Guest Post from Rachel Ruddy: Who Takes Centre Stage?
God doesn’t work alone (although he could, since he really doesn’t need us; just read Acts 17:24-26!) Instead, he chooses to work in conjunction with the people he has chosen to create. But they only have bit parts, and ours is a tiny fraction of the story. It makes our current calamity feel a bit less significant and helps us feel a bit more humble when we think about things like this! What is happening in my family, with my job, with my children, with my health (although it is important to God and he cares for me), is really not the main story.
Interestingly, the success of the twelve step program used in Alcoholics Anonymous capitalises on this approach, that of shifting yourself from centre stage and giving the role to its rightful owner. Alcoholics Anonymous had its beginnings in 1935 at Akron, Ohio through a meeting between two men (Bill W., a New York stockbroker and Dr Bob S., a surgeon) who were both dependent on alcohol. They achieved sobriety through using the principles of an “Oxford Group”. The Oxford Groups were not a Christian denomination but a group of Christians meeting together to support each other to surrender their lives to God. They were founded by an American Christian missionary, Dr. Frank Buchman, who was influenced by the Keswick movement in the UK and its focus on Christian holiness. (Buchman’s Oxford Groups also had an interesting role in trying to oppose the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany).
Bill and Bob took many of the principles of these Oxford groups and worked with other people who were dependent on alcohol, with great success. They established several networked groups to show that the techniques could be replicated by others. This work resulted in the publication of the textbook “Alcoholics Anonymous” in 1939, which contained the twelve step program, and the subsequent proliferation of groups worldwide. Since then numerous people, with addictions of all kinds, have achieved freedom through the principles of the steps in the program. These are:
1. Admit without help you are powerless over alcohol and that life has become unmanageable.
2. Recognise that only a Power greater than you could allow you to gain that control.
3. Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God (i.e. put God centre stage as the lead role in your life).
4. Make a careful examination of everything that is wrong in your life.
5. Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Be prepared for God to help us change all these defects of character.
7. Humbly ask Him to help us do this.
8. Make a list of all persons we have harmed, seek forgiveness and make amends.
9. Do this directly with the people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continue the process of self examination and when we are wrong promptly admit it.
11. Seek to grow in your understanding of God praying for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Through your own change in this process try to carry this message to other people who have alcohol dependence and to practice these principles in all your affairs.
In his book Center Church, Tim Keller describes how sin is “building your life’s meaning on anything—even a very good thing—more than on God”. Whatever you build your life on enslaves you. In the case of the person who is alcohol dependent, it is alcohol. Their day is focused around getting it and drinking it. For some of us our dependence may be on much more seemingly benign things: career, family, the best car, phone or house. But the reality is that there is always something that we are putting centre stage in our life. And the truth is that anything we enslave ourselves to, other than God, will ultimately destroy us. If we place all our hope in earthly things to make us free and complete, they never deliver.
Paul describes this process in his letter to the Romans: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23). To gain the freedom and joy we all so earnestly seek in life, we do not need the ultimate control, but paradoxically we need to totally surrender the position of Leading Actor in the brief movie of our life. This attitude of heart is beautifully summed up in this pledge adapted by Nancy Leigh DeMoss in her book Choosing Gratitude:
Having been born into the kingdom of God, I do hereby acknowledge that God’s purchase of my life included all the rights and control of that life for all eternity. I do further acknowledge that He has not guaranteed me to be free from pain or to have success or prosperity. He has not guaranteed me perfect parents. He has not guaranteed me perfect children. He has not guaranteed me the absence of pressures, trials, misunderstandings or persecution. What He has promised me is eternal life. What He has promised me is abundant life. What He has promised me is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, meekness and self-control. He has given me all of Himself in exchange for the rights to my life. Therefore I acknowledge this day the relinquishment of all my rights and expectations and humbly ask Him by His grace to replace these with a grateful spirit, for whatever in His wisdom He deems to allow for my life.
Amen to that.