Freedom, Community, Meaning
By Geoff Grant
Northpoint’s Director of Worship Arts
Hello Church Family,
Perhaps some of you remember meeting my good friend and mentor, Justin Francis, during our recent Night of Psalms. Justin has been integral to my development as a worship pastor, and most of whatever wisdom I could lay claim to would likely be linked somehow back to him.
A while ago, Justin explained to me a principle of producing art that I find uniquely illustrative of something I’d like to discuss in this article. Over sushi one afternoon, Justin explained that a well-produced album (or painting, film, poem, art, etc.) exists on sort of an axis of success. It goes like this:
To produce good art, the artist or producer aims to find the right combination of these three ingredients, each at the expense of the other.
To create a really quality album really fast is very expensive.
To create a really quality album really inexpensively takes a very long time.
To create a very fast and affordable album will probably not be of the best quality.
I experienced this firsthand with our album, Songs from Psalms. We desired to create something of quality while staying within a very reasonable budget. Thus, the album, intended to be finished last October, was finally posted in mid-March. Ah, how we learn.
And so there is this give and take within producing. Each element is good and necessary and ought to work together to produce something great. This wisdom from Justin shares some unique contours with a larger principle outlined by cultural commentator and pastor Mark Sayers, and ultimately descriptive of a biblical anthropology.
Mark Sayers explains that human flourishing could be illustrated on a sort of axis with the components being freedom, meaning, and relationship (or community). Sayers uses the illustration of reservoirs— a healthy person, and in our case, a healthy Christian is orienting life around filling his reservoirs of freedom, meaning, and relationship.
Freedom: the ability to act freely on our convictions; to not be entirely dictated by external forces; a healthy inner life of choice.
Meaning: a transcendent story or narrative; a worldview; a deep identity from which we are drawing purpose.
Relationship/community: a people to belong to; a corporate identity; a community to be a part of with whom we share in life.
Now, all these are good things, necessary to Christian flourishing. However, the problem we face in American culture is that one of these ideals overwhelmingly outweighs and dominates the other two.
This is easily illustrated.
Perhaps you’ve been in one of these conversations concerning an intense desire for church community. “We need to do life together and really live into the body of Christ.” Yet Monday night prayer or growth group evening rolls around and we just don’t feel like it. Or better yet, we need some time to ourselves to recharge. Freedom at the cost of community.
We all desire the deep sense of connection to God that comes through long hours pouring over his Word, drinking in the life-giving story and subtleties of the gospel, but how often do we choose to sleep in, or flip on the ol’ Netflix to turn off our brains. Freedom at the cost of meaning.
It is increasingly common for a church member to attend a Sunday gathering once or twice per month. Instead, it is professional football on TV, club soccer tournaments, online church (whatever that is). Freedom at the cost of community and meaning.
We live in a culture that is supercharged with freedom. We face a barrage of options in the most simple decisions of life. The grocery store offers two hundred types of cereal. We need to read forty reviews of shovels before buying one (guilty, but to that point, I have a great shovel). We are resistant to commit our time due to a crippling fear that something better might come along.
And this is compounded by a culture that coerces us to believe this infinite freedom is some utopian vision of the good life. We see an Instagram feed from the mother of four, running four miles up a mountain, making a four-course breakfast for her kids and reading half of Genesis all before Saturday soccer games—no limitations. Movies feed us this idea that the more we can cut ourselves off from transcendent meaning, we will discover our truest self. “Be the best version of you.” The advertisement tells us that if we simply buy ________ we will have this overflowing life of joy that is demonstrated by the smiling, attractive, healthy, popular people on the screen. And friends, if you didn’t know, it’s all fiction.
Unlimited freedom is a failing vision of the good life—social media, movies, and advertisements want us to believe that the more freedom and autonomy we have the happier we will be. “Do what you want when you want, and you will find the happiness you want.”
Christ offers us a different vision of flourishing. We are actually called to sacrifice some of our freedom to embrace a life of meaning and relationship. Luke 15 provides a beautiful picture of this. Here we see the prodigal son disconnect himself from the community of his family (relationship) and disavow his the story of his inheritance (meaning) to take on a life of complete autonomy and “reckless living” (15:13). The son is redeemed when the good father welcomes his son back into loving community and identity as his son. The son sacrifices his unlimited freedom for the goods of community and identity (meaning).
So what is all of this to say?
Friends, be cautious of the ways we as Americans embrace an intense priority of freedom. To be a part of true community is to sacrifice a measure of freedom. To put on the character and grace of Christ as our identity requires a sacrifice of autonomy.
:: “I just don’t feel like going to church this morning.”
:: “But I know the value of being in community with God’s people.”
:: “Let’s just skip growth group tonight.”
:: “Actually, we ought to discipline ourselves to live life publicly, amidst Christ-centered community.”
:: “Sermon is over; let’s beat the crowd and get to the car.”
:: “Perhaps we should linger, and spend time encouraging, being known by and getting to know the family of God.”
I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to pray that God gives each of us a hunger for gospel-enriched lives and vibrant relational living. Pray that we are willing to sacrifice personal freedoms to that end.
In that spirit, would you consider attending the all-church prayer gathering TONIGHT, Thursday, April 11, at 7:00 p.m. in the Worship Center? This is a time for us to come together to praise God for his faithfulness, confess our need for him, thank him for his provision in Christ, and plead with him to move in our church and in our city.
Here, in corporate worship and corporate prayer, we find a beautiful symmetry of these three reservoirs. We, free in Christ from the enslavement of sin, come together as a church in relationship and community, to engage with the creating God of the universe, the author of life, and the only source of truth and meaning.
Northpoint’s Director of Worship Arts