Purpose & Potential: Living in Freedom

It is easy to think of destiny or calling as something that either limits us or puts unbearable pressure on us. But Christ paid a high price to set us free––free from sin, fear, shame, and death. He didn’t free us to make us slaves all over again. But so often we live just that way. As if we are still slaves.

It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.
Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
– Galatians 5:1

So often we fall prey to lies, to deceitful mindsets that keep us burdened and even enslaved. I’m calling out two of those lies today: The Slave Mentality and The Rescuer Mentality.

Lie #1: The Slave Mentality

Sometimes I have felt stuck in life. God’s calling is clear, but it feels like a prison sentence. Or it seems too far off to be of any good to me right now. Destiny has loomed over me like a heavy weight. I have felt hopeless and bitter about the portion I have been given.

The root misconception of this hopelessness is that I am a slave and that God is a harsh master.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the older son is resentful at his father’s celebration of his younger brother’s return. “I have worked like a slave for you and you have never rewarded me,” he bitterly tells his father. “Yet this son of yours returns, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, and you celebrate him?!” (paraphrase of Luke 15:29-30)

When I was young, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the older son in the parable. I couldn’t relate. He was cold, unfeeling, and selfish. He seemed like the kind of person who didn’t deserve God’s attention, much less mine.

But in more recent seasons, to my own shock, I have found that I am the older brother.

I have looked around and seen brothers and sisters in Christ falling, breaking promises, and making mistakes. Yet for some those people, amazing doors have opened and blessings have abounded. And I have felt bitter. “I have been faithful,” I’ve told God in tears. “Haven’t I done everything you asked? Haven’t I given up everything? So why do I feel so empty inside? Why haven’t I gotten any of the things I wanted?”

While I have expected God’s response to be harsh rebuke––”Stop complaining, and get back to work! A real daughter of mine wouldn’t be so ungrateful and self-centered!”––that is not at all how the father in the parable responds.

“My son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours,” he says (Luke 15:31 NRSV).

It is often difficult for me to comprehend the heart of our Father, because his love and goodness are so much higher than mine. But slowly, He helps me see. He is not a harsh, commanding father who enjoys putting us down. He doesn’t expect his children to wordlessly and solemnly obey. He doesn’t want us to view ourselves as his slaves. Rather, He is a generous father who delights in each of his children in a special way. He is a father who loves us.

Sons, Not Slaves

When God gives us commands, they are for our good. Whatever portion He gives us is for our good. He is powerful enough that He can think of everyone’s good at the same time. He is not only thinking about you––His first priority is His own glory, as it should be––but He is also constantly thinking about each one of us individually. Every minute of every day, He is thinking about His children.

And He gives us a lot more freedom than we sometimes think.

God has a specific calling in mind for each of us. It’s a calling He designed to bless the world, build up his Kingdom, and draw us into the wonder of his ways. It is a good calling, no matter what we may sometimes think or feel. But despite the fact that God always knows better than us, He never forces his will upon us. God’s goal is to help us discover that what we want deep down is the same journey that He specifically designed for us from the beginning.

Sometimes I have seen destiny as a box or a trap, but it isn’t. Not the way God does it. Calling isn’t about being compelled to do something we would rather not. Calling is discovering we are willing to pay an enormous cost to do something beautiful for the Kingdom.

Lie #2: The Rescuer Mentality

It’s not up to you.

Whatever you think depends on you, whatever that burden is you think you have to carry by yourself, you don’t. Ultimately the responsibility for everything rests on God’s shoulders. God is the only one powerful enough to claim responsibility. And He has.

Yes, God invites us into His Kingdom work, but as co-laborers, not to do anything on our own.

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labors in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat,
for while they sleep, He provides for those He loves.
– Psalm 127:1-2

Lately I’ve been learning to embrace my limitations.

This is largely because of Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Church, a book I highly recommend. Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect. To right all the wrongs I see. To heal all the people in my vicinity. And I just can’t do it. I’m just not capable of doing it all.

I’m not the Savior of the world. I’m only a human being. And that is exactly what God expects me to be.

It may seem obvious, but many of us, especially in the church, seem to forget this simple fact. We confuse Jesus’ command to “seek first the Kingdom” with a mandate bring the Kingdom. As if that were something we could actually do on our own. We think that we are supposed to rescue the world when that is God’s job.

Sometimes this savior complex can come as a reaction to the powerlessness often seen in the church. My savior complex has certainly been incited by the passivity and disempowered attitudes I have witnessed in the church. We can do so much more! my heart cries out. We are capable of so much more than we think! Jesus said, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpion and to overcome ALL the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). The Holy Spirit ANOINTS us to preach the good news and heal the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1-2)!

So often we don’t tap into the great power God has given us, and that is a shame. However, making the opposite mistake is no less detrimental. When we try to carry all the cares of the world on our shoulders––or even just one burden that God didn’t intend for us––it derails us from our true purpose. We have to learn to prioritize. We have to learn to embrace our limitations.

Submitting to God’s Yoke

There are many times when we need to accept our limitations and entrust the rest to God. There are other times, however, when God will call us beyond what we think we are capable of.

This is where discernment comes in.

We need to learn to distinguish between what God is requiring of us and what burdens have been placed on us by people or pressures other than God. (Those could include society, family members, the church, or even ourselves.) When we relinquish the burdens that aren’t from God, we are free to give ourselves to what He has assigned to us.

We each have a part to play in God’s story that is essential and beautiful. It may not look like another’s part. It may be different than the picture we had envisioned. It may not satisfy others’ expectations. But your part was custom designed by the God who knows everything through and through, by your Father who treasures you.

May we have eyes to see the goodness of His portion for us, courage to embrace His calling, and faith to relinquish what is not ours to carry. May we discover more and more the power of our prayers, of our presence, and of our work. May we learn to treasure the grace that is sufficient for our failings. And may God continually strengthen us and remind us of the glory that awaits, that we may persevere and finish the race.

***

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.
The mountain and hills will burst into song before you
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed.”
 – Isaiah 55:12-13

***

For more on Purpose & Potential, check out:
Purpose & Potential: Caught up in the Millennial Race to Relevance
Purpose & Potential: Discerning Your Calling
Purpose & Potential: The In-Between

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Elizabeth holds to simple faith in a complex world. She values the beauty of the everyday and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is currently pursuing her MDiv at Fuller Theological Seminary, so when she isn't busy writing academic papers, she is usually out enjoying the LA sunshine. She is constantly learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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