by Rev. Mona Chicks, contributor
As an American, I have grown up in a nation that celebrates independence and freedom as its highest values, spoken of as if they are synonymous. We are independent and free; free and independent. Don’t take away my freedoms, for they give me voice, power, and security. They give me the ability to live “the American dream” – and do it on my own – right?
And yet, I find as I walk with Jesus that independence and freedom are very different. In my Christian journey independence leads to bondage, whereas freedom comes from submitting to my dependence on God. When I try to do things on my own, I fail. When I allow God the space to work in and through me, the result is always much better than I could have imagined.
A few years ago, I was involved as a lay pastor at a small church. There was a lot I was trying to do on my own – leading, teaching, and preaching. I knew that God was guiding me, but I wasn’t relying on Jesus much to actually get things done. I designed and led a spiritual formation retreat for the very few individuals who signed up (and to be honest, only one person signed up because it was a formation retreat – everyone else had signed up because it was a retreat and they didn’t have any responsibilities around it). The retreat went well, but the lack of actual interest in learning tools for drawing closer to God was disheartening. Soon after, through lectio divina on Luke 5, I heard God saying to me that I should “fish” elsewhere. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but soon my family had changed churches.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Eighteen months after that little, ineffective retreat, I was privileged to watch as 200 people excitedly learned tools to draw them closer to God at a one-day retreat that I had worked hard to create. The very next day, the sermon at church was on the same story of the abundant catch, a potent reminder to me of God’s promise to fill my nets to overflowing if I would only trust Him. When I tried to do it “on my own,” my efforts fell flat. But when I gave up my independence and relied on God to act, the abundance of the response was astounding. And in the process, I know that I came closer to understanding what it means to be made in the Image of God.
But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Cor 3:16-18)
True freedom comes from being connected to the Lord, allowing the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. Freedom is Jesus. Freedom isn’t found in a list or in having no constraints. Freedom is allowing the Creator of the Universe to continue creating – for you!