutes of pleasure from a drink or eating out. My life gains a purpose beyond myself, and as I say no to that small thing, my day is put in perspective. That gladness and perspective don’t disappear when I finish the meal or toss the coffee cup.
The truly good life is a joy-filled, openhanded adventure of following Jesus, which brings us lasting pleasure and reaches far beyond this life to the next. Once we believe in Christ, what can we do to experience the abundant life—a life overflowing with vibrancy, satisfaction, and contentment?
Though we’ve been granted eternal life, many Christians don’t fully experience what Jesus came to give us. The stresses and pressures of life weigh us down and leave us feeling like we’re missing something. We lose both joy and purpose. Life becomes drudgery, not an adventure. It’s a shrunken life, not a flourishing one.
If that’s where you find yourself, take heart. True, it’s not possible to eliminate difficulties and challenges until we’re living at last in the world we were made for (the New Earth, not this one). But we certainly don’t have to wait until we die to experience the abundant life Jesus promised.
The bad news and the very good news about money is described in 1 Timothy 6. The bad news is that loving and serving money will destroy us and rob us of life and happiness. The good news is that if we recognize God’s ownership of everything, we’ll steward our resources to help meet physical and spiritual needs. Our reward will be both future rewards and present contentment, purpose, and what Scripture calls “the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19, NIV).
To learn more, see Giving Is the Good Life.
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash