Precepts: Beyond Ourselves, Joy, Free Will & Simplicity

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Welcome back to my Precepts series—inspired by meaningful thoughts, insights, and discoveries I have during each week, and intentionally designed to help make your life just a little bit better. I recently read the classical spiritual adventure story Beyond Ourselves by Catherine Marshall, and was inspired to share many of my thoughts and notes with you in today's special article, which contains Precepts developed directly from her book. Enjoy!

You can find the Precepts series in its entirety here.

Precept 37: Joy

Joy seems to consistently be the primary, most noticeable emotion that pours forth when one becomes “anointed” with the Holy Spirit, which usually occurs after a momentous conversion to faith, particularly the simple, child-like faith that God is real, that Jesus died for your sins, and that all you need to do is believe this truth – and then you are anointed with the Holy Spirit. It is then that the senses awaken. Life becomes enjoyable. Joy pours forth. In Beyond Ourselves, here is the way one woman described her encounter with the Holy Spirit:

“…I saw no new thing, but I saw all the usual things in a miraculous new light. I saw for the first time how wildly beautiful and joyous, beyond any words of mine to describe, is the whole of life. Every human being…every sparrow that flew, every branch tossing in the wind, was caught up in and was a part of the whole mad ecstasy of loveliness, of joy, of importance, of intoxication of life…”

To experience this same joy, you first must be convinced that Jesus can dwell in your heart through the Holy Spirit, and you have to want that presence for yourself; you then go to God, acknowledge, and say sorry for your sins and shortcomings and ask for that gift; you then believe that the Holy Spirit has taken up a dwelling place within you; and finally, you experience the manifestation of the Holy Spirit when you experience the “missing ingredient” in your life that you have been searching for all these years: joy.

So will you occasionally get down or depressed? Certainly. For example, someone who exercises regularly experiences temporary, short-term blood glucose spikes during the actual exercise session, then has a more permanent, long-term stabilization of blood glucose the rest of the day. So when you are “fit” spiritually, struggling with trials and tribulations or being sad will not be your predominant condition but will instead often serve as a training ground to help you eventually learn and grow to be happy and joyful no matter your circumstances. When you are anointed with the Holy Spirit, the bouts of joy become more frequent, and the bouts of sadness become few and far between, even when life is hard.

Precept 38: Free Will

In Precept 34, I told you about the battle for the universe. But wait! If He is so powerful, could not God have prevented this very battle in the first place? Look, I do not doubt for a moment that God had the full power to keep us humans in a perfect Eden-esque existence forever.

But suppose He had used that power. The only way to have done it would have been for us humans to also have lost our free will, our self-actualized agency, and our conscious souls endowed with the ability to choose. We would have become puppets. Automatons. Robots. Machines. Toy soldiers.

I think God is playing a much bigger game. He created us in His image because He wanted his own children who He could love and adore and who would love and adore Him in return (read the excellent book Father & His Family to learn more about this). None of the other animals or vegetables He created would do: He had to make a human because He wanted someone/something in His image. He gifted us with freedom, and in fact, the highest freedom of all: the freedom to reject Him and be our own gods. The reason is obvious, and one that I discuss here in my article about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: love is only possible when it is freely chosen.

He also knew that by giving us free will, we would have the potential to make mistakes, both large and small. He also knew that if we did indeed make those mistakes, He could ultimately weave together a story that, in the end, brought even more glory to Him had He simply chosen to keep everything perfect and machine-like forever. God knew that a perfect forever existence would come soon enough, but once Satan rebelled and humans sinned, God chose to delay the perfect forever existence just a little bit (a blip on the radar of infinity) to show how powerful He really is. See what I mean? God chose for there to be a battle He already knew He would win. He knew it would create some heartache in the process, but He knew that in the end, it would be even better – kind of like (pardon the trite analogy) how an ice cold milkshake tastes even better after a fifty-mile bike ride in the heat than it may after a luscious steak dinner at your favorite restaurant. God knows that the pleasure and glory that comes after the pain is even greater than the pleasure and glory that comes after an uninterrupted perfect existence, especially if that allows His precious children (you and me) to have free will in the process.

Want more on free will vs. determinism? Read this article of mine.

Precepts 39: Simplicity

In Beyond Ourselves, Catherine tells one story of sharing the good news of the Gospel with someone. She says:

“When I had finished, John asked wonderingly, ‘Do you mean that I can just decide that I am willing for God to take over my life, and tell Him so—as blandly and as matter-of-factly as that—and have it work?'”

The answer is yes. As I write about here, it really is as simple as saying something like:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.”

Sure, it's slightly more complicated.

You have to be honest and candid with God about all your sins and failures of the past – at least, any you can remember. Sometimes you remember a whole bunch at once, and sometimes, even after you've said a prayer like the one above, you remember things later on that you need to say sorry for.

If you ever feel really guilty or “unforgiven,” you can also “remind” God of His promises of forgiveness sprinkled throughout Scripture. Here are a few to choose from:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (John 1:9)

“He that comes to me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37)

“Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

“For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psalm 86:5)

God may, both now and in the future, place upon your heart a desire to make some restitution. Sure, this is not always possible. Some wrongs can never be directly righted, such as that person you were rude to at the grocery store that one time you know you will likely never see again. But in this case, you can “pay it forward” by trying to be nice to everybody you ever see at the grocery store, forever. But when restitution (saying sorry for and covering the costs for any sins you've committed in the past, such as shoplifting, dishonest business deals, stealing time from an employer, etc.) is available, you ought to make every attempt to set things right, as uncomfortable or humbling as that might be.

But eventually, you can turn from the past to face the future. You can stop wallowing in remorse. God has forgiven you and wiped you clean. So forgive yourself, know that the reason Jesus died is so that you could lay all that shame and guilt at the foot of the cross, and move on. Trust me: it's a pretty magical way to live. Enjoy.

That's it for this week! Please leave your thoughts below if you have questions, comments, or feedback. I read them all!

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2 thoughts on “Precepts: Beyond Ourselves, Joy, Free Will & Simplicity

  1. Lawrence Stroup says:

    Hello Ben
    I’ve been reading your articles for years, I own a mens health retreat in the Dominican Republic . I just wanted to tell you your being honest about your faith is awesome. I to am a Christian and reading your words are like a breath of fresh air. Thank you and keep up the fantastic work your doing. My biggest troubles are when i stray from the truth and reading your words brings me back into line. Thanks again.

    1. Ben Greenfield says:

      thanks Lawrence 🙌

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