Wednesday, September 26, 2012

God Is Always Previous

Our Sunday morning discipleship group has been reading A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God, and in the very first chapter, Tozer writes that God is always previous.  Our desire to pursue God ONLY comes from God himself.  He plants that desire in us.  Without God planting that desire, we would pursue something else, like punk rock or action movies at best, sex and drugs and pain at worst.

The idea that God is always previous helps take us out of the “helpful gospel” realm.  That is the realm in which we believe that we are really working out our own salvation, and God is on the sideline, like a football coach, cheering us on as we run the ball across the goal line.  Woohoo!  God shouts.  You did it!  You remembered all the things I told you.  When we realize that God instills the desire in us, we move away from the idea that we are saving ourselves.

Then there's the other extreme: that we are merely robots without free will.  If God is first, then he must be controlling our actions, and there's really nothing we can do, so why talk about God to anyone?  Why live a Christian life?  God is just going to save us anyway.  Turn up the punk rock!

But Tozer writes that God may be previous, he may have instilled the desire to pursue him, but we still RESPOND, with our free will, and actively pursue him.  Even though God gives us the grace to pursue him, we must positively build on that grace.  God is the foundation, but we are building on the solid rock of Christ.  And as we build, he supplies us with even more grace, and our Christian structure grows more and more.  It's a collaboration.

But that previous grace is always there—that foundation.  Without it, we are building a structure on sand—pretty much like every building here on the Outer Banks—and that will not last forever.  God being previous should always be in our minds when we read Paul saying, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  This doesn't mean we're doing it all alone.  God provides the foundation, the hammer and nails, the concrete, the drywall, and, most importantly, the DESIRE for us to build, and the more we build, the more desire he gives us.

The letter of James is such an important book of the Bible, because when it is read on a foundation of God being previous, we can see where that teamwork between us and God is taking place. The last verse in our James reading, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” sounds like we are acting first, but keeping in mind that God is always previous, we see that God gives us that desire to draw near to him.

Working backwards: we can resist the devil because God gives us the power to resist the devil.  The verse before that one is key: Submit Yourselves to God.  God gives us the desire for submission, of course, but it is that submission that is truly our work in this partnership.  Even after all this talk of teamwork, we still can't shake the image of us crossing the finish line with Coach God on the sidelines, jumping up and down and cheering.

But when we get the image that our part of the teamwork is really SUBMISSION, everything changes.  We suddenly get a glimpse of the big picture, because submission is exactly what we have the most trouble doing in all circumstances.  Our pride keeps us from submitting, but submission IS the work that we do.  Suddenly we stop being the quarterback with God being the coach, and God starts being the quarterback and we're the BALL.  Our job is to stop trying to play the game by ourselves, realize we are just a ball, and stay in the quarterback's deft hands.

It takes great amounts of free will to subvert our free will.  Without God's guidance, our free will goes crazy and we start choosing between all of these horrible paths for our life.  God gives us that initial push for us to actually crucify our free will and submit and cling to God's will.  Then we're like a surfer, riding God's wave.  Our job is to stay on the board, and God takes us in to shore.  There's my first surfing metaphor in almost two years of living here.

Models of submission are throughout the scriptures, and when you realize that its not just our submission, but it's God's electing us and drawing us and influencing us and the world around us, we suddenly understand how blessed we are.  Remember, in Genesis, Joseph had the dreams first.  God knew where he was going to go, and how he was going to get there, and what the end result was going to be.

Moses resisted his calling with every effort, but God called him to submit, and submit he did.  David was a small man but his victories in battle were enormous.  His life was blessed by God.  He submitted to God and everything went his way.  It was when he refused to submit to God's will and began to run his own destiny, that's when his kingdom began to crumble.  Not because God was punishing him, but when we take the reins, we drive the stagecoach off a cliff, each and every time.

The ultimate submission was Jesus Christ.  What is most incredible was that Jesus is God in the flesh, and still he perfectly submitted his will to the will of the Father.  Jesus had to let go of his own will when it came to suffering under the authorities, being tortured and killed.  None of us would be able to submit like that.  Thank God that Jesus was able to subvert his will and submit perfectly on our behalf, because that was our place that he took on the cross.  We were supposed to submit, but we cannot.  We fail.  Jesus does it for us.  Perfect submission.

Before I wrote this message, God laid the foundation for it.  Before you heard this message, God drew you to this place first.  If you find it easier to submit to God after today, thank God.  He has laid the foundation for your submission and has given you the tools to do it.  God is always previous.