The month of October has marked one year since the difficult decision was made to resign the pastorate at my former church. It is truly amazing to see how God has worked in our hearts and lives in the course of one short year. Looking back, it is obvious that He had his hand on us and was guiding us into His perfect plan all along.
At the time, however, this decision resulted in conflicting emotions. On the one hand, there was sadness at the loss of employment and friendships and stress at the thought of an impending move. On the other hand, there was a clear sense of peace, joy and freedom at being released from a very dark period of ministry. As one might expect, the sad feelings waned over time and the positive feelings grew stronger until months later I would look back and view my time of ministry as a prison of sorts from which I was set free by my resignation.
I am extremely grateful for the renewed joy and peace I have found over the last year, but I’ve come to realize that my feelings of imprisonment were unnecessary and entirely due to a mistaken perspective on my part. I was dwelling on the dark and painful circumstances that I was facing instead of on the peace and freedom that I had already been given. The truth in regard to this matter is found in Galatians 5:1, where Paul said that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” When Christ set us free, He set us free in reality and totality. We are no longer a slave to sin and we are no longer a slave to our circumstances and we are not even any longer a slave to our own desires and emotions. We are free!
Yet the fact that Paul continues with the instruction that we should “not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” indicates that we can -and often do- choose to live as if we are still slaves. It was not the abuse, lies and slander that were holding me prisoner while I was in my former ministry. It was actually my own decision to dwell on my circumstances instead of Christ that was holding me captive. And it was not a change in my circumstance that set me free. Christ did that once and for all when I trusted in Him as my Savior. I was free all along, but I only experienced the feeling of freedom once I finally shifted my focus back to God and focused on him.
To be clear, this focusing on God is not a fluffy, lip service kind of change in perspective. It is instead an acknowledgement that I am free from sin, death, hell, addiction and my own flesh because I belong fully to Him. To experience the freedom He has given, I must trust fully in His goodness. I must embrace His ways as right and commit to living them out in my life. This often means forsaking certain behaviors and attitudes that I might enjoy or feel I need. It probably means I will need to do something I might not want to do – like forgive or confront or show kindness to an enemy.
The path will look differently for each of us, but it always begins with submission to God, to His Word and to His plan. If you are feeling trapped or imprisoned, I beg you to turn to Jesus and let Him set you free. In Him, nothing can enslave: nothing can imprison. You cannot be held captive by a sin, a circumstance, a substance, a person, a feeling, a desire or anything else you can imagine because “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).”