Week of March 11
"I own you!"
"Nobody owns me."
If we watch TV, we've heard that dialogue many times, and we applaud the person who refuses to be intimidated. The response is a way of saying, "I'm my own boss. I'm in control of my life."
That's good, typical Western thinking. We like the idea of being in charge of our own lives. "This is my life," we say, "and I'm living it my way."
That attitude contrasts sharply with the biblical teaching. In the New Testament, the writers tell us that we surrender to God or we serve the devil. We "sell our souls" either to God or to our selfish desires.
In older times, writers used the metaphor of selling our souls to the devil. Charles Gounod's 1859 opera, Faust, relates the tale of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and supernatural abilities.
Many modern films and books are based on this premise. Someone yearns for something badly and says, "I'd give my soul for that." Then along comes the evil character, disguised as good, who says, "I'll grant your desires in return for your soul." The person, deluded by desire, consents. And we know the rest of the story. The person gets everything he or she has ever desired. Eventually, though, the central character awakens to the stupidity of the agreement, and says, "Hey, wait a minute. It's a poor bargain. I'm not selling my soul."
These stories nearly always give us happy endings, because the characters figure out some trick to outsmart the devil and win back their souls.
We don't want to identify with those who have sold their souls. We like to think, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul" (from "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley). It suits us better to think that we—and we alone—decide our fate.
Frankly, there's something good about that attitude, because it speaks of determination, self-reliance, and courage. It says we don't see ourselves as little puffs of cloud tossed across the sky by capricious winds. But most of the time we delude ourselves. Far too many of us sell out to some force, idea, philosophy, or need.
As we journey through life, somewhere along the winding path we confront the fork in the road—a time when we have to decide who controls our lives. My time came when my wife had pleurisy, my two young daughters were both sick with colds, and I was in college. That rainy May afternoon, I had to study for two final exams; the girls couldn't play outside, so they kept demanding my attention. I had other problems as well. Financially, we had been barely scraping by. On my desk lay several small bills and a large heating bill we couldn't pay. The car's gas tank was almost at the zero spot, and I had to drive to school.
I faced that dark moment and wondered if it was worth following Jesus Christ. At 2:30 that afternoon, when everyone quieted a few minutes, I knelt by the sofa and prayed. My head was splitting, anger at life in general surged through me, and I couldn't understand why all the pressures were hitting me.
"I'm fed up with God," I remember saying. "I'm fed up with barely surviving and not getting ahead." As I knelt there, I decided to quit college, get a job, turn my back on "this religious stuff" and go back to my old way of life (uh, well, a modified version of it). For maybe thirty-eight seconds, I felt a marvelous freedom. I was my own person, and I could do whatever I wanted with my life.
Then I knew that wasn't true. A picture flashed into my mind. Once I had seen an ad for a rescue mission that aimed at curing alcoholics. The picture showed a man inside a whiskey bottle, his right hand stretched out as he reached for help.
"That's the way I am," I said. "I'm caught by God and I can't get out."
Then came a second image. It was a film about a planeload of people over the Pacific Ocean. They were having engine trouble, but the pilot said, "We've passed the point of no return." He meant that it was closer to go on than to turn back.
"That's it exactly!" Anger seethed inside me. "I want to turn back, God, and you won't let me!" I couldn't scream aloud because of my family, but inside my head I shook my fist at God.
Finally exhausted, I stopped. God wouldn't let me go. It was closer for me to go forward to the end than to turn back. I had long passed the fork in the road when I could make a choice.
God owned me. I couldn't get away from God then or ever.
Slowly, a deep peace came over me. Within minutes, I felt all right, and even my headache lessened. I didn't know what I'd do about the tests the next day, but I had a family that came first.
I did study for a while. My daughters napped and when they awakened, they were quiet. The older one sat on my lap and napped again while I studied. All the problems slowly worked themselves out. But the transaction was settled: I belonged to God.
I'll use a biblical image to explain what I mean. Ancient Hebrews could sell themselves for six years to other Jews, then they received their freedom. Then God made another provision: "And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,' because he loves you and your house, since he prospered with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever" (Dt 15:16-17, NKJV).
Whenever I read those words and think of the slave's branding, I do a fast-forward and think of Jesus' pierced hands and feet as his mark of servitude to God.
Then I think of myself. I don't have any physical markings to show the ownership of God. Even so, I belong to God. God is my owner. I have voluntarily sold myself into divine slavery.
For those of us who are owned by God, we seek our Owner's will through prayer. By deliberate choice, we turn over the decisions to our Owner. If we contemplate that, it gives us peace. We no longer need to worry, because our needs are in the hand of our Owner.
When the LORD chooses slaves, they become his free people. And when he chooses free people, they become slaves of Christ. God paid a great price for you. So don't become slaves of anyone else. --1 Corinthians 7:22-23, CEV
remind me that I belong to you forever,
and you'll never let me go. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.