God gave us free will, but what are we choosing to do with it, and how will the consequences echo throughout our lives into eternity?
Pastor Joe McKeever wrote about a person he met as a young man who changed much in his life without ever realizing it.
“Marguerite Briscoe was a retired elementary school principal when we first met. I was 30 years old and the newest member of her church staff. I quickly came to bask in the light in her eyes and the joy in her smile. And so did everyone else, particularly the single young adults in our church. So, when they recruited her to be one of their department’s ‘sponsors,’ she accepted although somewhat tentatively. ‘What would I have to do?’ she asked. And the half-dozen young adults said to her, ‘Just be yourself!’
“Even though she was in her mid-70s, she insisted everyone call her Marguerite. She attended their Sunday School class and various functions, and would sometimes host Bible studies or informal gatherings of the group in her apartment. The ‘kids’ did all the work and helped her pick up afterwards.
“When Marguerite Briscoe went to heaven — nearly twenty years later — she left behind a world of friends and loved ones, people in whom she had invested her life after retirement.
“She became my role model without ever knowing it.”
In many ways, Marguerite chose to go against the inertia of age and inward focus. She was deliberate in reaching out to the young adults in her church. She didn’t settle into retirement, instead using this free time to grow outward and open her home to others.
Her life in God become more apparent, rather than less, as time went on. How did she achieve this? Was it more Bible studies? The youth engagement?
Deciding on the Lesser Good
C. S. Lewis suggested that no matter what we do in life, we lose our freedom. We either surrender it to the entanglements of sinful habits that soon become imperatives, or we hand it over bit by bit to God to use however he will.
Each choice, moment to moment, will build the road that our minds and hearts follow into the future. God certainly has the power to reroute us, and he often does just that when we become overwhelmed and rush back to him. The rest of the time, however, he seems to step aside and allow us to build this path either toward him or in an inward coil that leads down to a suffocating dark.
Discussing this, Lewis wrote in a family letter, “Evil begins, in a universe where all was good, from free will, which was permitted because it makes possible the greatest good of all.
“The corruption of the first sinner consists not in choosing some evil thing (there are no evil things for him to choose) but in preferring a lesser good (himself) before a greater (God). The Fall is, in fact, Pride.
“The possibility of this wrong preference is inherent in the very fact of having, or being, a self at all. But though freedom is real it is not infinite. Every choice reduces a little one’s freedom to choose the next time. There therefore comes a time when the creature is fully built, irrevocably attached either to God or to itself. This irrevocableness is what we call Heaven or Hell.
“Every conscious agent is finally committed in the long run: i.e., it rises above freedom into willed, but henceforth unalterable, union with God, or else sinks below freedom into the black fire of self-imprisonment. That is why the universe (as even the physicists now admit) has a real history, a fifth act with a finale in which the good characters ‘live happily ever after’ and the bad ones are cast out. At least that is how I see it.”
Each decision I make moves me one of two directions.
I may crunch inward further and further until, at the moment of death and the removal of God’s general grace, I am reduced to a vacuum of utter self-obsession, no longer capable of taking another’s good into any real consideration.
I may push outward into the aching growth of graciousness, patience and sacrificial love, choosing to hand over my will to God. I may bow to the knowledge that the scope of my own understanding and decision-making is both limited by my being stuck in one place and time as well as fatally flawed by inherent sin.
Choose now, in this moment and the next and the next. Which will it be?
When the Effects Ripple Out
Our choices in this arena have bigger implications than just our personal rise or fall.
World Challenge board member and retired pastor on Times Square Church, Carter Conlon analyzed the passage where Joshua is preparing to take the nation of Israel into the Promised Land at long last.
“Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ The word in the original text, here's what it means: to be made clean, to be regarded as holy, to be set aside for the worship of God, to be withheld from ordinary use, and treated with special care as something which belongs to God. In other words, be set apart. Walk cleanly.
“Be a living testimony of the fact that Christ is risen from the dead. Be set aside for the worship of God. Even if people don't worship God, live in such a manner that when they see you, they're forced to consider the reality of God. Don't live an ordinary life. Realize that you are a high priesthood, a holy people. You are a peculiar people. You're called to show forth the life of He who has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.
Pastor Conlon, reflecting on this Old Testament record and an upcoming fast, shared this prayer: “I stood before God, and I said, ‘Lord, I want to be set aside for you. I want to live righteously. I want to be a man or woman of God who makes a difference in my generation. I want your glory to come into my home and touch my children, my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews and my brothers and sisters. I want your glory in my house. I want you to be the Christ of my life. I want the divine resource of heaven that's promised to those who belong to God to be mine.’
“I'm tired of mediocrity. I'm tired of talking about something I should be walking. I'm tired about reading in history what you did through somebody else at some other time, just like the people at that border.
“They had to be considering this one more time and saying, ‘God Almighty, if it costs me my life, then let it cost me my life, but I'm going to go in and I want what is mine.’”
How often do we have this kind of passion that screams out for God’s presence and persists in choosing whatever will prepare us to see his glory? How often are we ready to drop anything and everything if only it will mean that we get to see God?
If we do soldier forward, the impact could reach much farther than we ever dared to dream or imagine.
We Grow Toward Our Loves
Perhaps it’s easy to drum up this kind of desire for a day or even a few weeks. Maintaining it over the course of years, however, is impossible without one critical ingredient.
In his book You Are What You Love, James A. K. Smith observed, “When two would-be disciples who are caught up in John the Baptist’s enthusiasm begin to follow, Jesus wheels around on them and pointedly asks, ‘What do you want?’ (John 1:38).
“It’s the question that is buried under almost every other question Jesus asks each of us. ‘Will you come and follow me?’ is another version of ‘What do you want?,’ as is the fundamental question Jesus asks of his errant disciple, Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ (John 21:16, NRSV).
“Jesus doesn’t encounter Matthew and John — or you and me — and ask, ‘What do you know?’ He doesn’t even ask, ‘What do you believe?’ He asks, ‘What do you want?’ This is the most incisive, piercing question Jesus can ask of us precisely because we are what we want. Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow. Our wants reverberate from our heart, the epicenter of the human person. Thus Scripture counsels, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it’ (Prov. 4:23).
“Discipleship, we might say, is a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.
“So discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s [sic] command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his — to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all — a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the kingdom of God.’”
What will we submit ourselves to each hour of every day? Discipleship is, in essence, constantly reminding ourselves why we choose what we choose at each cross in the road.