Imagine for one moment that The Church, as it stands today, did not exist. Imagine if there was no established pattern or structure to do Church. Imagine if the race of the Christian journey had not started yet, and we all found ourselves behind the starting line with equality of opportunity, equality of promise and expectation, equality of undiluted faith and purity of motives, equality of purpose and conviction. Imagine if all there was as a pattern for being the Body of Christ on this earth was simply the revelation contained in the word of God, the ministry and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Imagine if there was not a single book written by a Christian, a single sermon on podcast or internet. Imagine if all you had to go on in order to complete the race, was God’s direction through prayer, His word and the encouragement and edification of fellow believers. Imagine a time when in this race there was zero tolerance for competitiveness, hierarchy or exclusivity loops, as we all valued each other’s gifting and potential in equal manner; as we all truly loved each other as brothers and sisters in Christ chosen to be part of a family which stands out over all the others for basing its unity and strength on absolute unconditional love amongst themselves and towards those outside the race, a love which under no condition or circumstance would ever be threatened, traded or compromised.
Still keep your eyes closed and picture yourself in this world during the times of the New Testament, after Jesus’ death, resurrection and Pentecost. The Fire of His Holy spirit lighting an eternal spark within people’s souls to grow in Christ-likeness as they die to self and live to serve others. You are one of those people who has been touched by the presence of Jesus Christ, by the testimony of a love and a hope which has helped you conquer the hardest of trials. Not only that, his presence in this world has filled you with a new hope and a future. You were not particularly looking for either, but in the midst of your worldliness something powerful strikes and breaks in with such undeniable supernatural evidence that you know what you suspected is no longer the stuff of fairy tales or myths but as real as the ground you stand on.
Imagine if within the circle of Christians you moved around, no pressures of any kind existed to meet others’ expectations of what the church should be like, of what the church should do; if they allowed you your freedom in Christ to discover for yourself what is the purpose uniquely designed by God for you, the function within the body which you and only you have been called to carry out in order to further the Kingdom.
Now close your eyes again, and picture yourself in the midst of a battle taking place in the raging seas. You are on board a galleon. You do not quite understand how you got there or why. You just know a call deep within requires you in the battle. You cannot silence it and nothing you say or do makes it go away. You dream of that victory against the enemy daily. Your heart overflows with the hope of a land where peace and joy abide, where freedom is no longer a deep longing but a reality. Your heart is full with the promise of a new life. Suddenly, that vision within totally goes up in smoke as you catch a glimpse of your ankles being held by chains which also bind together the rest of the prisoners on board that ship. You suddenly remember that though you are playing a part in that battle, it is not the part you felt called to play. You find yourself in bondage, obeying men’s rules; giving all you’ve got to keep that ship afloat. The battle becomes all about the few men who are in charge of that vessel, about the preservation of the vessel itself. The reason for the battle becomes secondary as does your attempt to discover how best you could be used in such a plight. Your voice does not count, neither are your capabilities taken into account. It is all about keeping the ship afloat. Below deck as you sit rowing constrained by the chains, you continue to dream of the vision placed in your heart before time began, where all men are free to fulfil the purpose for which they were created, and yet you look around and all you see is faceless men, invisible people who have just become the “human machinery” that drives that vessel. You have been rowing for months, persuaded that what you are doing matters. You are trusting those in charge of the ship and so no questions asked. You just row and row, but every now and then you keep catching a glimpse of that wonderful vision, that incredible picture of purpose, hope and a future that inexplicably captured your heart one day. You are faced with the dilemma: Will I continue to live my life by others’ expectations of who I am and what I am called to be, or do I follow that voice within which assures me the price for my freedom has already been paid and I no longer need to strive to fulfill other people’s hopes and dreams, but my own?
Both these pictures are images I see in front of me every single day when I wake up. The first one fills my lungs with new life, it inspires me, encourages me, edifies me, builds me up, gives me purpose and strengthens my faith in Jesus Christ and the hope that He has placed deep within me. The second one clips my wings, suffocates me, oppresses me, fills me with frustration, discouragement and a sense of hopelessness. Within the Body of Christ it is becoming increasingly difficult to face that choice, to make a decision whether to remain in the galleon or run the good race. There are such pressures within to conform and to compromise the truths revealed to all of us in the secret place. It is increasingly difficult to know whom you can trust. It is imperative in these days we live in that we make it our own responsibility to learn to recognize the voice of Christ in our own lives, so that we are not swayed one way today, and the very opposite way tomorrow. We need to stand in the faith and stand firm and the only way we will succeed in doing that is by following the voice of our one true Lord, and not everybody else’s. Which will YOU choose?