This summer was incredibly freeing for me, challenging, but freeing.
We live in a world that offers many façades of freedom. Our world claims that if you have more money, a slimmer figure, more friends, higher grades, more touchdowns, more time, more power, more drugs, more drinks, more food, more pleasure, more relationships, or alternatively, fewer rules and restrictions, you can be free. The simple truth, however, and one that I have experienced personally, is that there is nothing permanently and truly freeing outside of a relationship with Jesus. Everything else, everything, will invariably disappoint.
The paradox about the true freedom that we are offered through Jesus, however, is that it can only be experienced through complete surrender. Only when we lay down our idols, only when we cast aside everything for the sake of our Saviour, only when we acknowledge that God and his grace are all that we need, only when we offer our lives completely, then, and only then, can we experience that glorious freedom in full.
The world's false promises of freedom lead only to a temporary sense of escape and ultimately leave us shackled and our attention diverted from our loving Father. For me, this led to the sin of idolatry. I am not suggesting that I have taken to worshipping golden calves, but I am confessing that my search for freedom has frequently unseated Jesus from the throne in my life.
In Exodus 20 God commands his people saying, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." As I alluded to previously, the intentional creation of false objects of worship is not a tremendous struggle for me. That being said, at the heart of this law remains the truth that God is a jealous God who despises anything that rivals him for our attention, affection, and direction.
It is pretty easy for me to identify the idols in my life, that is, when I am willing to look. I simply ask two questions:
- What commands my attention?
- What drives my behaviour?
These questions are ones that God very clearly challenged me to ask myself this summer.
There is an inexhaustible list of potential idols in the world in which we live. Some idolize relationships, others their body. Some celebrities, others family. Some academics, others athletics. Some drugs, others money. Some power, others love. Some possessions, others position. Some the opinions of others, others individuality. The commonality that binds most of these "modern" idols together is that they stem from an idolization of the self. We put ourselves on the throne; I put myself on the throne. This self-idolization is something that I have struggled with tremendously. The god commanding my attention, the god driving my behaviour has been my own comfort. This has led to a life lived largely to maximize gratification and eliminate fear.
Scripture is painfully clear about idolizing or valuing the things of this world.
1 John 2:15-17 says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."
In Matthew 6 Jesus explains, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."
Jesus calls us to surrender the things of this world, to relinquish control of our lives and abandon all to his direction and his lordship. He calls us to surrender these idols and experience freedom through him.
This leads me to the passage I spent the most time in this summer - Genesis 22. This is the historical account of God testing Abraham. God instructs Abraham to take his promised son Isaac to the region of Moriah and to offer him there as a sacrifice. I think that it provides some very clear application points for what complete surrender looks like.
- Abraham listened for God; when God spoke Abraham responded.
Too often I ignore God. Frequently my prayer involves asking questions with no intention of waiting on God's response. Frequently I credit coincidence for convenient happenings in my life rather than crediting the sovereign and relational God I serve. If I want to live a life of complete surrender, I must first allow God to reveal the things that he would have me surrender.
- Abraham set out immediately, without delay.
Scripture says, "early the next morning Abraham got up…" Abraham then completed the preparation necessary for the task that God called him to. As soon as the preparation was complete, Abraham set out. I like to think that Abraham realized the truth that procrastination does not make surrender any easier. In fact, I believe it breeds fear and resentment. Surrender is best done immediately as a response of obedience. Sometimes God's call does require preparation. That preparation is not, however, something that I can use as an excuse for delaying the act of surrender. Too frequently, I tell God (though not explicitly), "Sorry God, I can't do that now, I'm preparing!"
- Abraham withheld nothing, not even his son.
This is the most incredible thing to me. God, in Genesis 17, had promised Isaac to Abraham. He had promised to make Abraham the father of many nations through Isaac. If anyone had the right to refuse surrender, it was Abraham. But Abraham didn't. He willingly acknowledged God's provision and surrendered his promised son. If Abraham was willing to surrender his son's life, his God-given promise, who am I to withhold anything?
- Abraham kept listening for God.
All I can imagine is Abraham failing to hear God's instruction of, "Do not lay a hand on the boy". I picture, (metaphorically of course since I have no imagination), Abraham slaying his son and altogether missing the ram caught in the thicket. I think that this is because of my own tendency to ignore God after I hear his initial call. I forget to let God be a part of the entire process. I fail to listen for his confirmation and/or redirection. For example, when I arrived at university I was convinced that my program was where God wanted me to be. Rarely, however, did I ask him what I should do while I was there. Now my time there is almost done!
- Abraham was blessed for his faithful obedience.
Abraham will forever be known as a man of faith. In fact, a little over a quarter of Hebrews 11 is devoted to Abraham's testimony. I am thankful for that. God really challenged me with the phrase "self-less faith" this summer. I had no idea what it meant or what it looked like. The historical account of Abraham has helped me figure it out. Self-less faith is complete surrender. To live a life of self-less faith I must abandon all the world holds dear, I must cast down my idols, I must present myself as a living sacrifice. Then, and only then, can I experience the full freedom that is mine in Christ!