I’m excited to announce that my new book, Emotional Freedom: The Choices We Must Make, has been approved for printing. It will be available in 2 or 3 weeks.
This post contains content from Chapter 7
“A Dynamic Dance with the Gardener.”
Jesus does not compel us to obey him. He does empower us to overcome evil and destructive passions, but it does not happen automatically. It’s a collaborative (shared) effort. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, uses the phrase “unforced rhythms of grace” to describe the shared relationship that Jesus invites us to have with him. (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)
I love this phrase. It reminds me of a dance. I’m not a great dancer. My least well developed intelligence is kinesthetic. When I was in college, I had to take beginning swimming twice in order to pass it. Kinesthetic intelligence is one of my husband’s highest developed abilities. He loves to dance. I love watching him dance. We do it as a part of our worship on Sunday mornings. I managed to dance with him at our daughters’ weddings without crushing his toes. I am much higher on the musical measure of intelligence. I love rhythms and I make up songs and poems in my head.
The concept of dancing with God delights me. I call this dance with Jesus “Choosing Grace.” It has two basic steps: grace and responsibility. Grace is God’s step of love toward me. Responsibility is my step of love toward God. Jesus said, “If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love” (John 15:10 MSG).
Choosing grace is about “dancing” in such a close relationship with Christ that his nature becomes a part of us, motivating our decisions and empowering our behavioral changes. The clearest Biblical statement I know of describing this interaction between grace and responsibility is found in the book of Philippians: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV).
Choosing grace is about acting on our decisions so that our behavior will change. However, it’s much more than a how-to-do list for selecting and practicing new behaviors. Through this dynamic dance with Jesus we are transformed; we become like him. How do responsibility and grace work together to bring about character change and freedom from destructive desires and emotions? There are two common misunderstandings.
Problems on the Dance Floor
Some of us focus entirely on God’s grace, and others of us focus entirely on our responsibility. Some of us depend on God to do all the dancing, while others of us leave him standing on the dance floor and take off in our own independent rhythm.
When we place responsibility as well as grace totally in God’s lap, our slogan becomes “Let go and let God.” God did not design us as robots, and he does not bypass our will. We have the responsibility of choosing whether or not we will rely on God’s empowering grace. When we place responsibility on our shoulders and forget about grace we take up the “just-say-No!” slogan. Our program of self-reform does not usually work very well or last very long. The only way we can be successful by “just-saying No” to our destructive desires is by lying to ourselves—overlooking our slip-ups.
On any day, I may deceive myself into thinking I can stay away from the chocolate ice cream which gives me digestive problems. Perhaps, by God’s grace, I’ve been successful for a few weeks. Now I think my will power is sufficient; I no longer need God’s assistance. What happens? I’m so focused on my performance that my craving takes over.
I tend to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Sometimes, I act as if God is totally responsible for my growth. In passive irresponsibility, I refuse to take initiative. I don’t anticipate problems, and I don’t plan how I can obey. I sing “I want what God wants” while waiting for him to exercise the will he gave to me. What’s the result? Nothing happens. Why doesn’t this work?
God will neither take over my will nor override the choices I make. His freedom-of-choice gift includes responsibility to act and accountability for our action, or failure to act.
When we are choosing day-by-day to live in a close relationship with Jesus—relying on his favor, depending on him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and trusting him to meet our needs, God’s grace empowers us so that we can overcome our destructive and addictive desires and emotions.