The Higher Christian LifeHow to Experience the Abundant Life Jesus Promised
There is a process each of us goes through that leads us from where we are in our spiritual life to where we desire to be. Or, from the nominal Christian experience that most of us fixate at, to the Higher Christian Life, the “abundant life” Jesus promised (John 10:10). Everyone goes through it. Some stay at one stage longer than others. And some move quickly through many of the early stages only to get hung-up on a latter one. The process or stages in our awareness of this Higher Christian Life are general in nature and differ in details from person to person. But the value is in seeing there is a process for receiving the Higher Christian Life that everyone seems to go through. So be encouraged where ever you find yourself in the process.
This “process” or stages in our experience with the Holy Spirit and the Higher Christian Life should not surprise us. In fact, we see a similar process revealed in Romans 8 regarding our salvation. In this process, God moves in our lives in distinct ways, in separate stages, some of them unknown to us at the time, to bring about His will for our lives. And what is His will? That we will be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29).
Consider the process God brings those through who have embraced the Higher Christian Life:
One, there is an awareness of our need for more of Him. We find this truth in John 7:37 where Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Before the refreshing given by the Lord, there must first be an awareness of our need.
Two, there is a troubling in our soul, a growing, deep dissatisfaction with our present spiritual state. In other words, “I now know that I am thirsty, and I am miserable until I get this need satisfied.” Remember, it is those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” who will be filled or satisfied (Matt. 5:6).
Three, there then must come a time of absolute surrender of self to the Lord Jesus. It is what is called the point of total abandonment to Him. This is when “you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). This is the point of commitment, the point of no return. From this step forward, success or failure depends on the desire you have for the Higher Christian Life and your willingness to suffer the costs of true discipleship (Luke 14:25-33).
But the best is yet to come.
Nobody wants to fail, at anything, ever. We strive to be winners and not losers. We tell our kids that “if you try hard enough, you can do anything!” We don’t start a business to fail. We don’t start an exercise program to fail. We don’t enter into marriage to fail. Failure is not an option. Yet for those who have experienced the Higher Christian Life, many of their testimonies talk about multiple failures, often over many years, before any success. So why is that? Why do most people fail at their attempt to live the Higher Christian Life?
With just a glance into the lives of those who have lived the Higher Christian Life, a certain pattern emerges. And that pattern is a time of waiting, and pleading, and praying, and frustration, and spiritual darkness, until the light finally dawns. There seems to be some distance between when the person realizes what he is missing in his spiritual life and begins to actively seek it, and when that need is finally satisfied by the Holy Spirit.
Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest, waited over four years between the time he began to pray for the Higher Christian Life and when the Lord granted his request. And during that time he said, “nothing but the overruling grace of God and kindness of friends kept me out of an asylum.” Why? Because of the internal anguish of his soul knowing where he was and where he wanted to be with the Lord, and not being able to get there on his own.
For Amy Carmichael, the famed missionary to India, it was only two years. She came to know Jesus as her Lord at the age of sixteen, and by eighteen had surrendered her all to Him. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Andrew Murray testifies it was “seven or eight years” between his seeking, and ultimately receiving, the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” He called that time of barrenness “one of deep dissatisfaction.” And look what the Lord did through the pen of this man after his time of waiting. Amazing.
For Dr. Walter Wilson, it was much longer. In his testimony at the Canadian Keswick Conference, he states he was saved in December of 1896 and didn’t experience the blessings of the Higher Christian Life until January 14, 1914, almost 18 years later.
Yet for Charles Finney, the one who was used so mightily by God during the Second Great Awakening, his salvation and the Higher Christian Life happened at almost the same time. God chooses how He will deal with each of us differently. For some, it is after a time of waiting. For others, it is almost instantaneous, like exhaling out the self-life and breathing in the Higher Christian Life.
But the truth they all understood is this, “God never gives us a desire that He will not ultimately fulfill.” Never.
The following is a message given by Dr. Walter L. Wilson (1881-1969) at the Canadian Keswick Conference about his experience with the Higher Christian Life. This message was reprinted in the October 1936 issue of “The Evangelical Christian” and also in the tract, “The Secret of Soul Winning.” The name of the article is “Whose Body is Yours?” and provides a wonderful glimpse into the process the Spirit took Dr. Wilson to discover the Higher Christian Life and his prayer of full surrender.
Enjoy and be blessed and encouraged in your own search for the Higher Christian life.
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Because there exists in these days a great desire in the heart for, and a confusion in the mind concerning the Spirit-filled life, or the path of consecration, it may help to clear this matter if I tell you of my own experience with the Lord, the Spirit.
It was my privilege to be raised among a group of believers who were quite orthodox in their teaching, and quite earnest in studying the Word. It was among these that I first trusted the Lord Jesus in December 1896. He saved me and changed my life. Immediately the Word of God became my constant companion. I loved it, studied it, preached it, and gave away tracts in large quantities. No apparent success followed my labors, and much energy produced little fruit. This failure disturbed me greatly, but I assured myself and was assured by others that we were not to look for results but only to be busy at seed sowing.
One key to experiencing the Higher Christian Life is the understanding that we live, not for the applause of man or for our own self-gratification (no matter how noble our pursuits may seem), but to live solely for the pleasure and approval of God. Because quite honestly, everything else is temporal, and only this is eternal. Our single desire should be like that of Jesus, who said, “I always do those things that please Him (Father)” (John 8:29). Jesus lived His life for the pleasure of the Father. And to experience the Higher Christian life, so should we.
Oswald Chambers says it this way in the March 17th offering in My Utmost for His Highest:
It is arduous (difficult, demanding great effort) work to keep the master ambition in front. It means holding one’s self to the high ideal year in and year out, not being ambitious to win souls or to establish churches or to have revivals, but being ambitious only to be “accepted of Him.” It is not a lack of spiritual experience that leads to failure, but a lack of laboring to keep the ideal right.
And this is hard. I know in my own life I often get sidetracked with the “good” things in my relationship with Him, such as being a pastor, leading my family, preaching and teaching the Word of God, ministering to others, praying, studying the Word, witnessing to others, etc. Note, all of these things are good and expected and encouraged of someone who claims to be a believer. But it is these “good” things that can, and will, demand most of our time and strength and be seen by others as desirable and praiseworthy… on this side of eternity. Yet they are not necessarily the “best” things in life that have eternal consequences today and forever. Let me explain.
The key to a deeper Christian life is to understand how we are to emulate Jesus in everything. He is our model, our example, and our guide. If we want to know how to respond in a certain situation, we look to Jesus and see what He did and commit to doing the same. And if we struggle with our flesh, we need to remember that Jesus has left us Himself (“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” – John 14:18) in the person of the Holy Spirit who abides with us forever (John 14:16). Hence, we have Him living in us to empower us to do the will of the Father (John 5:19). Just like Jesus had.
So why do we still struggle?
One of the two Scriptures that reveal the importance of holiness and living the Higher Christain life is found in Psalm 24. Here we see David beginning with a statement about the unsurpassed greatness of the Lord (Psalm 24:1-2) and then, based on His greatness, David poses both a question and an answer. The question is a logical one and goes something like this, “How can we get close to a God who claims ownership of the earth and ‘those who dwell therein’? (Psalm 24:1). How can I get to know a God as powerful and holy as this?” And how can I ever practice holiness to gain the Higher Christian Life?
David asks the question this way:
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? – Psalm 24:3.
And the answer is just as revealing. Only someone who is holy, as He is holy, can come into the presence of God. Read carefully what is written in Scripture.
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully – Psalm 24:4.
This is a picture of practical holiness, the kind of living holiness that reflects the nature of Christ in our day-by-day decisions. It is the holiness Peter spoke of when he said, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
But there is more.
In Hebrews 12:14 we read that without holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” And if a deep intimacy with the Lord is a by-product of the Higher Christian Life, then holiness is an essential, if not vital, aspect of our spiritual lives.
One of my spiritual mentors is a man named Andrew Murray. I was discipled for the most part by his books and devotions that I was blessed to encounter early in my Christian life. His writings are devotional in nature and have ministered to my soul for years and have always challenged me to want more of Jesus in my daily walk with Him. Some of his books that are regarded as classics are “With Christ in the School of Prayer”, “The True Vine”, and especially, “Abide in Christ”.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Andrew Murray (1828-1917), he was a Dutch Reformed pastor, missionary, and writer from Scotland, and spent his years ministering in South Africa. Andrew Murray was a man of faith and had an intimacy with the Holy Spirit that, in my opinion, was surpassed by none. Yet he, like so many of us, felt a dissatisfaction with his spiritual life and longed for something deeper and more intimate with the Lord. And it was this quest for what he called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or the Higher Christian Life that allowed God to use him as He did.
Murray recognized that obedience to the Lord is nearly impossible, no matter how hard you try. Sheer determination or strength of will are never enough. And the only way to live a life of holiness is to surrender your life to Him and allow Him to complete the work of sanctification in us. Sounds simple, I know. But the testimonies of these giants of the faith tell us it is much harder than it seems.
And I can also attest to the difficulty of total surrender to the Lord. Can you?
When we read the testimonies of those great spiritual heroes of days gone past and hear them describe the time leading up to their baptism in the Holy Spirit and their living the Higher Christian Life, a certain pattern begins to emerge. Granted, all their individual experiences are different, since God chooses to reveal Himself in the way He chooses to each of His children. So we obviously can’t put God in a box and demand He deals with everyone the way He deals with us. There is no cookie-cutter scheme that works for everyone. Yet in examining these individual accounts, we do see a pattern that each person seems to go through. Much like the pattern of salvation found in Romans 8:29-30. Consider the steps God undertakes to reconcile each of us to Himself.
First, there is the sovereign act of God accomplished before we were created and of which we were totally unaware. The Scripture says “For whom He foreknew” (Rom. 8:29a), which means God placed His favor and choice on us before we even knew His name. And long before we ever took our first breath. It was an act of His will and not of our own. And it takes some measure of spiritual maturity to understand this momentous event. We tend to always look forward from the day we “believed in Jesus and asked Him into our hearts.” But this is a look back. It is best explained in Ephesians 1:3-5:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as (what) He chose us in Him (when) before the foundation of the world, (why) that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, (how) having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, (on what basis) according to the good pleasure of His will.
Next, God predetermined the outcome and future of those He previously had chosen and upon those He granted His favor. Scripture says “He also predestined” (Rom. 8:29b) those “whom He foreknew” to something. But what is that exactly? God has predetermined those He chose in Him to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29c). We are to become like Jesus. And we will become just like Jesus. Once again, this was all determined without our knowledge or consent. It was part of God’s sovereignty in our salvation.
Then, to those “He foreknew” and “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son”, God begins the process of drawing them unto Himself. This is known as a “calling” or, theologically, an “effectual call.” This is when we become aware of God and what He offers and the horrid sinfulness in our own life. In our testimonies, it goes something like this:
“I knew I was lost and I needed God to forgive my sins and change my life. And I became aware of the fact that is exactly what Jesus said He would do. It was amazing. What I once thought was foolish now made perfect sense. And I knew I needed to give my life to Him.”
Finally, there is justification, “these He also justified” (Rom. 8:30a) This is the point in the pattern of our salvation that we become aware of the fact we are now saved. And we usually mark this down as the first day of our new life, not yet understanding our new life was determined by God in eternity past, “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
And as a final bonus, “and whom He justified (all those who are saved in Him), these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30b). Now, that’s quite a pattern God has established for receiving saving faith provided by His Son. Would you not agree?
Yesterday was a wonderful day together as we committed ourselves to strive after what the saints of old called the “Higher Christian Life” and Jesus described as the “Abundant Life” found only in Him.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” – John 10:10.
The context of this verse is Jesus revealing Himself as the “good shepherd” who “gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11), in contrast to a “hireling” (John 10:13) or “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) who care little for the sheep. And the ones He promised “abundant life” are the sheep, you and I by inference, who only enter into salvation through the “door” (John 10:9), defined as Jesus Christ.
I know it sounds confusing, but this is what Jesus is saying in this passage:
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I (the Good Shepherd, Jesus) have come that they (the sheep, you and I) may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (perissós – over and above, superabundant, much, great, beyond measure)” – John 10:10.
But what does this promise really mean?