Based on sermons by Raymond Chou—San Jose, California, USA
Society bombards us with many principles and philosophies on how to live a rich and fulfilling life. Many think the answer lies in a rewarding career, and so urge us to hustle until we have achieved success, found our calling, and changed the world. Others believe family comes first, and so recommend that we sacrifice everything to nurture our children and give them a picture-book perfect childhood. Yet others promote an alternative and independent lifestyle, suggesting we live in the moment and chase our happiness, freeing ourselves from familial responsibilities, traditional work, and physical possessions to maximize our time and money for travel and experiences.
These approaches promise a life of abundance, but the great sacrifice they entail often keeps the promise out of reach. For example, those who think money is an infallible safety net push themselves to their physical and mental limits to build their bank balance. Or they obsessively watch every penny they spend despite earning a comfortable wage. In the process, they lose relationships, health and well-being, and even their spiritual lives. Are such people enjoying true abundance?
The Lord Jesus Christ once declared, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10b). As Christians, we know that the Good Shepherd laid down His life so that we can gain access to eternal life after death. But even in our life on earth, God promises us abundance through His loving grace and blessings.
This article examines two aspects of an abundant life: peace and hope. What is the source of true peace and hope, and how can attaining these help us to live a more meaningful life?
A LIFE OF PEACE
Peace in an Uncertain World
The desire for peaceful lives is a natural human one. This is why we buy various types of insurance, hoping these will protect us in unforeseen circumstances. However, the peace of mind these afford will only last until we are beset by a new danger that the insurance does not cover! Man may have developed a range of sophisticated scientific instruments, technological gadgets, or statistical models to try to predict or minimize the impact of imminent global disasters. But the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis is a harsh reminder of the limits of human ability and the fragility of human peace.
A core message that Jesus proclaimed to the people of His time and to all who would listen today is that He can give true and ultimate peace. Unfortunately, in affluent Western societies, people increasingly think they do not need Jesus—they can live comfortably and peacefully without Him. Church attendance for many professing the Christian faith is limited to baptisms, weddings, and funerals. In contrast, Christians in developing countries demonstrate stronger faith because they recognize that they need God’s abidance to get through each day.
Peace built on human plans or the environment is aptly likened to stained glass windows. These are beautiful yet easily shattered by a small stone. No matter how healthy we are at present or how stable our work or finances, a small stone—sickness, economic crisis, and so on—could take away all the peace we have. For example, in 2018, an emergency message was suddenly broadcast to all cellphones in Hawaii, informing them that a ballistic missile was on the way to Honolulu from North Korea. This turned out to be a false alarm caused by human error. But before the all-clear assurance came, everyone was terrified. Some church members immediately drove to their children's houses to gather because they did not know if those would be the last moments of their lives.
The Bible often uses the sea to describe the variability of life. When the sea is calm, it looks like a mirror reflecting the sky. The underwater world is beautiful and teeming with wonderful creatures. There are many valuable and desirable things under the sea, just as the world is filled with alluring attractions. But such beautiful serenity can very suddenly become a raging storm, just like life. The uncontrollable pace at which the COVID-19 virus spread throughout the world, the frequency with which the virus mutated, and the unthinkable global disruption are stark warnings—if we mistakenly trust in the peace of this world, we may be buffeted by the waves and perish.
Finding True Peace in Jesus
To have a truly happy and abundant life, we must find true peace—one that endures even if our lives are suddenly and completely upended. Jesus promises such peace.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)
Some people come to believe in Jesus to receive health and wealth. They think that once they believe in Jesus, they will have no problems in life. But this is not always the case. Jesus tells us that Christians will meet with tribulations. We will still experience ill health, accidents, and job loss. The peace that Jesus gives us is not about leading a smooth-sailing life. Rather, it is about having Jesus as our help and reliance during these inevitable storms. This is true peace because it is not dependent on our external situation. No matter how much our circumstances change, the peace Jesus gives us will not change. Even in the most painful situation, we know that He abides with us.
Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going. (Jn 6:16–21)
One night, Jesus’ disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee by boat. Making the crossing in the dark was not out of the ordinary for them, as most of them were fishermen accustomed to rowing in most conditions. They were not concerned because they were experienced. But then a great storm arose. The disciples persevered until they saw Jesus walking on the sea. The disciples were comforted by Jesus’ presence, and their fear ceased. When Jesus came aboard the boat, it was miraculously transported to its destination.
Were the disciples able to manage the situation? Technically, yes. In difficult times, we can often grit our teeth and endure the situation through sheer force of will. But how long would we be able to hold on, and how much pain would we suffer by relying on our own strength?
We may work hard, but this does not guarantee a reward. We may seek solutions to our problems, but this does not guarantee peace. Only when we welcome Jesus onto our boat and rely on Him to abide with us through the storms of life can we receive true peace. Our situation may not change, and the problem we are grappling with still exists, but having peace in our hearts changes everything. The winds may howl, and the storms still buffet us, but Jesus will carry us to the other side.
Believing in Jesus does not mean we will never meet with accidents or difficulties. But it does mean that, no matter what we encounter, we know our God in heaven is with us. This is the true peace that those who believe in God pursue. Even in tribulation, we have peace from above. We may suffer stress, worries, and disappointments, but we will not lose hope because we have an anchor in the Solid Rock. No matter how stormy the weather, our boat will not be blown off course. If such peace abides with us daily, an abundant life will surely follow.
A LIFE OF HOPE
Where Does Our Hope Lie?
Hope—the aspirations of a person—is critical to life. Knowing that we have something to look forward to is what keeps us going from day to day. However, only the right hope will give us an abundant life. If we place our hopes in the wrong things and spend our days chasing after fleeting joys or worthless goals, our lives will lack purpose and meaning. So, what is the right hope?
Many people today place their hope in tangible material possessions. New graduates hope to get a good job and a car. A few years later, their next hope is to own a house. People of this world often place their hope in things they want to own or in what they aspire to be, and they will invest time and energy to achieve these hopes. Although there is nothing wrong with pursuing personal and material goals, these hopes can never be secure in a life of uncertainty. For example, we would have heard of successful people who seem to have everything—youth, high-flying careers, happy families—suddenly discovering that they have a terminal illness. In times like these, will the large company we own still give us satisfaction? Will our colossal house and powerful car comfort us and give us hope?
While education, jobs, and homes are necessary things to work towards, we must recognize that our lives have a higher purpose.
The Vanity of Earthly Hopes
King Solomon was a successful ancient king widely admired for his wisdom and riches (1 Kgs 10:1–7). Such vast wealth allowed him to gratify every desire.
I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. (Eccl 2:4–8)
Who would not yearn for such a life as his? But what did this life bring Solomon?
Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.
I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure,
For my heart rejoiced in all my labor;
And this was my reward from all my labor.
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun. (Eccl 2:10–11)
Solomon had many hopes and goals. He wanted to build houses, make pools, and plant trees and vineyards. Achieving these satisfied him—“my heart rejoiced in all my labor.” It is only natural for us to be happy when we achieve our goals.
But note that when Solomon looked back on his life, he described it as “vanity and grasping for the wind.” Why did his verdict on his achievements take such a drastic turn? And why did he conclude that he hates life and finds everything under the sun meaningless (Eccl 2:17)?
For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever,
Since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come.
And how does a wise man die?
As the fool! (Eccl 2:16)
The answer lies in the inevitability of death. If we did not have to die, then it would make sense to pursue pleasure and rejoice in the fruits of our labor (Eccl 2:10). But death brings everything into perspective (Eccl 2:11). Worldly pleasures, gains, and success have value. But their value is limited—this value disappears when we leave the world.
The Heavenly Hope of Eternal Salvation
Death can be a sensitive—and, to some, taboo—topic. But avoiding or denying it does not make it disappear, so we must face it. Eating well and exercising may help us live longer. But no matter how well we care for ourselves, we must all die one day. In fact, reflection on death is useful as it prompts us to think about the value of life. If today were the last day of our life, would the earthly goals we are toiling for still seem as important?
Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart. (Eccl 7:2)
Another important fact is that death is not the end of everything. Life would indeed be tragic and meaningless if there were nothing after death. But there is hope because death is not the end. After death, there is judgment. God puts the concept of eternity in our hearts (Eccl 3:11). Our lives on earth may be short, but we have a higher purpose and hope.
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Heb 9:27)
The critical question is, what outcome will the judgment bring us?
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:13–16)
The Book of Hebrews records the heroes and heroines of faith whose hope was firmly fixed on an inheritance far beyond their lifespans on earth. They lived simple lives, hoping for more than physical blessings. Abraham was a rich man, but he never hoped to gain more riches. He never invested in more land or built cities for himself. He lived the life of a sojourner, moving from one place to another. His hope was not in lands or cities—he was looking for something better. What Abraham saw was the eternal glory he would receive in heaven.
Jesus told His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn 14:2b). Today, we do not believe in Jesus just to receive blessings in this world. Perhaps we will receive them anyway, which is God’s grace, but it is not why we believe in Jesus. Instead, we seek to stand blameless before God on the day of judgment—to face Him with a good conscience and enter the heavenly kingdom to enjoy eternal blessings. This is the ultimate and most precious goal and the hope of the true followers of Christ. Is it also the goal and hope of your life?
We must be clear about our true hope. Only then will we know the direction and purpose of our lives.
[A]nd that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 3:15)
There are only two outcomes of judgment: eternal salvation or eternal damnation. What determines our destination? What determines if we receive an eternal reward or eternal condemnation? It is not how much we donate to charities or how many good deeds we have done. It is the Holy Scriptures that give us wisdom for salvation. The Bible guides us to victory on the day of judgment, to receive the hope of eternal life in heaven.
The only way to receive this hope is through knowing and following the Bible. Heaven is for those who strive hard and take faith seriously. If we are diligent about our faith, we will esteem what the Bible says. We will take responsibility for our souls and live out what we learn in the Bible. When we do this, we have an abundant life full of meaning, purpose, spiritual joy, and blessings. And when the time comes for our earthly life to end, we will joyfully receive the life to come.
We live in an ever-changing world where life is full of chaos and uncertainty. No matter how tightly we cling to our earthly possessions and achievements to steady us, these are too ephemeral to offer true peace and security. Death brings our dreams and pursuits to nothing.
But with faith in Jesus and the promises of the Bible, we can access the enduring peace and hope that calm the storm in our hearts, enabling us to boldly face any tribulations and walk the correct path toward our heavenly hope (Rom 5:1–5). Grasping true peace and hope will lead us to flourishing and abundant lives.