There’s nothing like a slow and careful read of a “familiar” text in the Bible to make me feel as if I’ve never seen it before. I’m working on 2 Corinthians 4 in the car, and the sticky part for me is, as usual, one of Paul’s lists: hard pressed but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed. (Typed from memory for the win!)
Apparently, there’s a way to live fully without all the trappings I associate with a blessed life. And Paul had discovered it! Paul’s life seemed to teeter always between stunning victories and crushing blows, and yet he weathered it all with the same acceptance:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”2 Corinthians 4:16-18
What Does It Mean to Live Fully?
The 2nd-century church father Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was said to have been tutored by John the Apostle. He has been credited with this bit of insight:
The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Irenaeus would have written it in Greek, but what remains to us today is only the Latin translation which, if rendered literally, states simply, “For the glory of God is a living man.”
According to 2 Corinthians 4:7 (another verse I’m working on), we carry “this treasure”–the “Light of the knowledge of the glory of God”–in “earthen vessels,” the clay pots that God has created. Mine has been in use for sixty years. It’s female, white, and heavier than it should be, but in spite of all its frailty, Paul has made its job description clear:
My reason for being is all wrapped up in the glory of God.
Christ is the only One who fully reveals God’s glory, and yet he infuses the being of the true believer with the same kind of life–the same kind of being– to which Irenaeus referred. Jesus said this is the reason for the incarnation:
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”(John 10:10)
For some readers, being “fully alive” will mean scaling all fourteen 4,000-Footers in Maine. It will look like lofty goals and published books, big rewards for airline miles, and big influence in all the important places.
For most of us, however, Irenaeus’s literal statement, “the glory of God is a living human,” will be most descriptive. God has called every believer to a life of what Martin Luther dubbed “mundane faithfulness.” We put God’s glory on display through small but significant acts of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
“They Also Serve…”
This is not an argument for mediocrity or Christian spectatorship, but, rather, an acknowledgment that our life in Christ is not found in the fireworks and the red-letter days. Our hope is in another world entirely, and the currency of this other world is foreign to us. As someone said, “Jesus Christ went into the shop windows of life and changed all the price tags.”
Therefore, when John Milton, author of the epic poem Paradise Lost, discovered that he was going blind in mid-life, he, naturally, wondered what this meant for him as a poet and a servant of God. How could he use the talent God had given him without his sight?
In “On His Blindness,” one of his most celebrated sonnets, Milton concluded that, as King, “‘God doth not need/Either man’s work or his own gifts.” God is not impressed with my activity.
Milton’s stunning conclusion was that, alongside all those who serve God with their great deeds, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
God does not need our work, but he loves our being. Humanity cherishes results. God cherishes relationships.
God does not need our work, but he loves our being. Humanity cherishes results. God cherishes relationships.Tweet
I cherished this truth when I spent hours every day sitting in a chair with a baby, and it became precious to me when back injuries complicated the bending and lifting of those busy toddler years. I want to remember that I was serving during those years.
The parenting role seems to come to a screeching halt when the nest is empty, but I’m finding that these years are no more absent of activity and purpose than a droplet of pond water under a microscope.
Does a praying life count as a life lived to the full?
Am I more valuable in the Kingdom of God as a writer or as a casserole-carrier and muffin-baker?
Does God place a higher value on my minutes at a microphone, speaking to a group of women than those minutes spent on the couch reading If You Give a Pig a Pancake to a blonde granddaughter?
No matter how we fulfill God’s calling upon our lives, whether we “stand and wait” in obscurity or perform jaw-dropping acts of brave faith in a public setting, we are called first to put God’s glory on display. May we find grace today–at this moment on the clock, during this day on the calendar–to practice patience and quiet attentiveness to whatever today’s “mundane faithfulness” may require.
Holding You in the Light,
No matter how we fulfill God’s calling upon our lives, whether we “stand and wait” in obscurity or perform jaw-dropping acts of brave faith in a public setting, we are called first to put God’s glory on display. #JohnMiltonTweet
How Will You Come Close to God in the Days Leading up to Easter? (Here’s a FREE Resource to Help…)
February 22 was Ash Wednesday, the day on the church calendar that ushers us into Lent and our pondering of Christ’s great work on the cross. Every year, I appreciate this work of the heart that prepares me for a true celebration of resurrection on Easter Sunday.
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22 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be “Fully Alive” as a Human Being?”
Um … wow, Michele. This is powerful, beautiful, and life giving.
You never fail to encourage. Thank you for meeting with me here.
I love when familiar texts suddenly open up some new insight. And thanks for referring to that poem of Milton’s. I knew the last line but never knew where it came from.
So much of “daily life” seems repetitive and unimportant, and I wish I could get past it or ignore it to do the “meaningful” stuff. But it all serves a purpose and all is to be done unto Him.
And I think it’s a matter of timing. If God’s will for me is to be studying or preparing a talk, I need to do that, but if it is time for me to be preparing a meal or folding laundry, I need to be doing that with the same joyful obedience.
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You know I had to read this post, Michele! 🙂 As I continue to explore what it really means to be human, I’m finding it’s as individual as we each are. For me, it certainly means I won’t be climbing any of your Maine mountains. lol.
I’m with you, standing here—a human at sea level!
Indeed, my works are nothing and not what he requires. But to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with him. May I reflect his glory! Thank you for this meditation today. It is the third reminder I have had this weekend to stop and BE and not DO for God. Well received. 🙂
Oooh, it sounds as if God is trying to get your attention, friend! Grateful to be cooperating with him—and you in this following life.
I just copied into my journal another nugget of your wisdom, Michele: “Humanity cherishes results. God cherishes relationships.” So true and so necessary to remember. How easy it is to fall into the performance trap! Thank you for steering us back in the right direction.
I sure do see that tendency in my own prone-to-wander heart! It’s an honor to be given space in your journal!
And I’m thankful for your wisdom, Michele.
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Loved your humor and insights on glorifying God by being a fully alive human being. I’ve always taken comfort from Martin Luther’s thoughts on how we glorify God in the mundane things of life. And of course, that’s where we learn the disciplines of living a godly life. If we can’t do it there, it’s not going to happen in the big moments!
That’s a great point. The routine of mundane faithfulness prepares us for the “big” challenges of life—and I do wonder if our yardstick for measurable “big” is well-calibrated to God’s…?
Thanks, Michelle, as usual, you gave me a laugh and then a time of pondering! God bless and continue on this quest to be more like Christ.
Even with the challenges that come with aging and just plain life, we press on!!
I can’t tell you which part I love – yes, love, more! From Maine to Milton! Only with God can we be fully alive – only then does our soul stop seeking to find fulfillment in where we are – even if it’s to only stand and serve. This is too good not to share, Michele! This made my heart smile in joy!
I’m getting used to a different way of working and doing life. And sometimes that involves remembering the Milton quote about “those who wait” also serving. Isn’t it wonderful that God’s score card is SO gloriously different from mine?!
I need more of this in my life.
My current situation is busy, busy and then busy some more. I’m sure it is this level of business that took down my physical defenses and brought on my current illness.
Oh God, I ask you to redirect my focus.
What do you want me to TEACH today?
What am I supposed to LEARN today?
I am listening. 🙏🏼📚💞
Oops forgot….One Word #6
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Thanks for entering this space with so much intention and open heartedness. I agree with you that busyness is our undoing!
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Michele, love your thoughts here. Interesting that you chose 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, I have been meditating and memorizing 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, which has me thinking being fully alive as a human being also means being fully dead [to self] bearing in our bodies the death of Christ, that the fully alive life others see is His.
That’s such a great image and certainly a challenge because we die hard, don’t we…
I need to look at those verses. So much goodness in this chapter!