Tuesday, January 6, 2009

40 Days of cHesed—Day 2

Day 2 Accidents or Plans? Understanding Restraint

At the most basic level, it seems a comforting thing to believe that God has precisely planned everything that happens in your life. It makes you feel secure in an uncertain world. It gives some meaning to your difficult circumstances. That’s why we embrace the phrase, “God is in control.” Somehow, it seems to help to know that everything that happens is what God wanted to happen all along. Or does it?

While we frequently can be heard to say, “God is in control,” what we mean is more like, “God has everything under control.” It’s like parents and toddlers. No parent of a normal two year old actually thinks they are in control. An honest parent knows that they are not in control of what their child will do. The child is working very hard at growing and developing in accordance with their inherited personality traits and their environmental challenges and opportunities. Although some do believe otherwise, a parent really cannot make a child learn something until the child is ready to learn it.

At best a parent can feel they have things under control. Having things under control means providing as safe an environment as possible in which the child will be able to grow through appropriate experimentation without undue risk of injury—whether physical or psychological. The parent helps the child learn what they are ready to learn when they are ready to learn it.

Most parents have some kind of plans for their children. They want them to be well educated, to develop artistically and/or athletically, to mature into responsible men and women. And, if they are Christian, they want them to accept God’s invitation to be part of his eternal family.

What parents cannot do is make their child want to do something the child does not want to do. And so they have two choices as they raise their child: coerce or persuade.

Coercion goes against the will of the child. It uses the parental position of power—overtly or covertly—to dominate the child and force submission to the parent’s will. It may look successful in the short term, but it leads to serious trouble in the long term. At best you have compliant children who may or may not be able to make good decisions once they’re on their own in the world. At worst you have children who rebel when they are legally able to escape the parent’s control. And there are all shades in between.

Persuasion seeks to influence the will of the child. It uses the love and trust and respect the child has for the parent to encourage proper choices. Persuasion provides information—including benefits and consequences—to enable the child to make their own choices. It also follows through with the benefits for good choices as well as the consequences for poor choices.

In the simplest terms, then, coercion can actually keep children dependent and enable them to avoid responsibility for their actions, while persuasion allows children to mature and become responsible for their actions.

This is all well and good, you may be thinking, but God is sovereign and can do anything he wants! And we certainly believe that. But we also believe that God has chosen to restrain his power by creating us for relationship and giving us free will.

Now, we don’t want to get into a deep discussion today of topics like methods of interpretation of Scripture, free will versus predestination, or the sovereignty of God. But we do want to introduce you to the importance of restraint in being able to understand God’s nature and how he has chosen to interact with those who bear his image—humans!

Restraint, an essential element in righteousness (being in right relationship), is what enables persuasion rather than coercion. Restraint sets aside one’s immediate desires in order to serve the best interest of the other. Restraint allows intimate, dynamic relationships to grow. It allows free will to foster maturity, not demand conformity.

Restraint is pivotal to righteousness—because you can’t be righteous and dominate another. That’s why God can have everything under control without having to be in control of every action. He has secured our environment through his New Covenant with us—nothing can happen to us that God cannot make into a blessing for us (Romans 8:28-29). He seeks to influence our behavior toward faithfully keeping the terms and conditions of the covenant through the Holy Spirit’s gentle acts of persuasion in our hearts. But he has not decided in advance exactly what we will do or be because he has restrained himself and given us free will. That is God’s choice!

You are not an accident—you are a gift from God! Your life, however, may be full of accidents.

Are you willing to give up the comfort of believing everything that happens to you is God’s plan for you? If you are, then you are choosing to accept the fact that we live in a fallen world where bad things sometimes happen to us just because. Because of evil people, because of poor choices (your own or other’s), because of damaged genes, because of ill health, because of pollution, because of bad habits…the list goes on and on.

If you are willing to give this up, you are choosing to live by faith. And faith requires restraint—from knowing what and why and how and when—in order to wait for God’s will to be revealed in God’s time. As Pandora found out, in the Greek myth, unrestrained curiosity causes trouble.

Sometimes God intervenes in the midst of our circumstances—sometimes he doesn’t. You can take responsibility for your reaction to what happens to you by restraining your desire to know why and looking forward to the blessing God will bring from it without making God responsible for it.

It doesn’t take away from his sovereignty that he allows us choices. Because God’s greatest attribute is his restraint, not his power.

Today’s Look at 1 John

Read 1 John 1:1 through 2:11 again (try a different translation!). While you’re reading, think about the wonder of God coming to live with us in Christ Jesus.

Keep Breathing!

When you invite God to share your day with you today, thank him for loving you enough to risk giving you the freedom to choose his company. Thank him for restraining himself to only leading you today where you’re ready to follow. Thank him for allowing you to have a responsible part in what you will do and be instead of living a life that has been completely planned for you. Look for other signs of his freedom and restraint as you spend the day together.

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