Estimated reading time: 13 minute(s)
Life is full of options. There are choices everywhere. I think maybe in America we are overwhelmed by choices. We have such an abundance of material wealth (yes, even in “this economy”) that we have probably thousands of choices to make each day.
But even though there are so many choices, for we who follow Jesus, they often fall into one of two categories: trusting, or attempting to control. That may at first seem oversimplified, but I keep noticing that most choices (on some level) lean one way or the other.
It makes sense, too. Life with God seems to be all about getting to know him, and in that, learning to trust him. Jesus asked that we would have eternal life, and then he said, “And this is eternal life: to know you the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” (John 17:3, emphasis added) And from that knowing, that deeper relationship, grows a trust that allows us to follow his lead, his voice. Conversely, when we don’t know him, we can’t trust him. And so, we can’t live the life to the full that he has for us.
When we fully trust God, we don’t need to take or get for ourselves. Basically, that’s what sin is. Sin is when we take for ourselves something that God hasn’t given to us. That can be something tangible like stealing, or adultery, even murder. Or, it can be less obvious. It can be just trying to control our circumstances with a “little white lie” or gossip, or other forms of manipulation. But the heart that is content in relationship to our Father – completely trusting him in and for everything – I dare say, will not sin.
This dichotomy plays out through every facet of life as a believer. In your financial decisions, are you bearing the weight of providing for your family (or just worrying about how that will happen), or are you content, knowing God is the provider. In your schedule, do you have every moment of every day scheduled and planned even days, months, years out into the future, or do you wake up in the morning and say, “What do you have for me today, God?”
It also applies to life together as the church.
As a church, do we not attempt to control how God will speak to us, planning out lesson series and other structures that will ensure that everything that needs to be said, will be said? Even a whole year or more in advance? Don’t we attempt to implement structures that will ensure that everyone’s needs are met, spiritually and otherwise?
Also, do we not feel the need to keep people in line doctrinally, making sure that everyone is (as we see it) “right”?
Of course there is a balance in all things. There is nothing wrong with preferring to have a schedule versus not having a schedule. Life doesn’t always (or usually?) go the way you want it to, so flexibility is obviously important, but scheduling is not bad. Structuring your day so that everything can get done, including time with others and God, can be a good thing. It can become a bad thing though when structure becomes a substitute for the relationship(s) and even worse, when we begin to feel the need (in our own desire for structure) to begin structuring the lives of other people around us. (This is another example that can be readily seen in the “church”.)
I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot lately. I’m becoming more and more convinced that there are basically two ways to live … institutionally (implementing systems and structures attempting to control your surroundings, regulate your life, and the lives of others) and “organically” (though I don’t like that word much) meaning, I suppose, the opposite. Interacting with life as it happens, enjoying and living life in the moment, and allowing others to live their lives as God leads them – still alongside each other, but without the need to manipulate, intentionally or not.
I read an article (here) yesterday that sparked more thinking on this. Here’s a quote from the second paragraph of that article:
“It seems all of this stems from the fact that we really don’t trust that Jesus is capable of building his church—that he cannot give rise to the reality of his family if we don’t “start something”. It’s as if living loved and loving just won’t be enough to let him do all he wants to do.”
That’s another big piece of the dichotomy. Why would we not build systems and structures to accomplish worthy tasks unless we didn’t really think God was capable of it on his own… unless we didn’t trust him? And, conversely, why would we if we really did?
I posted a link to that article on Facebook, and a discussion ensued with a couple friends. I was going to pull out some pieces of it and then re-word it here, but I think I’ll just let you listen in if you’d like…
STEVE: Greg, I think you’re oversimplying things here. As I understand your position, there “ways to live” actually comes down to “enjoying and living life in the moment” and systems. This is too limiting. I would offer that there are many different degrees of ways to live, and our goal should be to strike a balance between the two extremes offered.
Structures are often lambasted and distrusted because they can be easily manipulated. Therefore, many Christians today are flocking towards a freer expression of faith. Yet purely organic expression can yield utter chaos and this is not part of God’s plan either.
Systems do not require that we constrict organic expression and growth. Here’s a not-well-developed metaphor off the top of my head: I can grow an organic garden and yet I need to be meticulous in my planning of the garden in order to get the most out of it.
ME: Hey Steve, totally agree on grey areas (life in between “extremes”) … but do you think that perhaps one could loosely say there are those two ways of doing life? One attempts to control/plan/structure it (to varying degrees) and the other attempts to not, instead following Jesus lead, and intentionally living free of structure and schedule and obligation, to be able to react to life as it happens?
This does not mean there aren’t plans… it means the plans are secondary. It also is not limited to schedule. One of the big differences in the way we are living now, and the way I think I may have been living before is, I’m not trying to get anyone to do anything. I was before. That’s what structures do. They attempt to control the flow of life – including “organic” relationship… rather than let it happen, and let Jesus be the head?
You’re right… it is a broad brush. But I was only speaking in generalities here. Boiling it down to the very basic foundational paradigms … I really think there’s a lot of room for the church to let Jesus lead.
An interesting quote I heard recently… some Bible college professor I believe, said, “Churches are always looking for where God ISN’T working, and then they try to “fill in the holes” there, instead of looking/watching for what he IS doing, and following him there.” And that’s so true! If there’s a group of people, or some “ministry” that is lacking or falling behind, church leadership will attempt to address that “need” … rather than (I think) let Jesus lead his church, and do the work HE wants to do…
What do you think?
STEVE: I think the distinguished “two ways” of this discussion is based upon the assumption that truly following Jesus means freedom from structure. Does the sound right? I think this is assumption is based on our observance of Jesus’ life as described in the Gospels. He seemed to live his life like Forrest Gump’s feather, floating off from town to town however he wished (dated reference?).
Ironically, he see in the book of Acts and the Epistles that structure of the church is essential to its survival. I’m currently teaching through 1 Corinthians and Paul’s major gripe of that church was that they were essentially living in chaos. His demand of them was to get some structure in their church before God took care of it for them (specifically see that latter part of chapter 14).
I hope this isn’t getting too far away from your contention, because I do see your perspective here . . . The church growth movement was too heavy on specific structures for growth. The book of Acts taught us that God grows the church as he sees fit. This is why in our church, I have reacted much as you have described. We are in no way seeker sensitive but are resigned to simply being the church and being available when God leads. That’s what I meant earlier— we are striving to be structurally organic.
The structure is to ensure biblical accountibility. The organic is so that we don’t blaze a trail where God never intended for one to be.
MARCIA: I’m taking a break & thought I’d check FB while drinking my tea. You two are giving me a headache 😉 and getting too engrossed in analyzing this. I like what Oswald Chambers said “My Goal is God himself, not. . .” I long ago had the “revelation” that I shouldn’t get stuck on the “dos” and “don’ts” and “how-tos” but I should listen and follow the Holy Spirit inside me–then I will do right. If that means staying with a structure-fine; if it means something freer, fine
ME: Steve, good thoughts. Sounds like you guys are enjoying a good measure of freedom together as a church, that is cool. I think what you said is accurate, life with Jesus is about freedom (from lots of things) and that can include structure.
Like, the structures of religious obligations, either self-imposed, or imposed by whatever group of people (church) we have aligned ourselves with. It seems to me that anytime we “commit” ourselves to anything beyond living with Jesus and loving the people around us… it can become less than free, to varying degrees of course.
As for the “where God is working” thing, of course that’s right. I may be not perfectly quoting him, also. But the gist was re: what I said earlier, how churches seem consumed with “providing” for places where there are “needs” … when, maybe that is either not a “need” or perhaps Jesus is meeting that need in other ways.
ME: Marcia! That’s it! Totally it. And the point that I was agreeing with in the article I posted a link to. (Did anyone read that yet??) 🙂 “To each his own” would apply well here… and the issue is that we, the church, get bogged down in the “dos” and “don’ts” – especially for others! – and we forget to just listen to what God is asking us to do. Certainly, since he is the head of a body that is joined together, that could mean that groups of us may do the “same” thing together, but the problem arises, I think, when we try to capture that and structure that and put systems in place to make that happen…. often eliminating the believer’s need to listen to and follow Jesus – the Shepherd’s – voice.
STEVE: I just have to say, Marcia, that this SHOULD be thoroughly analyzed, even more-so than this. The issue is critical since there are many who simplistically respond, “I’ll do what the Holy Spirit tells me” but confuse those messages with birthed from their own will.
I’ve heard many a person remark “well, this is what God told me,” when God would say no such thing. Hence, the importance of submitting to some sort of spiritual structure beyond ourselved and our biblical interpretations. Otherwise, we come perilously close to the sin of Eden (becoming our own gods).
MARCIA: I agree that this and many other things need to be questioned, discussed and analyzed. How can one know and grow in their faith without questioning, thinking? I’m a structure person & God knows that and, therefore, has kept me in the church I’m in (there have been temptations to leave in the past), BUT things can also be over-analyzed, over-structured, over-loose, etc., etc. I felt led to share my 2-cents worth, that’s all. Or I just wanted to butt it on an on-going conversation.
ME: This is exactly what I’m talking about! 🙂 Steve, I think you are saying that (totally my paraphrase), “People are going to get it wrong, and not really be hearing God when they think they are, or even just be deceptive about it, deceiving themselves and others, [implied here…] and God is not going to take care of that, SO we need to manage that with a system or structure to ensure that the good thing(s) happen.”
What I’m saying is, structures will never fix that. I think that Jesus cares about that. He wants each of us to live in Truth (which, I believe he said is… him) and the thing is, he is patient to ridiculous extremes. Way beyond us. So, he’s ok with people not getting it yet. But we aren’t. We want them to get it now, and not be self-deceived or otherwise. So, we create structures.
What we could do is, talk with the people God puts on our hearts. Share with them the life we know in him. Offer stuff for them to chew on – NOT stuff they “should” or “shouldn’t” do. Rather, we live in the freedom of just being loved by God (which includes him working in our lives to know him better) and loving other people whom he puts in our path, or even specifically asks us to do something for.
Structure can often eliminate God from the picture. It certainly does not always – as you said, “Is there anywhere God ISN’T working?” Of course not! But the issue I have been thinking on for a long time, and working out through Scripture and conversations with God and other folks is how do we live a life where we are so available to listen to the Head that whether it’s in the context of some structure we’ve made up, or completely separate from that, we ourselves have the freedom to act on it, and we also allow others the freedom to live and learn from the Master/Head/Shepherd himself, and his Holy Spirit, who “teaches us everything we need to know”
I think the issue is that, again, often, not always, structures end up becoming a substitute for that direct connection to the Vine, that each of us has, or needs to have. (This was mentioned in the article as well… structures becoming a substitute.)
One more thing I’d like to point out here. Structure, as I have said, is not the bad thing. When it is a substitute for what God has given us, it becomes a bad thing. There is structure to the body, the church. The fact that we’re referred to as Jesus’ body means that it is a unit, a container, with edges. It is not just an amorphous blob, but an actual entity. With Jesus as the head. That’s an important part that so many of the “churches” I have known are missing.
When we get into trouble is when we begin building our own structures and systems, and imposing those on either ourselves, or worse, on other people. Structures and systems are only meant to limit – even in a good way. Limits are not bad, either. Again, the problem for us is when these tools that we put in place become a substitute for our direct connection to our Father, through Jesus, the vine.
I’ll leave you with a few verses to chew on, penned by Jesus’ friend John… and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this topic. (This seems more like a topic for a new book rather than just an article or two!)
1 John 2:27: But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.
John 10:4: After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.
John 14:17: He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.
John 15:1-5: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”