From time to time I get the opportunity to leave the confines of my immediate territory and wander beyond the boarders I call “home”. Most of the time these adventurous outings have positively impacted my life. But, when I spend adventurous time with people who love me, in close quarters, day-after-day, inhibitions fall away and some hysterical and profound things happen. This week was just one of those wanderings.
During my recent work sabbatical, I’d put assorted people in charge of various tasks and areas of oversight. The volunteers are fantastic men and women who sacrifice time and energy pouring life into the students placed in our care. Two of these servants are Jenny and Harry. I’d given them authority (we’ll talk about “authority” in a future post) to oversee the training of a small, rag-tag group of students for a week’s worth of kid’s ministry in Mt. Vernon, NY. Not to my surprise, but much to my delight, they both did an outstanding, slam-dunk, over-the-top job both prior to and during the trip (God at work #1). This week, I got to tag along.
Our mission: to assist a local church in hosting their kid’s camp for one week. Although the camp runs through the entire month, we were privileged to partner with them for 7 days. It was a wonderful display of camaraderie between people who had never met each other face-to-face (God working #2). We were quickly assigned our jobs and responsibilities. I got to be, “Garbage Goalie”! I’ve never had so much fun handling other people’s trash as I sorted out wet from dry rubbish. And not only that, I was able to meet and greet every single child that attended the camp – I was unavoidable! If you’ve never thrown away your garbage without a friendly, smiling, high-fiving goalie at the can, you’re missing out on life! But I digress.
During the week our team would gather to spend time together discussing how things were progressing in this adventurous atmosphere we’d plunged into. During one of the more meaningful discussions a simple but wise question was asked. “What have you learned so far?” As we went around, one student chirped, “God isn’t your Burger King, you can’t have it your way. I learned that the more I let go and allow God to have control of my life the more I see Him work.” BOOM! What an amazing lesson to learn! You can teach this in a classroom, but it’s best grasped in the field of life (God working #3).
In the 1970s, the famous burger joint had a sing-along slogan that emphasized the customization a person could get at a massed-produced, assembly-line hamburger factory. It was a brilliant marketing campaign for a fast-food establishment. Yet, it also captured the declining, self-absorbed attitude of society. The student made the correlation between, “having it your way” and the disintegration of seeing God operate in our lives. Now, before you write me off as anti-American or some other misnomer, hear me out. But first, let’s take a stroll down memory lane! Here’s the epic, old school commercial for your enjoyment.
Now, I’m all for personal service and customization. One look at my motorcycle is proof enough. But as this self-absorbed mentally grew over the decades it didn’t improve things. Just about everyone should agree that altruism and sacrifice outweigh selfishness. By focusing on “having it our way” we lay to the side God’s way. However, God doesn’t revoke anyone’s freewill, we do have choice. But there’s something precious that’s lost when we choose to, “have it our way”, and most of the time we don’t even notice! This student did.
Please recognize I’m not railing against personal preferences and enjoyment. Life is meant to be lived to it’s fullest, but it’s about a lot more than how much ketchup or pickles it will take to make me happy.
You see, freedom isn’t free. Yes, I know this is cliché, but it’s amazingly true. Jesus knew this firsthand. The Bible’s story is chock full of sacrifices that lead to personal freedom – in the case of Jesus, freedom for other people. And it’s also filled to overflowing of myopic selfishness. If we truly want to be free, we have to choose to give up control. Counter intuitive? Yup, but that’s how God works. Now, back to the kid’s camp.
One evening a spunky, enthusiastic and passionate young woman shared her life story. She told us of the addictions she had for many years. She’d tried to quit on her own but with great failure only to return to her drinking and drugging. She tried to be free by attending church more, receiving extra prayer and committing time to reading the Bible, all to no avail. But one evening, in her kitchen as she listened to a podcast from a well known Christian ministry, she came to a realization: “The more control I try to maintain, the less freedom I have. Allowing God to control my life produces far more freedom than I can gain with my own control.” BOOM! This truth sunk so deeply into her it was transformational. This simple insight, that God’s way is far better than our own, challenged her to yield control to an almighty, loving Father who still allows us freewill. By her own testimony, her addictions ceased that very night and even a few days later others recognized her freedom without her cluing them in and she was able to share her story. She’s been 4-years clean and sober! (God working #4)
And here’s the another catch, you can’t earn your freedom. You can’t read more or pray more. You can’t serve more or sacrifice more. It’s all part of God’s grace and no amount of activity or performance will bring the freedom that God alone offers. For a deeper understanding of this concept of grace, see my post, Mulberries and Mowers.
Your freedom isn’t free. It was paid for with a great price in the life, death and coming-back-from-the-dead of Jesus. But you have freewill. You can choose to, “have it your way”, or to yield control to God. This is scary for some. But as both the student and young woman learned, when we yield our control to the Creator, you’ll start to see His acts more and more, you’ll be transformed, you’ll be set free!
So, what will it be? Will you continue to, “have it your way” and forfeit more than I can possibly share in this post? Or, will you take the risk and try to understand the ways of a loving God in whose care you’ll not only see amazing things, but you’ll be freer – emotionally, spiritually, physically and relationally – than you can ever achieve on your own, regardless of what religion or philosophy you’re currently following.