The Key Ingredient to a Fulfilled Life

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In one way or another, we often talk about “fulfillment.” We seldom think about it, but the word itself provides a rather interesting image: one in which something fills us until we’re full. And so, when we say we want our lives to be fulfilling, we’re simply saying that we want our activities, beliefs, choices, etc. to provide us with satisfaction. We want a sense of worth, meaning, and joy.

But how do we get fulfillment? The most common ways we seek it include looking to family, accomplishments at work, acquiring certain things, or even serving a particular cause. Maybe you’ve noticed, but over time, those strategies rarely seem to deliver. Your spouse disappoints you. Your kids move out. Your business success isn’t quite all you thought it would be. Your kitchen remodel is nice, but it isn’t exactly the key to unbroken happiness. Or what do you do when your seemingly just cause fails to win the day? And what’s next when it does?

All those things—family, work, material possessions, meaningful change, etc.—are real blessings. They actually do bring benefits and joys to our lives, and we should be thankful for them. But they simply don’t work as sources lasting fulfillment. They’re good things but not ultimate things.

One image the Bible uses to describe our pursuit of fulfillment along these lines is digging broken cisterns (see Jeremiah 2). A cistern was pit dug out of stone to collect rainwater. This certainly had its uses in a dry climate. But it still remained the least desirable way to get water, since it tended to be less fresh than water from a stream or ground well. And if the cistern turned out to be broken on top of that, then the exercise was worse than useless. And so it is with much of our pursuit of fulfillment. We look to things that simply can’t hold the kind of fullness we’re really looking for.

In contrast, the Bible says we need to fill up from a source of “living water”—God himself. Here, in contrast to our broken cisterns, we find fullness that is life giving and truly satisfying. And this only makes sense, doesn’t it? Who better to know and provide what we really need than the person who created us in the first place? Do we really think we’re a good bet to find a better alternative?

But how, practically speaking, do we “drink” from this source? The apostle Paul gives us a big clue in the prayer he included in Ephesians 3. Part of that prayer reads like this:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (vv. 17b-19)

According to Paul, the fullness of God—the satisfaction and joy that you really want—is bound up in love. But not just any love, the love of Christ himself. Or as Paul so memorably puts it, we’ll need to “know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

And how do we know Christ’s (or really anyone’s) love for us? By his actions. And the greatest display of Christ’s love for us comes through his death on our behalf. Christ died for us, for miserable, rebellious sinners—people who hadn’t even begun to clean up their act. We were far from deserving. In fact, we deserved punishment, not grace. And he loved us anyway, so much so that he underwent a torturous death on a cross to set us free from the misery of sin and death (see John 15:12-13; Rom. 3:23-25, 5:8; Eph. 2:1-4).

Christ’s death communicates volumes about his love for us. But as great and climactic as it is, it’s far from the only way he concretely loves us. For example, he also protects, provides, encourages, teaches, sustains, enjoys, intercedes, disciplines, and bears with us. All of this amounts to an ocean of life-changing truth that we can’t begin to sound the depths of here. It truly is a love that surpasses knowledge.

And yet, judging from Paul’s words in Ephesians 3 and elsewhere, we can continue to grow in our knowledge and experience of this love. One way to do this is to regularly read God’s word, where we’ll see more and more that Christ’s love permeates every page. Another major way we’ll experience it is through the participating in the life of the church, the body through which Christ so often works in our lives in the ways we just mentioned. After all, ultimately it’s Christ who is teaching you when you listen to a sermon or go to your small group. He’s the one providing a meal for you when you have a new baby. He’s the one who is guiding you back on the right path through that conversation with a friend. And so on.

So these things aren’t boxes to check off when you want to be religious. They’re opportunities to know the love that surpasses knowledge, and therefore the key ingredients to experience the kind of fulfillment—the “filled up-ness”—that we were made and long for.

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