“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
What did Jesus mean when He said this to His disciples? What does it look like to live life to the fullest as one of His children?
In an extraordinary whirlwind of a book, author N.D. Wilson answers these questions and provides a framework for living life abundantly.
He calls his philosophy ‘Death by Living.’
I first came across Wilson’s book Death by Living when I was in college. Since then, I’ve read it over and over, especially at transition points in my life.
Wilson’s words have never failed to speak to me.
Death by Living is written in a stream-of-consciousness style that highlights both Wilson’s sense of humor and deep emotional sensitivity. Like life, the book is funny, poignant, reflective, and painful in turns.
Wilson structures the book around the idea of stories, sharing tales of his grandparents and the cities he’s visited in between reflections on his present-day concerns. His thoughts flow from biblical wisdom to lived experience and back again.
“Each of us is in the middle of a story,” Wilson writes.
“But for some reason, we don’t show the slightest desire to read it, let alone live it with any kind of humble self-awareness.”
He argues that God is interested in every detail of our lives, that God’s infinite nature extends to the small things, as well as the huge parts of the universe’s story, and that we often fall short in our understanding of these truths.
Wilson calls us to participate fully in God’s great story.
“Clear your throat and open your eyes. You are on stage… You are spoken. You are seen… You are His art, and He has no trouble stooping. You can even ask Him for your lines.”
It’s easier said than done, though, and Wilson knows this.
He starts his call to live fully by tackling the root of the issue: Faith is a way of life rather than an abstract idea.
“Christianity is no good at all as an idea. Stop thinking that an asserted proposition is the same thing as faith. It’s a start. But it can also be a costume. Enflesh it.”
Wilson calls believers to embody Christianity as Jesus did. “The cross is no idea,” he writes about the Incarnation of Christ.
Jesus became flesh and experienced human life in order to give us life to the fullest — it was no abstract idea for Him.
Living life as a story, and as a good story at that, requires our full commitment to God’s great story.
Wilson chooses individuals from his own family tree to illustrate this kind of commitment. His grandparents’ stories of faith are equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking.
A fighter pilot, a farm boy, a Canadian woman of extraordinary faith — Wilson tells their stories as examples of lives lived fully in pursuit of Christ. He marvels at the intricacies in their stories that led both sets of his grandparents to meet and marry, eventually birthing his own parents.
“Clearly, I was not meant to be,” he quips, fully aware that he would not have been born if God hadn’t been working overtime in his family and his story.
With this knowledge of how carefully our life stories are crafted, we’re called to live fully for God — to live life to death, or to die by living so completely that we wear out our fragile human bodies.
Wilson writes about embracing the humor and pain of life in equal measure: “If God gives you an obstacle, what are you meant to do in response? (Receive it. Climb it. Then laugh.)”
If God is with us throughout this life on earth, it’s our blessing and our duty to lean on His strength and receive all He gives us, whether it involves triumph or sorrow.
In fact, the two often come together Wilson points out.
“Man is born to trouble,” he writes bluntly. “Man is born for the fight, to be forged and molded — under torch and hammer and chisel — into a sharper, finer, stronger image of God.”
We’ll meet with many struggles in this life, but all of them are intended to bring us closer to Christ — our ultimate joy and the fulfillment of all our desires.
Wilson urges us to greet all of these possibilities with the trust and wonder of a child. We can never stop the flow of time, but we can choose how we respond within it.
“Don’t resent the moments simply because they cannot be frozen. Taste them. Savor them. Give thanks for that daily bread. Manna doesn’t keep overnight. More will come in the morning,” Wilson writes warmly, reflecting on “God’s excessive grace.”
To be honest, I’m overwhelmed every time I reread Death by Living. Wilson’s raw and rambling style isn’t for everyone, but it speaks to me on a deep level as I seek to live life to the fullest in light of Jesus’ command.
Wilson answers the question of what that full life — the opportunity to give glory to God in all things — looks like in two simple sentences near the end of the book.
“Glory is sacrifice, glory is exhaustion, glory is having nothing left to give … It is death by living.”
Death by living, indeed. Don’t we all yearn to live as Jesus did while He was here on earth?
I’ve read this book every year, sometimes more than once, ever since I first encountered it.
It’s always a fresh reminder to dedicate my days to God, “to live hard and die grateful,” because Jesus came to call me to such a life.