[Mel Lawrenz is Teaching Pastor at Elmbrook Church and the author of numerous books, including the upcoming A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life After Traumatic Loss (IVP, July 2020).]
There are a few common things we can do today to make sure we open our eyes to God’s presence: moments of prayer scattered throughout the day, reading from the Bible, getting out in the fresh air to walk and meditate on issues that will make a difference not just for today but for many days to come. But it’s not up to us to insert God into our days. It is not that we take some God-filled container and pour God into our day. It doesn’t work that way, because he is not that kind of God. Living a God-filled life does not mean that we schedule God for an appointment or two and feel satisfied that we did God the favor of squeezing him into a very busy schedule.
No, this is a great mystery, and the greatest adventure any of us can take up. It all begins with this reality: God “fills everything in every way.”
That means that God created everything, he is present at all places at all times, and he is the unrivaled master of the universe. Psalm 24:1 says: “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Since I live my life on this earth, then I know that his fullness must be all around me, and beneath me, under me, beside me, and in me. It is not up to me to fill my life with God, but rather, I need to open my life, by faith, to his fullness, which comes through Christ. How this happens involves a lifetime of lessons and a training of spiritual vision so we see both God’s large and subtle movements.
When I think about this I immediately know what a child I am. My thoughts and conversations so easily stay in the shallows of concerns for my food and clothing, schedules and entertainments, aches and pleasures. It is not hard for me to ignore God. My dinner and my friendships are so much easier for me to manage, and they make no demands for my allegiance. It is easier to put on a neatly pressed shirt and pants than it is to straighten out my attitude. Talking to my wife is in many ways easier than praying to God–I don’t need much faith when the person I’m talking to is standing there in the kitchen with me.
And yet–to ignore God for long requires a heart made of stone. There are those questions not answered by television, newspaper, or a family member. God puts out a spiritual beacon of sorts which attracts us like bugs to a porch light. Going without worshiping is like not seeing the sun for days on end. Not talking about God is like being locked in a room of stale and spent air.
The Bible says that “from the fullness of [Christ’s] grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16), and that is because Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Now stop and think about that. Aren’t these two spiritual qualities–grace and truth–a complete summary of all we could hope to possess. I have often said that there is nothing more I could hope for in my marriage than that it be full of grace and truth. My kids? I pray that they will come to adulthood with a trained instinct to love and to live in reality. I think about the church I serve. Is there anything I could hope for more, than that people find in that community a treasury of grace and truth?
Here is John’s point. We receive “one blessing after another,” because of the fullness of Christ which fills the lives of those who attach themselves to him. If you or I had walked with Jesus we would have seen one act of mercy after another, absolutely integrated with one truth pronouncement after another. He excoriated the Pharisees but met with one of them, a seeker, under the cloak of darkness. He graced the woman at the well with his patient words, and also confronted her immoral pattern of life. And when we speak with Jesus, we can count on this: his mercy will flow toward us, and he will expose every sin we try to hide from him.
God’s greatest desire for us, the good plan of a loving Father, is that we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Here is a pile of words that speak of fullness. “Mature” means complete, lacking nothing. “Whole measure,” indicates being full to capacity. “Fullness of Christ” means that what God wants to fill our lives with is the very character of the Lord.
Jesus himself has all the fullness of God dwelling in him (Colossians 1:19), and consequently, if our lives are connected with Jesus, we have fullness in Christ: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10). John Calvin wrote of this passage: “‘you are made full’ does not mean that the perfection of Christ is transfused into us, but that there are in him resources from which we may be filled, that nothing be wanting in us.”
What you and I need to do each day is not just fill up our time and empty out our energy, falling into bed at night merely spent. A full life comes from having the gateways to mind, heart, and soul open to the person and work of Jesus.