Autonomy… or Abiding in the Vine?

29 Mar

Occasionally people express concerns about my ‘fleece template’ approach to finding the will of God… or they offer alternative methods.  A common one goes something like this:

In the sovereignty of God, He gives us an ‘open area’ within which to make decisions on our own.   Somehow He will prevent us from making wrong decisions if they happen to fall outside of His ‘safe-zone’ parameter.  We’re permitted to make decisions on our own, as long as we stay inside this area.  We might make poor decisions within that area, but He uses these less-than-perfect decisions to teach us how much we need Him.

I’ve thought a lot about this subject.  And even though I heartily agree that God is so amazing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rms 8:28), I believe Father’s heart would rather have us learn from hearing His voice rather than from convalescing after stubbing our toe.  So here a number of problems I have with this version:

  1. Jesus said, “I only say what I hear my Father say”… Not, “My Father said I can say anything I like as long as it’s within certain parameters.”

  2. Jesus said, “I can do nothing apart from my Father.”… Not, “My Father said He would leave it up to me… as long as I didn’t get too wild about it… or take it too far.”  Even though Jesus was God, He never even suggested that He was able to be autonomous apart from His Father.

  3. So who gets to define the parameters?  How far is too far?  What are the ‘widest’ parameters on each of my issues.  Am I supposed to use the trial and error method?  Or just use the ‘limit’ that somebody said was their limit?

  4. How would I know that I have accurate parameters? Did it come from a warm-fuzzy?  Did I find a good Bible verse?  Has my intellect alone established my never-exceed limit?

  5. How do I know that my parameters are not influenced by my AMBITION or my FEAR.  How do I know that my parameters aren’t skewed by a myriad of earthly/soulish influences?  How do I know that the devil hasn’t whispered into my parameter-setting process?

  6. What about the Biblical gold standard that says, “Let a thing be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses”? (Matt 18:16, II Cor 13:1)

  7. So how often would a person have to check in with Father God to get a fresh update on the current parameters that he is free to be autonomous within?  Or does this parameter-method even require that we converse with God.  Maybe we just trust that He will keep us from falling off the cliff as we go happily on our way.
  8. Saying, “I can do anything without walking in intimate relationship with Father”, seems to diminish my Father’s partnership and role in my life.  Wouldn’t He love to walk in relationship with me rather than just be a rule and parameter setter in my life?  As a rule setter (draw a line… this far and no more) it seems like we’re relegating Him to be our policeman… like saying we don’t mind living in His kingdom under His rules, but we don’t really want a personal relationship with the king of this kingdom.  “We can probably handle this job okay without Your help, God.  Thanks for setting the parameters, I can take it from here.  I’ll get back with you when I need an update on rules, policies and parameters in my life.”  Note: The Israelites had a similar response to God at Mt Sinai… but it didn’t work out so well for them. (Deut 5:27)

  9. Rather than exploring and experimenting with my own mind and then I find myself making a “good” or just “acceptable” choice (Rms 12:2), I’d rather walk in a closer relationship and at least take a stab at making a “perfect” choice in the will of God.  BTW, using my own mind’s ability to figure it out, is the same method that the rest of the world uses.  Shouldn’t we be functioning in a better operating system?

    I realize that in the process of trying to hear God’s voice I will likely mishear many times and make plenty of mistakes… but my hope is that I’ll make far less mistakes as I’m trying to hear, versus if I’m operating under a policy that says my mind is good enough to make this decision on my own.  I’d rather walk in partnership with Father in everything I do… and acknowledge that I’m nothing apart from Him… in keeping with Jesus’ confession, “I can do nothing….”  I don’t want to even hint to my heart, or to Him, that I’m sufficient without Him.  I don’t want to diminish my dependency upon Him.

  10. And here’s a reason almost no one will think of… but it’s more vital and more ever-present than most people care to acknowledge.  If I’ve made a decision with nothing more profound than my mind, then when the devil comes to test me down the road, I have nothing but my intellect to do battle with him.  My faith has nothing to stand on.  There is no, “It is written” to back up my decision, so I will likely waffle in my conviction… easily opt out… or be oppressed with discouragement… and just hope God hurries to bail me out.

  11. The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing.  And hearing by (or through hearing) the Word of God.” (Rms 10:17)  So in order to have true Biblical faith we MUST hear something.  And “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6, Rms 14:23)  So if I haven’t heard God’s voice on the matter before me, then it’s impossible to have faith to make the decision (except for the faith I have in my own intellect).  Not only is this not Biblical (IMO) but leaves me vulnerable to the devil’s attacks later on.

A maturing mode of living should find us pressed more into “abiding in the Vine” versus autonomy apart from the Vine.  “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (Jn 15:4)  Hmm… fairly straight forward here.  Our very identity is in the Vine, and the Vine’s life-flow is our source, our safety and our success.

Now of course, let everyone “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)   So if someone’s operating system is working well for them… if they have unshakable faith each time they make their decisions… if they are not fazed when the devil rattles their cage… if they are happy with their level of intimacy with God… and if they are seeing success in all of their decisions… then I’d encourage them to continue with their current operating system.  If it’s working, don’t fix it.

But, if their operating system leaves them dangling in uncertainty, ambiguity, failure, regret, fear, doubt or paying the consequences… then let me recommend another way, the ‘fleece template’.



12 Responses to “Autonomy… or Abiding in the Vine?”

  1. Daryl Billings March 30, 2016 at 5:57 AM #

    Awesome, Mark!! One of your best blogs! And you’ve have really good blogs! Daryl

    • Mark Hendrickson March 30, 2016 at 11:19 AM #

      Thanks. The more we know Him intimately and experientially, the more we want to know Him.

  2. Mel Wild March 30, 2016 at 8:07 AM #

    “I believe Father’s heart would rather have us learn from hearing His voice rather than from convalescing after stubbing our toe.”

    Amen. You summed it up beautifully right here. Consequences will teach us, but it’s a very hard way to learn. Hearing is much better! Plus, everything with God is about relationship. We get smarter in our choices and the Father gets what He really wants…a relationship with us! It’s amazing to me how many ways Christians will develop doctrines and theories that don’t need intimacy with God. This quasi-fatalistic version of sovereignty (“God won’t let me fall”) is convenient for doing “God’s will” and keeping your distance from Him at the same time. But our Papa wants us! 🙂

    Good stuff, bro! Love it.

    • Mark Hendrickson March 30, 2016 at 11:22 AM #

      Thanks. Such a personal and loving Father who longs for us and loves to share all that He is, with us… and into us! It’s His good pleasure to give us the (whole) kingdom!!! What a God!

  3. Loel Fink March 30, 2016 at 8:10 AM #

    The fleece was confirmation of direction already received from God.

    • Mark Hendrickson March 30, 2016 at 11:41 AM #

      Thanks Loel. So I just got an impression… I think it’s from God. But God, my hearing is not so great, yet. And I’m still paying the consequences of my subpar hearing process from the past. I’m serious about growing in my hearing ability. You said, “Let a thing be established in the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses”, that’s Your word. And I only want to do your will. I’m not trying to get out of anything You’ve said. I just want to know for sure that I’m hearing correctly. So thank you for a Biblical way to make sure that I’m hearing correctly. Someday after I’ve been honest with my mistakes and poor hearing in the past, and after I’ve proven my hearing ability, I hope to be able to know for sure that the ‘still small voice’ was you… and be able to move on it alone. Until then I’m so glad that You’ve given me a way to learn… and that You’re a great Father who loves to walk with me in my learning process.

  4. PROMISE March 30, 2016 at 9:57 AM #

    WOWOWOW…this is JUST what we needed today…a powerful and timely word…THANKS MARK. Hi to Debbie!

    Love and blessings!

    Mike & Su

    • Mark Hendrickson March 30, 2016 at 11:30 AM #

      Thanks Mike and Su. He knows just what we need. Don’t you know His heart is so excited to see His people eager to search for and know His heart. What does that do to any earthly father… how much more for our Heavenly Father! More empowerment to you TODAY!!! II Cor 2:14-15

  5. Laura Jacobson March 30, 2016 at 10:20 AM #

    Thanks for confirming my awful mistake & subsequent repentance…tho consequences remain😜 LauraJ

    • Mark Hendrickson March 30, 2016 at 11:26 AM #

      Awww, Laura. Your Father loves you, so much!!! One of the many ‘coolest’ things about Him is His understanding of us… and His mercy to cover us. I agree with His kindest thoughts and intentions for you to be experienced in and around you… and for His strongest most tender arms to carry you through the “consequences”!!! Lotsa love from M&D

  6. Duane March 30, 2016 at 1:57 PM #

    Where do you draw the line between meaningless stuff like do I use a large or small spoon to eat this and father should I go to India?

    • Mark Hendrickson March 30, 2016 at 2:30 PM #

      Good question Duane. Obviously, none of us (or even God Himself, wants us to be bogged down with laborsome methodologies)… “My yoke is easy my burden is light”. I think a person wants to ask themselves how much consequence they can stand to ‘pay’. On a very personal note: my line is something like $500 worth of value… time, money, energy, service, care, etc. Of course, this is very subjective… and it almost certainly will be different for each person. Even then, we want to make our decisions with the bottom-line posture of asking Father what His heart is on the matter. Listen to the still small voice and let Father know you will be conscientious to come back and reevaluate afterward to see if you truly heard correctly. I think this is the way to mature in our hearing ability.

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