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The Gift of Self-Governance

not being a victim
I have written several posts about the problem of smart phones on the World Race. The one thing most of us could agree on was that it’s an issue of self-governance. Smart phones are great tools on the mission field if you don’t allow them to distract you. Many of us were never taught wh…
By Seth Barnes

I have written several posts about the problem of smart phones on the World Race. The one thing most of us could agree on was that it’s an issue of self-governance. Smart phones are great tools on the mission field if you don’t allow them to distract you. Many of us were never taught when to turn them off. So now we take our addiction with us everywhere.

The problem is young people often haven’t been given the gift of self-governance and the smart phones actually get in the way of them learning it. If you need evidence, then if you go out to eat tonight, just take a look at how many people are looking at their phones instead of talking to one another.

My parents gave me the gift of self-governance. As they raised me they gave me many gifts, but this one stands out.

It’s a rare gift these days. Phones are just the tip of the iceberg. 

What is self-governance?

Self-governance is the ability to make wise choices about your life. It’s saying no to pleasure when duty calls or saying yes to pain when it’s the right thing to do. It’s making space for others – it’s consideration.

The Bible lists the gifts of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). One of them is self-control, which is a lot like self-governance. The Spirit empowers you to make the right decision.

Self-governance allows you to establish principles and navigate according to them. It’s not a world view, but it is a spiritual gyroscope helping you to walk according to your world view.

Why do we need it?

Pain is a great teacher. If you give a person enough pain, their behavior will change. But too many parents, with the best of intentions, made it their goal to spare their children pain.

The well-intentioned mantra of many parents was, “I wanted you to have it better than I had.” Their children then grew up not understanding boundaries, cushioned from the effects of bad decisions.

So, what is the result? Given little experience denying themselves, they enter the world of adults expecting the same easy ride. They tend to make poor employees and friends.

They enter a world chalk-full of options. We have more options than ever. When you go on-line looking to buy something, you can spend all day just considering different options. 

Where do we get training in how to sort through those options and make decisions? We have people all around us and when we’re away from people, we’ve got Facebook. But where do we learn how to be a friend?

I have a friend who borrows my car. When he returns it, the radio is always on and turned way up. Noise blasts out. You can’t hear yourself think.

That’s how it is for those who can’t self-govern. The noise in their minds keeps them from seeing the world around them.

We’re hyper-aware of our rights. But we fail to distinguish between a right and an action that is good. Paul sought to instruct a new church on the issue when he said, “I have the right to do anything. However, not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything–but not everything is constructive.” 1 Cor. 10:23

Self-governance shows us how to pick those things that are constructive.

How do we learn self-governance?

It’s not rocket science. If you want to teach someone when to say yes and when to say no, give them more opportunities to make decisions and to feel the consequences of them.

Some people call this discipleship. Jesus practiced it. He didn’t just tell his disciples, “Follow me and watch me preach and heal.”

He didn’t say, “Hang out with me and we’ll unroll a few scrolls together in the synagogue.” He sent them out multiple times (see Luke 9 & 10) to practice and to experience failure.

He talked to them in great detail about the kind of failure they could expect and what to do when they experienced it. “You’ll be rejected, arrested, hauled into court and maybe killed,” he said.

That’s how they learned to trust the Holy Spirit to guide them to self-govern.

All we need is a few teachers who will try Jesus’ model of discipleship and young people will begin self-governing.

Our model is broken

What we in the Church often lack is teachers who will take a young person and regularly give them these opportunities and then debrief the consequences of their choices.

Sure, we’ll guide them through a Bible study. We’ll take them to an amusement park. But very few will trust young people with real responsibility. Not many will train them in failure.

Young people sense this and feel the inner restlessness. “Where can I go to be trusted with possibility?” They think. “Where can I go and experience a world that I sense is so much bigger than the one I know?”

They sense that greatness is locked within them, but no one has ever talked to them about the price tag or process for releasing it.

In a culture of buffet lines that says yes to everything, self-governance is best learned by walking away.

By paying attention to the restlessness inside and seeing it as a gift – as an invitation to experiencing the righteous pain that you’ve been deprived of, you can feel yourself alive for maybe the first time.

A better way

I recommend a little assessment to start: Do you have the ability to commit and to stick with it? Is your promise good? Do you know how to power through failure? Do you look to others to tell you what to do, or do you regularly take initiative? Do you find yourself feeling like a victim or do you own the consequences of your decisions?

Parents, have you given your children the gift of self-governance? Have they had the opportunity to make important decisions and to feel the consequence? 

If you are under the age of 30 and still struggling to release your inner poetry, or if you’re afraid of failure and commitment and sense that there’s more, I recommend that you hit the re-set button.

The best thing you can do is to find a discipler and have them guide you through a journey of discovery. I’ve made it my life’s work to give 20-somethings a proper rite of initiation that not only teaches them self-governance, but shows them the kingdom and how to join God in bringing it.

It’s a righteous path to walk. Maybe the best place to learn how to say yes and no is by saying no to the dull life you’re leading. Walk away and invest in learning to self-govern. There’s no better time to start than now.

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