Working Definition: Life is BEING FREE to choose. Dallas Willard defines life as SELF INITIATING, SELF DIRECTED, SELF SUSTAINING ACTIVITY. Life is flowing and growing. Life is a gift from God that makes love possible. Being alive/being free allows us to have truly loving relationships with God and others versus robotic obedience.
Key Verse: John 10:7-10. “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. (8)All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. (9)I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. a They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
When the foundation of Life is abundant: Individuals and groups seek to honor the life/freedom of God and the lives of one another. There is expectation that God is taking initiative, moving, and active among them and space is opened for God to affect what happens among them. There is effort to honor the freedom, gifting, creativity and initiative of each individual in the community. Rhythms and routines such as liturgy are constantly being renewed with new life.
When the foundation of Life is lacking: The life/freedom of God and individuals is generally not taken seriously. Attempts are made intentionally or unintentionally confine God’s activity and inspiration to predictable ways that don’t rock the boat. Often there are efforts to say God speaks more clearly to particular leaders than to the quote unquote “followers.” Individual gifting, creativity, and initiative are not highly encouraged except for perhaps a few charismatic leaders. People tend to be pushed through processes rather than honoring and tuning into the unique needs, journey, dreams, and desires of each individual.
Reading about LIFE:
Introduction: There are two concepts of life that I have been considering as I’ve prepared for this workshop. The first is Dallas Willard’s definition of life as self-initiating, self-directing, self-sustaining activity. Only God has life in himself, the rest of creation has life that is given and sustained by God. Nevertheless, the life God has given us involves us having the capacity to self-initiate, self-direct, and self-sustain within the little kingdom God has entrusted to us each. God wants us to have a life. This includes us being free to make decisions, initiate things, seek out things we need, pursue things we are interested in, etc. The question of how to have a life and how to surrender our life to God’s will and purposes is a very deep one, and I don’t have time to go deeply into it, but there are two quick thoughts I will say about that.
- We live within the frame between the bounds of having no life, and having total ownership of our life.
- Parenting as an illustration.
Living Within the Frame: If you think of a frame, outside of the boundary on one side is the idea that we have no life and we are simply robotically doing God’s will. Outside of boundary on the other side is the idea that our life is completely our own and God is happy for us to just do whatever we want. Our lives are best lived in between these boundaries, sometimes leaning more in one direction and sometimes more in the other. This is perhaps why God sometimes doesn’t tell us exactly what to do even when we really want him to, and also why God says he never leaves us or forsakes us but is always there to help us with everything.
Illustration of Parenting: If you have been around any children between the ages of one and 3 lately, you probably learned a lot about life from them. Children at this age are discovering for the first time in a real way that they have their own life, and they are generally very excited and very protective about their ability to self initiate, self direct and self sustain. They want to decide when to put their pants, which ones to wear, when they want to eat, what they want to eat, when they want to sleep, and what they don’t want to eat or sleep. This is actually a very, very important developmental milestone which needs to be appropriately encouraged. As children grow, their life grows with them and they ideally learn how to still have a life while also realizing that other people have lives too and that there is a way that we can all can have a life together. Teen years often present another big adjustment into a new level of self initiating, self directing, self sustaining activity which includes driving oneself places, choosing one’s social group, choosing what interests to pursue, and much more. We should never completely lose our life, but perhaps to increasingly learn how to have a life that is increasingly abundant. That is what Jesus wants for us, for us to have greater and greater self initiating, self sustaining, self directing activity but to be able to entrust us to take him and the rest of his creation into loving account as we fully embrace the life within us.
Resistance to our life: I don’t believe God takes life and Satan cannot directly take life from us either, but humans do seem to have power to take at least some aspects of life from one another. Satan works very hard to get people to try to limit and take the power to self-initiate, self-direct, and self-sustain life giving activity from each other, and all kinds of problematic structures in our cultures throughout history and currently are I think influenced by Satan’s efforts to limit life within us. Slavery is perhaps a prime example. As we gather with people for worship, small groups, and prayer ministry, it is important to encourage life within people, to give them influence to self-direct and self-initiate rather than forcing an agenda. At the same time, as Willard argues, we only find the fullest life within the Kingdom of God where we join our little kingdom with the mighty kingdom of everyone on earth and in the heavens who wants to participate with what God is actually doing in the world, with everyone who wants to engage with and cooperate with what Christ wants for all of us and each of us.
Honoring life in our communities: One of the biggest applications of this concept of life I want to name is the importance of making an effort to honor people’s life by giving them freedom of choice, initiative, etc. I realize it is a complex question about how to balance this freedom with keeping a community safe and life giving for everyone. I do encourage doing what is needed to keep people safe, such as setting parameters to protect children in our churches, etc. I also realize not every idea needs to be completed by the church. However, within those boundaries, there is also a huge amount of room to give people appropriate freedom to self initiate, self direct, and self sustain. One simple example is in prayer ministry. It is easy to start pushing people through a process with comments like, “Ok, next we are going to invite Jesus presence.” If instead we word it as an invitation that people are free to choose, we do a better job honoring the life within people. For example, this could be worded, “How would it be for you if we welcomed Jesus presence into this memory?” This idea of giving choice can be applied in a million areas in our church from making requests for volunteers, to asking people if they feel the spirit has been putting anything on their heart that they would like to do or initiate in the church. This foundation of honoring life within each member of the community by giving people choice and valuing their initiatives, creativity, etc. can really increase the sense of rest, peace, joy, and other foundations that help us connect with God and others more easily.
Life is flowing and growing: An observation I’ve made about life is that it seems to be always be flowing and growing. Breath, blood, and electricity flow through humans and animals, but not rocks. There are a lot of healing traditions that conceptualize everything from trauma to physical ailments as blockages to the way things should be flowing in our brain and body. I asked God once how I know what is coming from him and what is my own mind.The thought came that what is coming from God is flowing. This was followed by the realization that what is stagnant is probably my own thinking. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve found that many times my mind is spinning over the same problems or concerns. I find myself imagining trying to convince someone of something or make some teaching point. These thoughts however seem to spin round and round like eddies in a river and never really lead to much of anything productive or life giving. On the other hand, when I can relax and welcome God’s presence and guidance and just go with the flow, often amazing visions and ideas and thoughts start flowing through my awareness that open up all kinds of space and new possibilities. I hope that this workshop series has promoted a new flow in the connection between you and God and between you, other people, and even within your own self. I also hope that this is just the start of so much more that God is wanting to grow in you, in me, and in all of God’s children.