“Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.
“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed are those who heed wisdom’s instruction.”
(Proverbs 29:17, 18)
restrain: check or hold in; keep in check, under control, or within bounds.
restraint : being restrained; restraining agency or influence; self-control.
(The Oxford Dictionary of Current English)
“The core discipline of the Christian life is hearing Jesus’ voice.” (Mark Carey)
Arguably the most significant work of childhood and adolescence is undertaking the journey of self-discovery. I don’t mean this in a self-indulgent way – we can only ever truly discover who we are grounded in our relationships with others, with the earth we share and the wider creation which shares it with us, and ultimately with the God who created us all. But – precisely because we were created, because we are not an accident of blind and indifferent forces – we have a need to discover ourselves, in order to fulfil our destiny.
When I look at anyone who has done something noteworthy with their life (whether that thing is acted out in the public spotlight or without any fanfare whatsoever; whether they become a celebrity because of what they do, or the extraordinary ordinary men and women whose funerals I take) I see a pattern of
identifying a convergence of passion and gifting, and
investing in that, at the expense of other possibilities:
a pattern of
knowing who they are and what they want to do
and making decisions that work with that, rather than work against that:
a pattern of revelation and restraint.
Conversely, whenever anyone has done nothing noteworthy with their life (and it is possible to do nothing noteworthy with your life), there is an underlying pattern or patterns of failing to identify passion and gifting, and/or not being able to invest in that; of passivity, and of making poor decisions.
Lives lived with an appreciation of revelation and restraint not only fulfil their own potential; they inspire others too. They inspire others to live with revelation and restraint (and so, in turn, live lives that are inspirational).
It is revelation that sets the boundaries for restraint. Without restraint, we are directionless, aimlessly wandering, drifting through life as it moves around and past us. With the right restraint, we are enabled to pursue the thing we were made for – including relationships, both those relationships that will support us and those relationships where we will support another person.
But restraint is not a fixed thing, or not entirely anyway. The boundaries need to be readjusted from time to time, as we grow – just as an exoskeleton must be shed and replaced with growth. Which is why we need to continue to hear revelation, in order to respond: so that the restraint remains a thing which gives freedom, rather than becomes confining.
Where do we go for revelation?
It is possible to get revelation by the sheer providential grace of God. Many do. But for those who choose to follow Jesus, there is something more: for he has promised that, as sheep hear and recognise the voice of their shepherd, so we hear his voice, his leading.
That being both his will and his provision for us, why would we choose to try to figure out life on our own?
Or why would we think that having a sense of vocation – of knowing who you are and what you are to do – would be for the exceptional few?