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Aug 23, 2015

The Gift of Free Will

The Gift of Free Will

Passage: Psalms 40:1-11

Series: Sermons

Category: Trust

Keywords: free will, trust

The Gift of Free Will

August 23, 2015                                                                  Psalm 40: 1-11


Last fall the church held a family retreat up at Pilgrim Pines. One of the activities on Saturday afternoon was a challenge course of various high-altitude endeavors. You could rock climb a two-story tower, or walk a tightrope across a moderate span. But the BIG attraction was a 60-foot telephone pole. The objective of this challenge was to scale this 60-foot telephone pole on little pegs. At the top of the pole was a tiny little platform, about the size of a dinner plate. You were to climb the little pegs, pull yourself up onto the dinner-plate platform, turn around and free-jump to a trapeze several feet away.

Well, I’m afraid of heights. Always have been. As far back as I can remember.

  • Didn’t pass my YMCA swimming test because I wouldn’t jump off the diving board.
  • The Parasailing Disaster of 2010.
  • On the observation deck of the Empire State Building, I’m the one glued to the inner wall.

But, I have enthusiasm and I like to join in. So I trekked along with the other adventurers out to the challenge course. And let me tell you, everyone was into it. They were trying each course in succession. My own girls scaled the telephone pole multiple times.

And I was being strongly encouraged to do it. Coaxed even. Guilt-tripped a little. The name “chicken” might have been mentioned.

So I gave in.

There were two instructors on the course. The head guy – named Joseph – and a new guy (who shall remain nameless), who was there for the day helping out as Joseph’s understudy.

When it came time to get my harness on, New Guy was helping me out. He laid it out on the ground and I stepped into it. I was already shaking and crying. Not just a little – A LOT. I was kind of trying to cover my crying with some hysterical version of laughter, but really, I was torn up inside.

So New Guy got me all strapped in, with a dozen latches and buckles, and I told him, “I’m a single mom. I have two girls that rely on me. That Need Me. My Life Has Value!” And he was laughing; there was probably a case study of campers like me in the training manual. And so I was finally in the harness, shaking and crying and laughing for a growing audience.

Only to learn that New Guy had put the harness on wrong. The Primary Hook thing, to which all the other buckles and safety stops attach, was on the INSIDE. So he had to UNDO each buckle and fastener and have me step out of the harness, turn it around and redo it all.

Now, here was my chance to RUN! I was free of this treachery and this ridiculous endeavor that I let myself get talked into (by my own will too, by the way). I could have RUN straight back to the cabin and had a nice relaxing afternoon. Maybe taken a nap. But NO.

I’m determined. I have a will of steel. Forget this aversion. I’m doing this. So harnessed up, I start my ascent. About five feet off the ground, I’m frozen. And each time I freeze, Joseph coaxes me: Can you take one more step? Thirty minutes later he has coaxed me to the top. I am sweating, crying, shaking like the Santa Ana winds.

Somehow – almost unconsciously through pure will – I have made it to the dinner-plate platform, but now I’m stuck. I’m holding on for dear life to that pole. I have to turn around, let go and jump. It’s the only way. The crowd below is getting a little bored and starting to thin out. My heart rate is through the roof and I’m in considerable discomfort, having been in this harness for an eternity. And finally I turn around, push off and leap for the trapeze. I catch it – victoriously – and then let go as Joseph lowers me to the ground.

And this is where the teaching moment comes. Joseph, all Godly and prayerful, asks how this experience – this fear and trepidation – relates to my life on the ground: Are you scared and afraid to take risks?

My answer: NO! I’m actually pretty fearless. When I was nineteen, I drove myself across the country; I put myself through college; I became an entrepreneur at age twenty-eight. I’m comfortable with a fair amount of risk; making decisions comes easily to me. No! I just have an innate, inherent, born-this-way aversion to heights! No amount of further coaxing is going to change that. Climbing that pole didn’t do a darn thing for me except cause my blood pressure to rise, and cause me anxiety and distress that probably took five years off my life! And pretty much rendered me a noodle for the rest of the weekend.

And then it hit me. The lesson of that pole was not to conquer my fear of heights. NO – I was born that way! The lesson was to finally SEE and ACCEPT that this is how God made ME.

And it got me thinking: How often we push ourselves into extremely uncomfortable situations – situations that are not aligned with who God made us to be. If we spent a little more time getting to know the ME God created, we might not be so easily tempted to do things that are not God’s Will for us.

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness led by the Holy Spirit and tempted by Satan, but he was so clear about his calling and the use of his gifts that he could not be pulled into service of evil.

And how tempting: Feed your people! Heal your people!

And yes, Jesus fed and healed, but he was not tricked into making that the central part of his ministry. He came to reconcile us to GOD, to our FATHER. To show us that a personal, one-on-one relationship with the ONE who created us is not just possible BUT ATTAINABLE. If only we slow down, listen, and try to discern God’s Will for us – get to know the person God created us to be.

Not knowing myself and accepting WHO I am leaves a mighty big door open to temptation.

God gave us this beautiful thing called Life and this little gift called Free Will and then set us on our way – with talents to discover, each of us unique and made specifically for a purpose. And off we go, but not to take time away to pray and get clear on our gifts and our vocatio so that we can use them for our best purpose. No, we charge off into the “real world” instead.

It is estimated that Jesus was about thirty years old when he was baptized and then went into the wilderness to pray and discern God’s Will for him. Yet we all enter adulthood and don’t give much thought to it at all.

It is SO easy to think and believe that the things we do on a daily basis – hour to hour, task to task – are separate from the Kingdom of God. We keep God in a tiny little box while we are busy leading our BIG lives. When we finally carve out five minutes to pray or an hour on Sunday morning – or maybe, if we’re lucky, ninety minutes during the week for a Disciple Band or Bible study – we think that THOSE are sacred, holy times, when we get aligned and allow our thoughts to be organized by God. And maybe we listen and hear something that then gives us an inspiration to carry a little of that out into our Real Life – out there.

Yes, we enjoy those little moments of respite that those spiritual distractions provide, but then off we go to the “real world” and the “really important” things on our to-do lists and agendas.

And we suffer. We are burned out, overextended, overscheduled. Antidepressants and antianxiety meds are as prevalent as mints!

This we know. What is less apparent is why?

I believe it’s because we don’t take the time to learn God’s Will for us. We take our Free Will and run.

Because doing God’s Will seems SCARY.

We’ve heard that our only fear should be of the Lord, and boy, when it comes to trusting God’s Will for us, that sure rings true.

What if I finally decide to do God’s Will? What if I get really honest with God and show him all of my heart and express my deepest desires, my greatest loves? What if I reveal to God how much I love my family, my children? Well, surely it’s locusts and destruction. The plague maybe. Something BAD is surely going to happen. Perhaps I’ll be made to SUFFER in some way to prove my faith or TESTED in some way to prove my conviction. God may finally end this whole universe JUST to make me cower in a prostate position.

Trusting God = FEAR to many of us. LOSS of something we hold dear.

If I really listen and AGREE to be obedient and follow God’s Will, then surely before I know it I will have to give up all my worldly possessions, travel to some faraway land and live among spiders and bugs really high up in some precipice – you know, because I’m afraid of heights.