Tim Hansel is the author of a book entitled When I Relax I Feel Guilty. He tells of the time when Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck decided to travel across the United States. Steinbeck and his dog set out in his truck. He recorded these observations when he stopped one evening in a diner: “It was all plastic…the table linen, the butter dish, the sugar and crackers were wrapped in cellophane, the jelly in a small plastic coffin sealed with cellophane. It was early evening and I was the only customer. Even the waitress wore a sponge apron. She wasn’t happy, but then she wasn’t unhappy. She wasn’t anything.” That’s a striking description: she wasn’t happy, but then she wasn’t unhappy; she wasn’t anything. It’s also a convicting description. I fear it describes some of us. We aren’t happy. We aren’t unhappy. We’re not really anything. If forced to answer honestly when someone asked us, “How are you?” some of us just aren’t sure what we would say.
Perhaps this explains our preoccupation with happiness. According to Psychology Today, in the year 2000, fifty books on happiness were published. In 2008, four thousand books on happiness were published. Could it be that so many of us are caught between happy and unhappy that we can’t seem to get enough books about that elusive state of happiness?
There is a sense is which many of us are alive, but we don’t always seem to thrive. We aren’t happy. We aren’t unhappy. We’re not really anything. We are alive. But we’re not really thriving. We’re not bad. We’re not great. We’re just kinda OK.
In this context, perhaps one of the greatest statements made by Jesus is found in John 10: I came so they can have…more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (Jn. 10:10 The Message) “Abundant life” some translations say. “Rich and satisfying life” some translations say. “More and better life than they ever dreamed of.” Why did Jesus come? What is this all about? He came so you could have “more and better life than you ever dreamed of.” He came so you could thrive not just be alive.
And this word “life” means so much more than just experiencing forgiveness of sins or escaping the fires of hell. “Life” in Jesus’ mouth has as much to do with our time before death as it does with our time after death. It has as much to do with here and now as it does with heaven. Jesus came so that you could experience at this very moment more and better life than you’ve ever dreamed possible. He came so you could thrive right here and right now.
In fact, in this same chapter, Jesus describes himself as a door which provides access to this abundant life: 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-10 ESV).
We are exploring seven “I Am” statements from Jesus in John’s Gospel. We’ve heard Jesus say “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” and “I am the good shepherd.” Here, Jesus says “I am the door.”
Jesus is using an image which may not be familiar to most us. He describes a door that goes out and in. In a small Jewish village most families owned a few sheep. The houses had small walled courtyards where the sheep were kept. Because each family had only a few sheep, a shepherd for each household was not justified, so several households would have one shepherd to look after all their sheep. Early each morning the shepherd moved from house to house. The doorkeepers would open the courtyard door. The shepherd would call to the sheep. And the sheep would walk out through the door and follow the shepherd into open country. When they were in the open country the shepherd would find a cave or create a round stone-walled enclosure. He might place thorn bushes on top of the stones to keep out wild animals. The shepherd would lead the sheep through the doorway into the cave or enclosure. Then the shepherd would sleep across the entrance to keep the sheep safe.
This image is what Jesus has in mind when he says “I am the door.” The courtyard door granted the sheep access to the open country as they walked out that courtyard door. The cave doorway granted the sheep access to safety and protection as they walked in that door. In the same way Jesus says that he is our door. Jesus envisions himself as a door which offers access to abundant life.
What we are so often missing, Jesus came to provide. He is a door which offers access to more and better life than we ever dreamed of. For people who are alive but not thriving, Jesus is the door which offers access to abundant life.
There are a lot of doors in life aren’t there? There’s the career door. There’s the education door. There’s the relationship door. And each of them promises to provide access to better life. If we’ll just get the right career or the right education or the right relationship we’ll be happy. But Jesus is saying he is the one true door. He is the only door in your life which can provide you access to rich and satisfying life.
If that’s true, why don’t more of us who follow Jesus experience abundant life? Why do even we Christians sometimes find ourselves alive yet not truly thriving?
Jesus’ image provides a clue. Jesus could have used any image to describe this rich life and his role in providing it. He intentionally chose the image of a door for sheep. Specifically, Jesus chose the image of a door that goes in and out. Jesus chose a scene in which sheep in the open country go in through a doorway to a cave or enclosure. There they find rest, refuge, retreat, and renewal. And Jesus chose a scene in which sheep in a courtyard go out through a door to the open country where they flourish and thrive. Jesus could have used any image to describe abundant life and his role in it. He chose this image. And in so doing, he gave us an important clue about how to gain access to abundant life, and why some of us may not be experiencing this life. Jesus is saying that he offers access to an abundant life consisting of both an inward focus and an outward focus. Notice his words again in John 10: Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out… (John 10:9 The Message) Jesus is describing the way sheep go in that cave door to a place of refuge and projection. And he is describing the way sheep go out that courtyard door to the open country. Jesus is our door to rich and satisfying life. But he is a door through which we must go in and out. Jesus is picturing the spiritual life as a door that opens both inwardly and outwardly. And if we want to experience abundant life, we have to learn to live on both sides of the door.
Jesus is picturing the spiritual life as a door which opens two ways. It opens inward to a quiet and calm place of rest, refuge, retreat, and renewal where sheep can sleep and settle and be protected. But it also opens outward to the open country where the sheep can flourish, reproduce, and grow.
The earliest Christians built their spirituality around this two-way door. They talked about the vita contemplative and vita activa. Contemplative life. Active life. Contemplative life had an inward focus. It consisted of habits and practices of rest, renewal and reflection. The contemplative life was life going in the Jesus-door. Active life had an outward focus. It consisted of habits and practices like service and ministry. The active life was life going out the Jesus-door. The earliest Christians believed that you had to practice both types of life if you wanted the full life offered by Jesus. You walked in the Jesus-door to vita contemplative and practiced rest, renewal, and reflection. But you also walked out the Jesus-door to vita activa and practiced service and ministry to others.
Beloved spiritual writer Henri Nouwen described the full Christian life as one that consists of both an “inward journey” and an “outward journey.” The inward journey leads us to find the Christ dwelling within us. The outward journey leads us to find the Christ who is dwelling and working out in the world. The inward journey calls for practices such as solitude, silence, prayer, meditation, and contemplation. The outward journey calls for practices such as compassion, witness, outreach, healing, and accountability. Nouwen believed that in order to experience the rich and satisfying life Jesus came to give, we have to engage in both journeys. We have to journey in the door of Jesus and practice solitude and silence and prayer. We also have to journey out the door of Jesus and practice compassion and outreach to others.
And here’s the key: we experience Jesus’ abundant life only as we attend to both the inward focus and the outward focus. Jesus came as a door that opens two ways—inward and outward. But the reality is that many of us spend a great deal of time only going through this door one-way. Many of us live our lives largely on one side of the Jesus-door. For example, some of us go inward through Jesus and often practice rest, refuge, retreat and renewal. Others of us go outward through Jesus and often practice service and ministry. But those of us comfortable on the inside of that Jesus-door rarely venture outward. And those of us comfortable on the outside of that Jesus-door rarely go in. But we experience Jesus’ abundant life only if we live on both sides of the Jesus-door.
Some of this is related to our personalities and preferences. The Myers Briggs foundation, the group behind a widely used personality test, writes this: The first pair of psychological preferences is Extraversion and Introversion. Where do you put your attention and get your energy? Do you like to spend time in the outer world of people and things (Extraversion), or in your inner world of ideas and images (Introversion)? Raise your hand if you label yourself an extrovert. Raise your hand if you label yourself and introvert. Most of us have a personality and preference for the inner world of ideas and images or the outer world of people and things. And we carry this preference into our life with Jesus. Those of us who are introverts spend time going in the Jesus-door and engaging in prayer, reflection, contemplation, silence and solitude. But we rarely go out the Jesus-door. Those of us who are extroverts spend our time out the Jesus-door and do mercy, compassion, and outreach. But we rarely go in that door. Yet, if we want to experience the true abundant life, we have to live on both sides of the Jesus-door. Those of us who are introverts need to go out and spend time in mercy and outreach. Those of us who are extroverts need to go in and spend time in prayer and silence.
Abundant life comes only when a church or an individual engages enthusiastically in both sides of the Jesus-door. Abundant life flows into us and through us only as we live out a rhythm which involves going in through Jesus for rest and renewal in prayer and study and solitude, and then going out through Jesus for ministry and compassion and service.
In fact, each side of the door leads to the other. As we go in the Jesus-door for regular times of rest and renewal, we are empowered then to go out the Jesus-door for regular times of ministry and service. And as we go out the Jesus-door to impact the world around us, what we experience informs the kind of reflection and contemplation we do when we go back in the Jesus-door.
We have tried to frame our ministry at Highland around this idea. Our vision is to help people discover the more they are meant for. We want people to experience the abundant life Jesus has for them. And this takes place as people engage in four activities. Worship God and Grow with friends. That’s inward work. Serve others and Share Jesus. That’s outward work. We believe that as a church we’ve got to develop a rhythm of going in the Jesus-door and going out the Jesus-door. We gather in the Jesus-door for worship and growing with friends in Sunday School classes and Huddles. We scatter out the Jesus-door for service in ministry and sharing Jesus with others in places like our Reach Groups. Highland experiences full life only as we live on both sides of the Jesus-door. The same is true for each of us individually.
Unfortunately, we tend to judge others by what side of the door they spend their time in. Those of us who like to go out the Jesus-door and do ministry and service tend to label those who spend time in the Jesus-door as people who are unconcerned about the world and disconnected from real life. Those of us who like to go in the Jesus-door and do prayer and solitude tend to label those who spend time out the Jesus-door as superficial and busybodies. But both sides of the Jesus-door are equally important.
Most likely, you tend to spend the bulk of your time and energy on one side of this door. Some of you are constantly going in the Jesus-door and spending time in silence, prayer, and Bible study. Others are you are constantly going out the Jesus-door and spending time in ministry and service to others. Raise your hand if you tend to spend most of your time in the Jesus-door. Raise your hand if you tend to spend most of your time out the Jesus-door. And because we neglect the other side of the door, we fail to experience the rich and satisfying life Jesus came to give. We fail to experience abundance because we fail to live on both sides of the door. If you want to increase the richness and abundance of your life, those of you who spend most of your time out the Jesus-door should carve out some time to go in the door. Determine this week to spend some time in silence, solitude, prayer, reflection, or study. Those of you who spend most of your time in the Jesus-door should carve out time to go out the door. Determine this week to spend some time in compassion, mercy, service and ministry. The more we live on both sides of the door, the more we experience Jesus’ abundant life.
In his book The Circle Maker Mark Batterson tells this story that illustrates the power living in the Jesus-door: A few years ago, I was reading through The Book of Legends, a collection of stories from the Jewish Talmud, when I discovered the true legend of Honi the Circle Maker… A devastating drought threatened to destroy a generation–the generation before Jesus. The last of the Jewish prophets had died off nearly four centuries before. Miracles were a distant memory. And God was nowhere to be heard. But there was one man, an old sage who lived outside the walls of Jerusalem, who dared to pray anyway. His name was Honi. And even if the people could no longer hear God, he believed that God could still hear them. With a six-foot staff in his hand, Honi drew a circle in the sand. Then he dropped to his knees and raised his hands to heaven. With the authority of the prophet Elijah who called down fire from heaven, Honi called down rain. “Lord of the Universe, I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy upon your children.” Then it happened. As his prayer ascended to the heavens, raindrops descended to the earth. The people rejoiced over the rain, but Honi wasn’t satisfied with a sprinkle. Still kneeling within the circle, Honi lifted his voice over the sounds of celebration. “Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, pits, and caverns.” The sprinkle turned into such a torrential downpour that the people fled to the Temple Mount to escape the flash floods. Honi stayed and prayed inside his protracted circle. “Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of benevolence, benediction, and grace.” Then, like a well-proportioned sun shower on a summer afternoon, it began to rain in perfect moderation. Some within the Sanhedrin threatened excommunication because his prayer was too bold for their taste, but the miracle couldn’t be repudiated. Eventually, Honi the Circle Maker was honored for “the prayer that saved a generation.” The circle he drew in the sand symbolizes the power of a single prayer to change the course of history. Time spent in the Jesus-door in things like prayer can save a generation.
In a few weeks I’m presenting at the Christian Scholar’s Conference at Lipscomb University in Nashville. During that conference, Lipscomb will confer an Honorary Doctorate of Laws upon veteran civil rights attorney Fred Gray. When Gray was in college in Nashville, he vowed, “to become a lawyer, return to Alabama, and destroy everything segregated I could find.” Gray began his legal career as a sole practitioner, less than a year out of law school, and at age twenty-four, represented Mrs. Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, the action that initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gray was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first civil rights lawyer. This was the beginning of a legal career that now spans over 55 years. Determined to right the wrongs he found in his native State of Alabama, Gray has been at the forefront of changing the social fabric of America regarding desegregation, integration, constitutional law, racial discrimination in voting, housing, education, jury service, farm subsidies, medicine and ethics, and generally in improving the national judicial system. One of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction, Gray was also the first African American elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association. Gray is a powerful example of what can happen when even just one person commits to living out the Jesus-door and ministering and bringing justice and righteousness into a culture. An entire country can be changed.
As we close I want you to think about these two questions: On which side of the Jesus-door to I tend to live? What is one practice I can engage in this week that will help me spend time on the other side of the Jesus-door?
 Tim Hansel, When I Relax I Feel Guilty (Cook, 1979).
 Julia Baird, “Positively Downbeat,” Newsweek (9/25/09).
 John Ortberg, “Ministry and FTT,” LeadershipJournal.net (June 2008).
 Kruse, C. G. (2003). Vol. 4: John: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (229–230). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Kruse, C. G. (2003). Vol. 4: John: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (231). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (IVP, 1984), 99.
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit (HarperCollins, 2010), 123.