Back in my college days, I went to the campus library a lot. It was spacious and quiet with tall windows overlooking a peaceful stretch of grass dotted with trees and inviting benches. I was usually too busy studying for my nursing classes to read for pleasure, but I remember one title that caught my eye almost every time I walked down a particular aisle: Ideas Have Consequences. I never had time to read it, but the concept rings true to this day and still pulls me toward that as-yet-unread book.
Most people acknowledge the fact that actions have consequences. If I put my hand in the fire, it will get burned. If I wake up each morning and go to work, I’ll earn money. If I spend time practicing, I’ll learn to play the piano. If I only sit on the couch eating potato chips and playing video games, I’ll forfeit my health, most relationships, and most adventures.
What we do directly affects both our life experiences and our character–our choices largely shape who we become. Actions have consequences, whether positive or negative, intended or unintended. And it isn’t only our actions that affect us–the choices of others directly impact our lives, as well. The man who chooses to drink then drive, and then crashes into a minivan, harms both those lives as well as his own.
We know that actions have consequences. So, what causes us to act the way that we do?
Ideas. Ideas and beliefs, colored by emotions, influence and guide our choices in life.
If I believe that eating a variety of fruits and veggies every day, coupled with exercising at least 5 days a week, will improve my health–and then I do eat good food and exercise regularly–I’ll get healthier. I’ll almost certainly avoid some of the biggest risk factors for heart attack and heart disease: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and inactivity.
Ideas really do have consequences.
I’ve been thinking about all of this because January 1 is fast approaching. For many, a new year signifies a fresh start. Many will set goals and decide on New Year Resolutions–they’ve identified areas of growth or change and make a plan to reach them.
I love setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. On the Enneagram personality diagram, I’m a solid One, called The Reformer. I’m principled, idealistic, goal-oriented, and self-disciplined. I’m very committed to my view of what is good, right, and true. Once I identify the good, I strive toward it, and it’s really hard to change my course (just ask my very patient husband!).
I, too, have goals for this new year, and I’ll be writing a post soon about how to create reachable goals (especially health-related ones) at my other blog, tipsfromanurse.com.
But this post is about the immense importance of both actions (which stem from ideas) and grace. We are all shaped by both.
We’re familiar with the strong correlation between action and consequence–though to be honest, we often hope to be the exception to the rule. When I see someone flying down the road, driving like a maniac, I very much want them to be caught by a police officer and receive an expensive, behavior-altering ticket. When I look down and realize that I’m speeding, on the other hand, I very much hope that no one (especially a police officer) noticed my error as I gingerly step on the brake. We like it when our actions bring pleasant rewards–but the same is not true when we justly deserve unpleasant punishment.
The connection between action and consequence is aptly summed up in one Biblical phrase: You reap what you sow.
And it’s true.
You really do.
Unless you add a beautiful thing called grace into the equation. When you do that, it miraculously changes everything.
One of my favorite summaries of grace occurs in Isaiah 55:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Usually, someone who doesn’t have money would have two options: 1) Go without water, wine, and milk, or 2) Steal water, wine, and milk.
But when you throw grace into the mix, a third option appears: 3) Receive water, wine, and milk at no cost to you. Get them for free (because someone else paid for them in your place).
You do reap what you sow…unless God steps in and gives you what He has sown.
I’m writing this post because of the long journey toward grace and freedom that I have walked thus far. For many years, I tried to earn the money I needed to buy my water, wine, and milk. I worked really, really hard. But, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t ever enough. I was still thirsty!
It wasn’t until I realized that I could never work hard enough or long enough…I could never be perfect enough…I could never follow God’s laws and reach the ideal…I could never really love on my own (and love, of course, sums up all of God’s laws and embodies the ideal toward which I strove)…it wasn’t until I realized that I was totally unable to pay on my own that I witnessed a miracle.
I finally realized that I would always be thirsty–that I would, in fact, die–if it all depended on my efforts. And when I realized that horrible, nauseating, terrifying truth–Someone came to me. And He held out His hands. And He said, “Come. Drink your fill. I purchased fresh water, wine, and milk. I know you can’t pay for them. But I want you to have them. Your efforts won’t ever achieve this result–you can’t pay. But I can, and I did. Drink deeply–what I give won’t run dry.”
This Giver of never-ending water (and wine and milk, too!) is the reason I no longer have to “spend [my] money for that which is not bread, and [my] labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2). I’m free. Instead of endless striving, now I can dance in this Love that graciously meets all my needs. Jesus is beautiful.
Jesus does the impossible: He changes hearts that are bent toward self-destruction and others-destruction, slowly re-making them until they become hearts of love…hearts like His.
Jesus changes our hearts, which changes our ideas, which changes our actions. But since change is a life-long process, He steps in and pays for that which we desperately need but can never earn on our own.
So make those goals! We all need to change. We all have areas in need of growth. New Year Resolutions are really important! If nothing else, they highlight the fact that we are not basically good. We can’t achieve perfection on our own.
But as you make them, just remember that while you can achieve amazing things by setting goals and working, step by step, to reach them…you can’t achieve the most important thing on your own. That takes grace.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13