I heard a story once about an elephant in a circus. It was a cruel circus, one where the elephant was chained up every night, taught a certain routine and performed it in exchange for a prize. At the end of every show, the elephant would bow then be locked up again for the toil of another day. The elephant strived and tried to earn favor, making a tireless effort to please the various ringmasters who continued asking for and exploiting every applause and piece of silver from the audience. Continually paying pretentious compliments to the elephant in front of others, the ringmaster quickly cast the creature aside after each show.
One day, a new ringmaster came and saw the elephant. He had compassion for his continued entrapment and tiresome existence. He purchased him. This ringmaster walked into the tent and unhooked the chains, cleaned up the wounds, nursed the elephant back to health and ushered it out of the circus. “You’re free,” he said. “Live.”
The elephant didn’t know what to do at first. Overjoyed that he was free and overcome with emotion, he ran into the field and rejoiced with the ringmaster.
It didn’t take long for the elephant to start feeling bad. “It’s not fair how you freed me.” He tried to prove to the ringmaster that he was talented, that’s what he knew to do– that’s what would make him pleased, right? And yet, he felt guilty. After all, he knew he didn’t deserve the freedom. But the ringmaster said, “You’re free. Live.” But the elephant kept returning back to the circus, putting the chains back on. It seemed to make sense to be enslaved. I know what to do here. I belong here. This is who I am.
No. It’s not.
You’re free. Live.
The Struggle IS Real
“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” Galatians 5:1 MSG
For the longest time I struggled with the guilt of not being enough, but it was a tricky guilt. It was the type of guilt that made me think I’m being righteous. It is wrapped up in trying to do and be the right thing. Because of this I often felt like a failure or a phony. And then I’d try harder. And then I’d feel guilty. This led to struggling with anger towards God and bouts of depression.
I had prior made a terrible decision to hang out with a guy that I knew wasn’t good for me. Little Miss Perfect over here had dated guys before, but did everything ‘right.’ I would often struggle when I noticed friends of mine doing things I would never do yet feeling as if they were getting the things I so deeply desired. Why are they getting what I want when I am working so hard to be obedient?
I fell. In many ways. I made decisions that surprised even me and ended up feeling incredibly guilty for it.
But God, in his goodness, began to change me. It was at this point that I began to step out of my negative cycle. It is funny how as I began to be real, like really understand how deep my sin is, God’s grace became real to me. A grace I had known about since I was a young child, but a grace that I really began to experience in my adult brokenness.
It wasn’t until I got real about my brokenness and began to taste of God’s grace that I experienced true freedom. You can’t get to freedom without grace. And a life of freedom is the sweetest life you can live.
Sweetness of Freedom
My whole life is similar to the life of that elephant. The one who was made free, but stumbles through it. The one who sometimes gets tripped up in the chains of slavery again. The one who forgets I do not have to sin. The one who doesn’t have to perform for God and prove my gratefulness to him, or show him how badly I feel over my sin and mistakes.
It is a journey, one that is continual, and travelled on everyday. This life lived in Christ is truly a gift. What He has done for me on the cross compels me to be real, receive grace and live freely. I’m thankful for this journey and the ringmaster who graciously coaxes me out of the places I am prone to, leading me into an adventure of freedom.
I love the words of the song we will be singing as a church this weekend– I think it says it perfectly.
Within my heart’s a rebellious side
Conflicting with the Spirit’s desire
To keep my heart in step with you
So I do not do what I want to do
Only you have the power to break
Every chain I placed around my neck
I heard your call from the pit of death
To surrender all and nothing less
All my life I live to follow
You alone as you change my desires
Liberated by the blood of Jesus
I found life in the sweetness of freedom
You’re free. Live.
Reflect on this…
Can you identify with me and the elephant? What do you keep returning to that is enslaving you?
Perhaps today is the day you get real about the tendency to perform for Jesus or feel as if you need to prove your love and loyalty. Or prove that you know how wrong you are by continually feeling bad? What would it look like to rest in the freedom of grace he has given you? You are not guilty anymore.
Take a moment to be with Jesus. Turn to his word and begin to list the things he has freed you from, reminding yourself of the sweetness of true freedom.
Let’s enjoy singing about the sweetness of freedom this weekend. Sing loud, sing true and sing freely!