Recently we had two family weddings and the same thing happened at both weddings. Both weddings had a dance as part of the celebration and I wanted to dance, but I was reluctant. Here is what was going on in my mind during those dances. I told myself that I would get up and dance when the right song played. But I waited, and then I realized that the right song was a couple of songs ago. Then I thought that there was not enough people on the dance floor and I would feel awkward dancing because everyone would be looking at me. Then I thought that there were too many on the dance floor and I would feel awkward dancing because I would be bumping into people as I danced. And the end result was that I did not get up to dance at all at either dance, and I was left thinking to myself, “I should have gotten up and danced. It would have been fun! And now I have missed that opportunity.” So there was reluctance at the front end and regret at the back end.
This message is based on Ephesians 2:1-10. It was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on Sep 30/18. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Now for an ordinary dance, this is probably not a big deal. But we can think of life with God as being like a dance because, just like dancing, in our relationship with God there is movement through time and space, partnership, communication and a hoped-for beautiful result.
But the dance that God invites us into is far more significant than any other. It is a dance with the One who created us and loves us with infinite and perfect love. And not only does God love us, He also wants to give us a new life with Him that begins now and continues into forever. Moreover, the new life that God wants to give us is a life of healing and hope where, not only are we restored and renewed from the inside out, but God’s entire creation is also going to be restored and renewed. And one day, that process of restoration and renewal will be completely fulfilled when Jesus returns to this world in a visible way to make us and all things right.
When that day comes, there is going to be terrible regret in the hearts and minds of every person who turned down God’s invitation to dance as people realize that they are on the outside looking in on what could have been for them. The Bible uses the term “weeping and gnashing of teeth” to describe this regret.
I don’t want anyone to experience that kind of regret. So I hope that you will join with me in reflecting on how our dance with God is a dance of grace, a dance of faith and a dance of service.
Sometimes when we consider dancing with God, we feel awkward. Perhaps we think to ourselves, “I don’t know how to do this and I don’t feel like I am good enough to start dancing with God.” If such thoughts run through your mind, I have good new for you. We enter the dance with God by grace.
What is grace? It is the totally free gift of God’s unconditional, active love. God’s love for us is not something we deserve or earn, it is totally free. God’s love for us is unconditional. There is nothing that we have to do, or can do, to earn it. And God will never withdraw His love if we fail to meet a certain standard.
God’s love is also active. It is never just a passive, feel-good kind of love. God and His love are always doing great things for us. It was His love that moved God to create us and all that exists, not so there would be a world that would love Him, but so there would be a world that He could love.
It was God’s love that moved God to save us. Ephesians 2:1-2 describes our condition without God: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. This passage tells us that before we encountered God’s grace we were dead. It doesn’t say that we were sick, or weak, or unfulfilled, though without God those things are true. This passage says that we were dead. Now when someone is dead, they cannot save themselves, they cannot call out for help, and they cannot participate in their own rescue. They are dead.
The reason that the Bible describes us as being dead when we live life without God is because God is the ultimate source of all aspects of life. When we live our lives without God, we are turned away from God and so far from God that we have only a fraction of the rich, full, abundant life that He wants to give us. We are physically alive but in all the other aspects of life we are dead because we do not have a relationship with the Source of life.
And yet God reached down into our lives with His love and rescued us from a life without Him. He raised to life a new person within us who is fully alive in all aspects of life, who loves God and loves everything that God loves because this new person is dancing with God. God the Father rescued and raised us by sending His Son Jesus into this world to become one of us and go to the cross to suffer and die to more than pay the full cost of bringing us out of the far-off land of our bondage and into the kingdom of God where we live with others as God’s beloved citizens.
It is like we are Elsa in the movie “Frozen.” Without God, we live in a palace of our own construction, but in reality it is a prison. Then someone who loves us, like Anna, comes to rescue us and in an act of true love, sacrifices themselves to heal our cold, frozen heart and bring spring to God’s snowbound creation.
So why is grace important? Grace is important because God’s love is what brings us into God’s family. And grace is also important because God’s love is what gives us the strength to keep going, even when overwhelmed by the challenges of this life. God’s love is what works on the deepest parts of our lives and exposes those parts that need to be changed and transformed so that we can grow to be more like Jesus. God’s love is what gives us the vision of what our life with God could be like as Jesus works in and through us to play a part in His mission of seeking and saving all that is lost and far from God. Grace is important because it is what makes it possible for us to start dancing with God AND because grace is what helps us to keep dancing with God.
Sometimes our faults and failures are so obvious that we cannot deny them. “Surely,” we think to ourselves, “this disqualifies me from dancing with God.” If that thought has ever crossed your mind, I have Good News for you. We enter The Dance with God through faith. But what is faith? Faith is simply opening the gift of new life that Jesus gives us. Faith is simple trust in God and His promises to us.
What does faith look like? First of all, faith means trusting that God really does love us and that Jesus really has saved us, forgiven us and given us a new life with Him that will last forever. Faith also means trusting that, measured across eternity, God really will take care of us and that somehow—even though we don’t know or understand how it will be—things will all be very, very, good in the end and that goodness will make all the sorrow and suffering we experience in this world seem like a momentary shadow.
Faith brings us into the Dance with God and it helps us to keep dancing.
Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, what does dancing with God look like? There are two views of our dance with God. There is the Invisible Interior dance, and there will more about this in the next post in this series. In this post, I will focus more on the second aspect of our dance with God, the Visible Exterior Dance. Our Visible, Exterior Dance is based on, and is the result of, our Invisible, Interior Dance with God. Our Exterior Dance shows itself in service. In other words, we live out our Invisible Interior Dance with God by serving others.
Another thing that is important is that there is a natural flow to service for we tend to serve what we love. When we love our friends, we naturally serve them. If we are married and we love our spouse, we naturally serve them. If we have children and we love them, we naturally serve them. So if you want to know who a person really loves, look at who they serve.
I invite you to consider how you spend your time and your energy. To whom is the majority of your time and energy directed towards? Answer that question and you will know who you really love. When I strive to answer this question honestly, I have to say that a lot of my time and energy is spent on serving myself. And I know that I am not alone in this because we human beings tend strongly towards narcissism. We are curved in on ourselves and we love ourselves in a twisted sort of way.
So a big part of dancing with God is asking Him to help us to change our affections, to change what we love, so that we love God most of all and, with hearts that are filled with God’s love, we love the people around us because God loves them. And then, because we love the people around us, we naturally serve them.
To be transformed in this way by God’s love requires one to spend time with God so we can experience His love personally and ask Him to help us to stop loving everything that pulls us away from Him and to help us to grow in our love for Him and grow in our love for other people. And as our love for people grows, we will naturally serve them.
But then something unexpected happens when we serve others: We end up getting blessed. When we serve other people, we grow in faith, hope, love, maturity and in character. Our life becomes deeper, richer, fuller and more meaningful and as Jesus works in our lives like a hand within a glove, things happen in and around us that are far beyond anything that we could ask or imagine.
As you consider how you might serve others, I want to share with you a very important tool that will be a big help to you as you try to figure out the best way to do that. Through the Holy Spirit, God the Father gives spiritual gifts to everyone who believes in Jesus. These spiritual gifts are special abilities from God to do special things to bless and build up people so that they can enter The Dance with God and thrive. One thing that is very important for us as we serve is that we serve in ways that fit with our spiritual gifts. When we don’t serve in a way that lines up with our spiritual gifts, we might be doing something that we are capable of, and we can do it for a while, but it exhausts us. And while there are seasons where we have to do things that we are not gifted for, it is not a good long-term strategy. I think that the reason why so many people end up getting burned out through serving in a church is because they are doing things that God has not gifted them to do. I think that mismatching service and gifts is also the reason why churches tend to have trouble getting volunteers. We keep inviting people to serve in positions that God has not gifted them to serve. So it is no wonder that people don’t want to serve. It feels like hard labor in prison.
A week ago, my wife, Susan, and I were in Chicago for the first of our Pastoral Leadership Institute immersions. And one of the things that Susan and I learned that is that both of us have been operating most of the time in areas where we are capable but not gifted by God, and because of that we are getting exhausted. We now know that both of us need to shift and spend most of our time and energy leading and serving in the areas where God has given us strength. And while we were at the PLI immersion, the Lead Pastor of the church that was hosting us said that when they invite people to serve in their strengths, they never have a shortage of volunteers.
When we serve from our God-given strengths, from our spiritual gifts, we tend to be energized by serving and there tends to be more fruitful results from our serving. People tend to be tend to experience God’s love and be drawn closer to Him when those who serve them are serving from their area of giftedness.
But before you can serve in your area of giftedness, you have to know what your spiritual gifts are and in order for your church to invite you to serve in ways that you are gifted, your church needs to know what your spiritual gifts are.
So the tool that I want to share with you is a Spiritual Gifts Test. If you have not already taken a spiritual gifts test, sometime in the next week, go to spiritualgiftstest.com, set up an account for yourself and take the spiritual gifts test. It will take about 20 minutes and you will get an email copy of your results. Then email a copy of your results to your church. If you do not go to church, contact some in your area and ask if they could help you to learn more about spiritual gifts and how to use them. Then check out the ones that respond positively.
Grace, faith and service are all part of our dance with God. Grace and faith start the dance and keep us dancing. Service is how we share our dance with others. Maybe our dance, because of the One we are dancing with, will inspire others to get up and dance too.
The foundation of who we are and what we do is the truth that Jesus first loved and served us. Jesus loves you so much that He gave up His life to more than pay the full cost of bringing you into a rich, full, abundant life with Him. Because of who Jesus is, what He has done for us and His promises to us, we can know that He loves us, that He is with us and we are forever safe with Him. Amen.