Do you feel really alive or just partly? Sometimes we settle into a dull life when God created us to be fully alive, like he is. Why settle for less? Find out how to feel your life and live it more fully in Being Alive.
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It’s funny sometimes how we learn the lessons of life – how they come to us. When Elaine and I lived in Pasadena, California, working in the headquarters office of the Worldwide Church of God, I had a chance to make friends with a number of the teenagers that lived there and went to church in the headquarters congregation. And there was one girl in particular that I loved to be around. She was one of the strongest girls I’ve ever met. She looked very much like a girl, but she was solid like a guy.
One day something happened that caused me to take stock. This girl went rock climbing with a group of friends. And while she was on a rock face, one of the securing points pulled out of the rock, and she fell twenty feet to the ground. One of the men, who was in that party, alertly and courageously stepped under her and broke the fall. Otherwise, I think she would have been hurt a lot worse than she was. She was knocked unconscious. She was in the hospital overnight for observation. When I heard about it a day or two later, a shock wave went through me. It was such a close call! You know, that can be such a dangerous sport. And things can happen no matter how careful you are. It made me realize how precious life is. And I thought that for her, to lose her life so young would have been such a tragic loss, because she was one who truly did love life and was trying to take full advantage of every minute. And I think her love of life helped me to love mine at a time when it wasn’t really too easy to love my life. And that’s why I think I loved to spend time with her so much.
I always tell people that spending time with children is good for adults, because it always seems to be good for me. She helped me to value my life at a time when things were difficult. And her aliveness just rubbed off on me. When I was with that young person, there was never a doubt that it was good to be alive.
The Bible talks a lot about the value of life and how to be fully alive. In Genesis 2, and verse 7, it says:
Gen. 2:7 – And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. There was this statue that God made out of clay, and He breathed into its nose, and it became alive. There was Adam. He had metabolism. He had a mind. He could think. He could talk. He could move. God started a chemical reaction in his body. It’s not eternal life. It’s temporal, physical life. We all die, but he was alive. He was alive, in some ways, like God was.
One of the drives that God has placed within us is the will to live. That’s so that our fragile, precious metabolism can continue on. We fight to keep that going. If we can’t breathe, we become frantic. We fight to live if we’re underwater. We fight to get to the surface. It’s built into every cell of our bodies. But there’s more to it, really, than just that. In Genesis 1, and verse 26 and verse 27, it says:
Gen. 1:26-27 – Then God said, Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. Wow! God gave this man a lot to do – a lot of interesting things to do, a lot to be responsible for. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. This verse is packed with meaning. God made us alive like He is – with consciousness – but without eternal life like He has. And yet, in this verse, is the implication that we would become more than just physical bodies with metabolism in them. To be made in God’s image, and after His likeness, implies something beyond just a temporal life, because God is eternal. And so there is, in this verse, an implication that we would eventually be destined to eternal life – that we would be destined to have eternal life.
So when the Bible talks about life and being alive, it’s talking about two kinds of life – physical and eternal life as a spirit. There’s an interesting scripture in Isaiah 57:15.
Isa. 57:15 – For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy…. God says that He inhabits eternity. We have this slang expression, “It’s where I live.” Well, where God lives is eternity. And because we are made in the image of God, we crave to continue living as well. We don’t just crave to stay alive, but we want to continue living on and on. That’s why there’s a Rockefeller Center in New York. Rockefeller couldn’t continue living forever, but he could spend a lot of money and get his name put on something in New York City so that people would say it and remember him. And that’s about as close as we can get. So there is that desire in people to continue living on. And if they can’t live forever, to at least be remembered longer. And there is something else, too. Because we have a spiritual component – an aspect of the nature of God – we also want to be alive in our intellect and in our emotions as well.
I was watching one of my favorite movies last week. It’s called Paradise. And it’s about a couple that lost a child. The loss caused the mother to feel very guilty. She felt like she should have been there when the child was…I think it was strangling, because it had a cold or some kind of congestion. And she felt like she, as the mother, should have been there to take care of it. We call that survivor guilt – those that survive sometimes feel responsible for those that die. Remember that we talked recently about the human mind and its ability to make things unconscious – about the way guilt creates anxiety, which we defend ourselves against. Well, this mother’s way of dealing with her anxiety that she felt, because of the guilt she had, was to repress her feelings. She made herself become numb inside. And her husband felt this distance. He felt the numbness. Now he was dealing with his pain in a different way. His son’s death made him realize that life was precious, and he didn’t want to waste it by feeling dead inside, as he put it. So we know that we can turn off our feelings, and when we do, it also turns off a lot of other things. It turns off our relationships with other people. And that’s bad, because we were designed for relationship. So that way of defending against the pains of life is a waste of life. Love unexpressed is worse than worthless. All human beings instinctively know this.
I was talking to a friend some time ago, and she was telling me about a young boy that she knew. He was very rebellious and uncooperative. When adults would speak to him, he would speak back in grunts and monosyllables. He was busy closing himself off – building walls so that people couldn’t reach him relationally. And as she told me more, a very sad story emerged. Without going into a lot of detail, he had been separated from both his parents. He was forced to live with strangers. His life was a very hard life. And this woman told me she learned that this boy was cutting himself secretly where no one else could see it. Well, where does that come from? I’ve known a number of young people in the church who have cut themselves intentionally and over time. And there were always different circumstances surrounding it, and they would talk about different aspects of their life, but they would always mention one thing. All the people that I’ve talked to – that were cutters, as we call them – had one thing in common. They said that while they were cutting themselves, they felt alive.
When we try to turn off part of our aliveness – in this case, feelings – it really doesn’t work, because the will to feel alive seeks a way. And if we can’t experience our feelings, the mind desperately resorts to other measures. And in this case, it would be an unhealthy measure.
Here’s another example of how this works. A friend of mine, who’s a therapist, told me of a case where a couple came to them for counseling. Their marriage was unhappy. The wife had recently discovered that her husband was spending hours every day on Internet porn sites. And as the therapist talked to this man, who was racked with guilt, she discovered that for years he had felt nothing for other people. It was as though he had no emotions. He felt nothing for his wife, nothing for his children. And he didn’t know it, but the pornography was like cutting for him. It was a way to try to feel something – anything – even if it was something that was degrading that caused guilt. So his obsession with pornography was a desperate attempt to feel something – anything – to feel alive. So sad that men are taught to hide their feelings in our society – so mentally and spiritually unhealthy. And the social training is so pervasive.
There was a commercial, years ago, on television that I’ve always remembered. It’s about these two guys. They’re watching football and drinking beer, which is a very manly thing to do. But they get in this conversation, and one of them blurts out, “Love you man!” See, it’s kind of like he’s masculine and athletic and manly, but when it comes to expressing his feelings for somebody else, he’s very inept and awkward about doing it. That’s the way a lot of men feel about expressing their feelings. So we have a problem for men in Western culture in doing that.
I know a young man who contradicts everything I just said about the way men are trained in our society. He also is very masculine and athletic. He’s good looking. He has a job. And girls, he’s single! And when he was a young teen I was talking with his sister, and she told me that he was a wonderful brother. He was very considerate of her – her feelings – and he was very emotionally available to her. And she said that sometimes he would even cry at movies. He was filled with compassion and not afraid to show it – not afraid to feel it. And I guess, as he’s grown older, there have been a number of girls who have tried to engage him. And I don’t think anyone has been successful yet, but whoever does – whoever is able to develop that kind of relationship with him – is going to get a very good husband. She will never feel like she’s not understood. And they will be close.
Another way to think about this is mid-life crises that guys go through. That also comes from a strong will to experience life. That balding guy in his fifties, who realizes that he’s not going to live forever, and if he wants to have any fun, he’d better do it before he’s too old to have any fun. He doesn’t want to run off from his wife and kids, but he will buy a sports car – or something like that.
And then there are those kids, who grinding through those mind-numbing prerequisite college courses and all those final exams they have to take, what do they do? They party! Even the staying up late is kind of a metaphor for the will to be alive and to experience life. You know, when you’re asleep, you’re not experiencing life, are you? And then there’s that mother of two that’s trapped in a ho-hum marriage, and can only find feeling in romance by watching soap operas and reading romance novels.
Everybody wants to feel alive! And one of the biggest factors in our culture – that’s unhealthy – is that it tends to numb us. It tends to anesthetize us, because there’s so much routine and so much trivia and so many jobs and activities that don’t connect to other people. So, it’s very hard to get emotional with a computer. It puts you to sleep. It numbs you. I know some people get excited by playing video games, but that’s quite a bit different from courting somebody.
So far then, we’ve examined two aspects of being alive – the will to stay alive and the will to feel alive – to experience life. Let’s look at a third. We’re told that Ponce de Leon arrived on the shores of Florida seeking a mystical spring. It was a spring from which living waters flowed. If one were to drink of this spring, one would live forever. Jesus spoke about living waters, too. And that interested His audience. He also talked about a special bread that would give eternal life to those that ate it. And that was something that people wanted to hear about. He said He was the bread of life and the Holy Spirit was His water that would provide life eternal. And these word pictures are so fascinating to us for a reason. God has not only put in us the drive to stay alive physically, and while we’re alive physically, the drive to experience life, but He has imbued us with a desire to live forever. We can read in Ecclesiastes where God put eternity in the hearts of men. So there’s a will to live, and there’s a will to live eternally. And this is what is so powerful to us about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We always think about what’s going to happen to us when we think about Him being dead for three days and three nights, and coming up out of the ground alive again. Paul called the resurrection our great hope.
So those two wills drive all the medical research, all the stem cell research, all the extreme makeovers, all the Botox injections, all the tummy tucks, all the hair pieces. There’s a desire to live, and to live eternally. And if we can’t do that, then at least we’ll live looking as good as we can for as long as we can.
There is yet another will to life, even after these three, however. And that is the will to be spiritually alive. We know that when we live forever in the Kingdom, we’re going to be spirit beings. But there is also a drive for people to be alive spiritually – besides just being physically and emotionally alive.
I recently understood that I was missing something in my spiritual life. It was as though I was gradually going into a deep sleep. I could make a literal illusion to the ants from Lord of the Rings, and you would have a comparison. Twelve years ago I had a number of forward-looking goals and ideas about how to reach them. But where I was there was no way to put them into practice. And so I finally decided to leave the organizational environment I was in. I put it off for a long time, thinking it would be a tough go – maintaining the faith in an isolated environment. But when I stepped beyond the veil, I walked into a world full of people, who were spiritually alive – people who were filled with spiritual zeal – zeal for God, zeal for God’s ways. It was shocking in a very good way! I met people who are actively working to advance the work of the church. And my first clue of this was the recent Indianapolis New Testament Evangelism conference that Guy Swenson and I sponsored. But Guy Swenson and I would have felt completely happy if twenty-five people wanted to hear what we had to say. And I will never ever forget what I saw when I walked into that conference room. There were over 150 people there. The room was full so far to the back that you couldn’t make out all the faces. And the air was absolutely electric with life and liveliness! There were people from every corner of the country. And most of those people had to pay plane fare and hotel expenses and meals at that airport hotel – which wasn’t cheap – and they thought it was worth it to learn more about how they, personally, could help promote church growth.
The next thing that happened to me was the Feast of Tabernacles. I attended the Feast of Tabernacles at two different sites. And I met people from all over the country and Canada. And it was obvious that they had laid plans long before, had saved money, had taken time off of work, because this was something that was really important to them. And when they got there, they were not content to sit in chairs and just listen. There were many, many people that I met who were actively involved in the Feast itself. At one point I saw dozens of children on the stage at one time, involved in presentations. I saw dozens of adults doing everything from playing music for church to providing seminars to organizing pie and ice cream socials. I noticed, too, that the speakers were very excited about what they had to say at these sites. You could feel the energy.
Let’s think about a scripture for a minute. It’s in Ephesians 2, and verse 5.
Eph. 2:5 – Paul says, …even when we were dead in trespasses…
V-4 – But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. You see, we were all at one time, even though we were all alive and breathing – our metabolism was working – we were all as good as dead in our trespasses and sins. We were without hope. But now, because of Christ, everything has changed. We have been redeemed. We have been raised up. And we are figuratively sitting in heavenly places with Christ now. We are figuratively sitting in heavenly places, aren’t we? Nobody here thinks they’re in heaven, do they? So this is a figurative statement, isn’t it? And doesn’t that sound like a lively existence? You see, it’s a metaphor.
We have been raised up. And we are figuratively sitting in heavenly places with Christ now. Some people think it’s talking about when we go to heaven. But if you read verse 7, it says that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace. So what this is talking about is it’s a metaphor. It’s showing that we are going to have a lively life as Christians now. It does sound like a lively existence, doesn’t it? I mean, we read the scriptures about the angels in heaven and what life is like for them. Yes, this is a metaphor of the kind of lively life God wants for us. And we know that in the ages to come, it’s only going to get better.
Now the third thing that happened to me, regarding this new awareness, was the recent Winter Family Tournament hosted by Jim O’Brien and the Cincinnati and Lexington congregations. The energy there was absolutely electric! And at all of these activities that I’ve mentioned, the organization was good. People that were involved had enough excitement about what they were doing to do it well. The people who put them on cared enough to do a good job, because they were spiritually alive. The high quality activities carried off like well-oiled machines. And you know, we had a really bad storm that weekend. So that was all done under duress. And I was also thinking about who was there and why they were there. Here were all these strong families with deeply converted parents and lively open-faced children and young people. And I heard a lot of excited talk about church growth and building strong families. And these lively people, again, spent a lot of money and took a lot of time to attend. And you know, I noticed that a lot of those people weren’t wealthy people either. They had to sacrifice in other areas of their lives in order to participate in these activities. But they felt it was worth it.
Well, such a spiritually healthy experience is spiritually alive people who deeply crave connection with other who are spiritually alive as well. And I am so glad that I got to attend those three activities, because I have felt a great sense of renewal since I attended them. Those who are alive spiritually are invigorated by lively, spiritual fellowship.
So what can we do to feel more alive spiritually – to be dead to sin, but alive to God? Well, I have three things for you to think about.
The first one has already been made, but I’m just going to highlight it. And that is to follow the spiritual energy where you find it. One of the things that we can do is associate with those who are alive spiritually – those who value it, who have spiritual energy, who have high quality spiritual lives and activities, those who are willing to put out effort to participate in them. I’ve given you my testimony – what it did for me. Being with spiritually alive people helped me to feel alive, as well – just as being with that young girl that was so lively helped me to feel like a lively human being.
The second thing is this. I made the statement earlier that love unexpressed is less than worthless. It’s not only worthless, it’s harmful. We live in a society where it’s not acceptable to tell people what we think of them – one way or the other. We’re supposed to keep all our feelings under wraps. And this is the cause of so many of our problems. It really is a form of hypocrisy. If we’re angry with someone and we don’t resolve it, we hold it in, we can become depressed and tending toward being dead inside. If we love somebody and we don’t express it, the chance of a relationship is stifled. And we can also become dead inside.
I was talking to a man recently, whose son wouldn’t follow the family boundaries he’d set, and he was asking me for some help. And I asked him if his son stayed out all night. And he said, “No.” And I said, “Does he bring girls home into his bedroom?” And he said, “No.” And I said, “Does he sneak out of his bedroom window to be with his friends?” “No.” “Does he do drugs?” “No.” “How are his grades?” “Good!” I said, “You know, a lot of people would kill to have a son like yours. What is it you don’t like about him?” He said, “I don’t like the music he listens to.” I said, “Do you love your son?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, when was the last time you told him so? When was the last time you hugged your son? When was the last time you took him out to eat and made steady eye contact with him and asked him about his hopes and dreams? When was the last time you listened to his music with him?” See, this man loved his son, but his son didn’t know it. That’s why he wouldn’t follow his rules. And his son didn’t know it because the man wasn’t expressing the love that he have for his son in a way that the son could not understand that he was loved. That’s why I say that in Western culture, we are losing the knowledge of how to connect to other human beings, including our own loved ones. Now here’s a subject for a whole series of sermons, or perhaps even seminars, which we will get to in good time.
So, that’s why I say love unexpressed is less than worthless. It’s destructive. Love and anger, unexpressed, diminish our ability to feel alive. Now, yes, a qualifier. I know that we should always say things to people we love, even when we’re angry with them, but we should also express our feelings. If we have a problem with somebody, the Biblical way is to go to them. And so that’s expression. Now, some might say, “Well, you’re not really giving us any spiritual advice. This is more mental health advice.” That would be true. However, if you think about it, Jesus told us that we were to worship God with our whole being – our whole mind, our whole part. You see, He knew that every aspect of a person affects our ability to relate to and to worship God. If we feel dead inside – if we’re half alive – then our prayers are going to be half alive as well. If we’re depressed, then it’s hard to feel gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ and for the grace that He offers us. If we’re out of touch with our feelings, it’s hard to feel anything for our brothers and sisters in Christ. And so we’re isolated from them. So you see, it’s all interconnected. If we’re not feeling fully alive, it makes being a Christian many times more difficult than it needs to be. You can’t separate out the physical/emotional from the spiritual. They all impact each other in a profound way.
We haven’t said much about the physical, but you know, somebody that’s just gone through a heart transplant surgery, it’s hard for them to really be excited about a lot, isn’t it? Or somebody that has some kind of chronic debilitating disease? Very difficult. So all these things are tied together. They all impact each other. Consequently, it’s imperative, when we consider spiritual health, to also discuss physical, mental and emotional issues.
There’s something else that we can do as well. And this is the third thing. It’s in II Timothy 1:6.
II Tim. 1:6 – Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. That’s something else that we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Some of us think that the Holy Spirit does everything, but this says that we have to stir it up. So that’s something we have to do. How do we do that? Elaine and I made a decision to attend the Winter Family Weekend. We wanted to be where the energy was. And because of that, our spirits were stirred up. We were energized by it – by doing the things that are spiritually good for us. So we were spiritually energized. Our spirit was stirred up by doing the things that we knew were good for us. You could include praying, studying, fasting and fellowshipping on that list, too. Now, at any given time, we might not feel like studying our Bibles. But if we do it anyway, we always feel better for it, don’t we? We always do.
Rom. 13:11 – And do this, knowing the time, that now is high time to awake out of sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Okay. Wake up! That’s another thing we can do, isn’t it? Awakening is something that we have to do. We’re told to do it. If we want to be conscious spiritually, we have to wake up. And we do that by taking charge of our spiritual lives, seeking out the people who are alive spiritually, and by doing the things that God tells us to do.
When we talk about life – and we have today – I see a comparison with the spiritual. It’s natural to want to live and have a vigorous life, and to feel fully alive. But for us, there is also another level of that. There are those of us who want a lively spiritual life – to be involved, to advance the church, to fellowship with other spiritually energetic people. We were once caught up in the cares of life in our own sins, but now, because of the grace of God, we have a new life to live. It is a life involved in the work of the church and in our families and in our congregations. It’s an exciting life. It’s filled with energy and blessings and fullness. It is a life that has been given to us as a gift. And because of that, it’s good to be alive spiritually.