There is no doubt that God has given mankind the opportunity to make choices. We label this as free will. Many of the contemporary evangelical movements make a big deal of free will. In fact, some go so far as to say God has given you free will, and if you make right choices, you will prosper in this world, but if you make wrong choices (sin), you will do poorly. Unfortunately, so many traditions make such a great deal of this concept, it has become mainstream thinking. I call that unfortunate, because it misses some of the great nuances of the understanding of call and choice, and it completely misses the point of the Gospel.
Within the teachings of Christ, we can pretty fervently state that a choice to follow Christ is not a choice to better yourself in this world, but it is to prepare yourself for the next. Jesus spoke against the religious zealots who put the law before compassion. He spoke against those who lost sight of God in the midst of their practices of faith. His wrath was shown when he saw the temple working to profit itself over celebrating God.
When one comes to believe in Christ, they welcome a life that will undoubtedly be difficult. But before there is the choice, there is the call. Calls are always difficult. Whether it is the call to go on a mission or the call to raise a family, calls should never be entered into lightly, or for reward. That never works out well—just watch the movie Mommie Dearest. Our great examples of the reluctant prophets, who by speaking the word of God often risked their life and comfort, teach us that to take up a call, we have to make the choice to put ourselves within the hands of God, knowing that it will work out in the direction God has planned.
This is different from the understanding of election and predestination, since it is your choice whether or not to accept the path that has been laid out before you. When that choice is made, one must learn to trust and know that in the end, it will work out to the good. And if the wrong choice is made, we ask God for the grace to reopen the door to allow us to find the right choice again. I think of that when I think of my colleagues who joined the clergy later in life: they could mark all the times God had called them, but they turned the other direction.
At the end of choice and call comes thanksgiving. Ultimately, we realize that in the midst of our choices and our life, God is ever present, and though we may not receive the glory and reward in this life, we will certainly find it in the next. Thus, giving time to give thanks to God is very important, because to avoid it is to leave God out of the equation and lose sight of the role God is playing in your life. Though we have free will, that does not make our lives devoid of the presence of God. In fact, if we learn anything from Christ, keeping God central to our life changes our priorities, challenges us in our relationships, and leads us to see the love that God truly has for us.
Though it is once a year, don’t forget God while celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Rather, let yourself be transformed by the grace and love that God has given to you through the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen