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Written by Samantha Thomson
It wasn’t long before I realised I had a special ‘power’. I think I was about two years old, maybe younger. As I grew, I learnt that this power could affect all kinds of things in ways that I wanted, including my relationships with others and my environment - what great news! Needless to say, I got to work quickly. I also learnt that this power is not unique to me, but is possessed by all humans. It isn’t ‘free choice’ or ‘wisdom’ or ‘love’ – though those could also fit that description. Not as ‘nice’ as those other options, I term this power the ‘underground agenda’:
‘The power to have your own, self-serving desires in situations and work towards them in a socially-acceptable, unnoticed way.’
Not quite as devious as outright ‘manipulation’, and not as broad as ‘human nature’. But I guess you could say it’s in the same ball-park. The power of the ‘underground agenda’ allows us the opportunity to act on our own behalf while appearing neutral, or better yet, for the good of others. I’ll give an example of this power to clarify what I mean by ‘underground agenda’.
I was about 6 years old, and at my cousin’s house with my 5-year-old cousin and 4-year-old sister. We each had a bag of home-made popcorn and were chatting outside on the tyre swing. It was here that I decided I wanted my delicious popcorn to last the longest. And so I announced: “Whoever can eat their popcorn quickest wins!” It was on – my younger cousin and sister began shoveling popcorn into their mouths. I on the other hand took my sweet time, quite unlike me in any normal situation. I didn’t win the competition. In fact, I came last. But my agenda had been fulfilled, and I alone enjoyed the prolonged tastiness. No hard feelings, no harm done; all in the name of play!
The craftiness of my scheming is not an attractive human quality, I know. But I suspect that, to one degree or another, you can identify with this frame of mind. I suspect you, like me, are no stranger to using the power of your ‘underground agendas’ (whatever they may be), and that you’ve probably used them in far more serious contexts than the one in my example.
What motivates our ‘underground agendas’? Coming from a psychology background, my training suggests this approach might stem from:
· Feeling powerless to assert yourself in your environment. As a result, you aim to control as much as you can without any visible signs of ‘rocking the boat’.
· Feeling powerless generally in your life. As a result, you take ahold of any power opportunities you can. This ‘underground’ assertion of power helps combat your feeling of vulnerability.
· The basic human desire to serve yourself first. This motivation is one of our constants in life, as indicated by God’s corrective commands to ‘love others as He loves them’ and not to do anything out of ‘selfish ambition and vain conceit’.
· The belief that if you don’t work to ensure your interests are taken care of, no-one else will take care of them. You view yourself as a team of one.
What real harm can a life filled with ‘underground agendas’ do? I suggest much more than we might think.
As a young adult who has grown up in church, I have lived a fairly ‘Christian-looking’ life. Much of what God says about Christian living makes sense, and keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days has been a fairly straight-forward decision for me. I found reading scriptures stimulating, and have loved the discussions and sharing of ideas. And so it surprised me somewhat when the decision for baptism was not an easy one. In fact, it has been a fairly tumultuous time for me. I felt like I didn’t know God well. I felt like I could commit myself to God’s ways of living, but commit myself to God, ‘face-to-face’? I found that concept overwhelming.
Through much discussion, I realised that one of my discomforts about a relationship with God was that I couldn’t get anything ‘past’ Him. With God, no agenda is ‘underground’. You cannot ‘control’ your relationship with Him - how you appear to Him, or your motivations for decisions. It’s all open – it’s all lit up. As someone who relished in her underground power, I wasn’t comfortable with this. An authentic relationship with God could not survive alongside my continued, self-serving ‘underground agendas’. Alternately phrased, an authentic relationship with God could not exist if I sought to control all parts of my environment to suit me. My relationship with God was suffering because I refused to surrender my agenda to His. I refused to trust His agenda over mine. Unlike the other Christian decisions I had faced so far, this one was not so easy.
Perhaps this decision is easier for some than others. Perhaps it’s reflective of levels of pride... wouldn’t surprise me! But we are all human, and that is near synonymous with pride. If we choose to surrender our own agenda to God, we are choosing to do some pretty big things. We are choosing to:
· Trust someone with our life above ourselves.
· Surrender any underhanded ways of keeping our environment in a way that keeps us ‘okay’ (if these ways are in opposition to God’s ways).
· Surrender any underhanded means of achieving our personal goals (e.g. marriage, travel, financial security) and let those be reached only when it’s consistent with God’s ways.
Those sound like nice religious ‘ideas’. But if considered authentically, they can sound terrifying. Our ‘underground’ strategies are powerful tools! They keep things the way we like – the way we need! They are our ammunition! What are we left with without them? What tools can we use when we are feeling lonely, scared, down, jealous, angry, neglected, or the odd-one-out?
God says that if we choose to surrender our agenda to Him, He will give us a new power. Not the power we identified growing up; not the power to underhandedly alter situations to ease our moods, make sure we have friends around us at all times, or make sure we present more favourably than our actions warrant. If we surrender our agenda to God, God gives us the best power we can have: the power of His Holy Spirit. As outlined in 2 Timothy 1:7, God’s Holy Spirit gives us three new powers to help influence our relationships and environment:
· A spirit of power, to meet difficult challenges with courage and conviction.
· A spirit of love, to help us act selflessly in all of our relationships.
· A spirit of a sound mind/self-control, to help keep us from the entanglements of life.
Combined with the new opportunity for oneness with God, these three powers help to counter each of the motivations that may lead us to adopt our ‘underground agenda’. We are not left powerless when we surrender our underhanded powers to God; on the contrary, we are deeply empowered.
Scripture says submission to God is not a one-off event, but a daily decision. While outsourcing your priorities to God’s can feel counter-intuitive, it is made easier when you know that His agenda is for us to prosper (John 10:10) and grow in our relationship with Him and others (John 17:20-23). When you think about it, this goal is much more settling than our own, which often disregards our future and meaningful relationship growth (1 John 2:16).
I am now baptised, and quickly learning that the same underground motivations I had before my baptism remain close by. For the time ahead, I will remember that, with God and his Holy Spirit, I will not need my old powers to keep me ‘okay’. I will remember that submission to God is choosing to be a team of two with Him. I will recall that His ways (and His agenda) are far more kind, circumspect and rewarding than mine. I will remember that the quality of my relationship with God will always reflect my level of transparency with Him and trust in Him. I will try to remember the daily nature of this challenge. And in so doing, I will slowly learn how to live life as God intends it to be – full, real, directional, and safe. And of course, full of love.
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