When we start the journey, we bring our dysfunction with us. Our lives are filled with both good and bad. When we begin this journey of faith, we bring all of our stuff to Jesus. He doesn’t ask us to modify behavior to gain access to the life he has for us, but invites us forward into life with him. Along the way, he helps us let go of our dysfunction and step into wholeness and freedom.
Freedom is unfamiliar to people who’ve never experienced it. We don’t know what to do with it, don’t know how to handle it. Freedom also has a price. As we discover what life could be like, we are left with the knowledge that we have to take a step forward. Those first steps into freedom are scary, but so necessary.
John Newton became a slave trader after he deserted his duty as a midshipman in the English Navy. As a common seaman, he requested service on a slave ship, which took him to Sierra Leone, West Africa. There he then became the servant of a slave trader who treated John horribly, but probably not as badly as he treated his slaves. John then was rescued from serving under that man and eventually became the captain of his own slave ship.
One day on the ocean he thought his life was over. He tried to steer his ship through a storm and John knew they would not make it. He prayed, “Lord have mercy on us,” and somehow the storm passed over and they were safe. John would give his life to Jesus that day, May 10, 1748. He would never forget that God had spared his life.
From that day forward, John would do everything in his power to treat the slaves he was responsible for, with dignity. But even still it wasn’t easy. Slaves were property to be used, disciplined or discarded as pleased. While John was changing on the inside, he was still a part of human trafficking industry and the evils that come with that. As a businessman he still aimed to profit off the slave trade.
John continued slave-trading for seven more years till the age of 30. At that point he would leave the slave-trading life for a desk job back in Liverpool. Influenced by his pastors, he would continue to grow in his faith. He would look back at his life of slave-trading with regret and shame, recognizing he was a part of something so inhumane and wrong. For those seven years when he knew different, he had continued advancing the slave trade. The shame of not doing more would haunt him, but it would also embolden him to do everything he could to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain.
Sometimes when Jesus invites us into freedom, we are too afraid to step into it because we are unwilling to accept the implications of that freedom. We don’t want to offend anyone or stir the pot, so we continue with status quo. All the while, Jesus is inviting us forward to a freedom that is worth whatever the cost.
The truth is this, when we walk in the freedom God has for us, we create opportunities for freedom for the people our lives affect. The freedom we are introduced to and are walking in, can become the very thing that helps bring freedom to others as well. Freedom doesn’t have to take years to take shape in us. We can step into it immediately. But this is only possible if we trust God with our dysfunction, and let him change us.
The unfamiliar place that freedom leads us into, wasn’t meant to scare us or push us away. It was meant to reveal God’s incredible love and grace for us. We were meant to let ourselves be caught up with Jesus. We were meant to let him challenge us, correct us, and change us. We have to accept this new place of freedom God has for us. God doesn’t force it on us, but invites us into it. We have to choose it.
John Newton, the guy we talked about at the beginning of this chapter, stepped into the unfamiliar of his new life in Christ. The decision he made, changed his life and the lives of everyone he encountered.
He became a pastor in Olney, Buckinghamshire, totally turning from his life of slave-trading. He preached on the grace of God and how God turns broken, sinful lives around. His church would grow to the point that the building had to be expanded.
During that time, he wrote extensively in his journals, and to this day historians look to his journals for a window into the slave trade in the 1800s. He also wrote hymns for his congregation, out of a sincere desire to help his people worship.
Out of that would come a song birthed out of Newton’s personal experience as a slave-trader and pastor. It represented a man who realized his incredible failure and compromise, and yet full of repentant hope in a God who saves broken people… Amazing Grace.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me, his Word my hope secures; he will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, a life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine; but God, who called me here below, will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there, ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we’d first begun.
Later on in life, John Newton would move to another church in London. There many people would hear the gospel and experience Jesus for the first time. One of his congregants would be a man named William Wilberforce, a politician who would one day become the catalyst for revolutionary change. The slave trade in England was abolished in England as a result of Wilberforce’s leadership and Newton’s steady influence.
John Newton would never forget the amazing grace that found a wretched man like him. Here was a slave trader who found Jesus. He stepped up and into God’s best for his life. He knew what and where he came from, and did everything in his power to take the change God had done in him to the systems of power and slavery. His life is an example of a man who allowed God to finish what he started in his life.
The new normal Jesus calls us into is unfamiliar and intimidating. It can be hard to step away from the clutches of our past, into the waiting arms of true, everlasting freedom. Jesus calls us forward, to step up and step into a new place of righteousness, peace, and joy.
As we step into that place God has prepared for us, as we look up to Jesus, and begin to see things from his perspective, everything starts making sense. We don’t have to go back to our old lives. We can lean into that new person Jesus is remaking from the inside out.
This post is an excerpt from chapter 2 of my book Unfamiliar – Finding Your Way In Faith. Get your copy on Amazon today!