Something about catching the bus

Something about catching the bus

I’ve been on the buses a fair bit over the last six months. The first time in a long time. We live close to Canning Highway and every second Thursday I have a morning-long meeting with a client in Palmyra who is also located on the highway. It’s a twenty-five-minute car drive or a half-hour bus drive, and I’ve discovered I can be a whole lot more productive on the bus than in the car. There’s the added bonus of getting to de-brief the meetings on the way home and look as though I know what I’m doing with a SmartRider.

As fun as it is, I’ve realised there’s a big different between catching the bus because I choose to and catching the bus because I have no other option.

Right now, I’m on the bus to an appointment in Cottesloe via my regular meeting in Palmyra. I don’t find the six different stops a hassle, because right now, it’s an adventure. It may be adding twenty minutes to my journey, but it’s an adventure. Armed with my SmartRider, laptop and notebook, I feel as though I’m at the peak of my productive powers. Mind you, I could have ridden a scooter and, on another day taken the car, but I’ve chosen to catch the bus.

If I felt like I had to catch the bus I probably wouldn’t feel so fond of the idea. If I had no license, no vehicle and no other options, I’d feel forced into a corner and pretty soon I’d come to resent these bus trips. I’d equate them with a lack of liberty and freedom.

We’re not so different when it comes to responding to God. The difference between legalistic obligation and a grace-driven response couldn’t be starker — but only if you’re looking at the heart. The outward sign would look little different. Either way, you’re on the bus, right?

My response to God can be fuelled by obligation. While it’s not what he wants for me, there’s enough ammunition to frame it so. When I look to his grace and experience the joy and freedom that comes from being in His presence, though, I want more of it. And so I respond with grace and holiness. I hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not because it’s a legal obligation or a productive task (in the terms of productivity I alluded to earlier) but because as I hunger and thirst, I’m filled and blessed.

It’s only in responding to truth that I enjoy that blessing. Not a rigid, religious or formulaic response, but one that’s moved by God’s action towards me in Jesus.

A focus on the often-empty religious acts separated from His presence leaves me with little; perhaps a few trophies of self-righteousness, but mostly dry obligation that fools me into thinking that Jesus wants to rob my joy, not restore it.

The thing I’ve discovered with bus-riding, and with obedience and good works: frame it as ‘obligation’ and it becomes cumbersome, laborious and dutiful. Even if it’s good.

Our tendency in framing ‘works as bad’ will be to consider any response that can seen as a good work to also be bad. That’s shoddy thinking. Gracious responses to God’s goodness will produce the fruit of good works. That doesn’t make the fruit and good works bad, they’re the good produce of a healthy root.

If you’ve built a rigid theology of works = bad, though, you’re going to resist response and obedience just so you don’t fall into a (supposed) trap of self-righteousness. That’s a bit like me refusing to hug my wife in fear that she might think I have some ulterior motive. Ok, sometimes I do.

Paul encourages us to never weary in doing good. It’s not a slavish obligation; it’s a joyful response.

It’s our penchant for abstraction, not God’s desire for us to demonstrate our understanding of his unconditional, free-flowing grace that stops us in our tracks. Or a simple excuse for our lethargy. One of those.

We talk at The Big Table of Jesus birthing a church that is a fellowship of the willing not an institution of obligation, that’s us and works as well. If I want to reframe my bus-riding as ‘obligation’, I can choose to at any moment. I’ll be the loser in that exchange. Because bus-riding is a good thing.


Add yours
  1. 1

    I really liked this until the end, and then you lost me. I feel like your initial premise is: If you want to ride the bus, then you’re gonna love riding the bus. If you’re trying to ride the bus cause you have to, but you really aren’t psyched on the bus, the bus ride is gonna be laborious, and infact, the bus will probably do you more harm than good maybe walk or ride a bike. When relating this back to works it’s great!

    If you’re actions are fueled by a desire to do xzy of course it won’t be laborious and unfruitful and it will be good. But if they’re not, how can the answer be “Then make them great and fruitful and enjoy it” which is what it seems like your ending response is. I feel like it creates a conundrum i.e. “you don’t have to ride and enjoy the bus, but you do actually have to ride and enjoy the bus, so just don’t not enjoy the bus”. essentially.
    Why just not ride the bus if you don’t love it? Scooters are great too.

    I feel being honest trumps trying to love the bus.

    If you’re not fueled by a passionate response to do something, erm, don’t pretend like you should be! If Jesus grace is real, then it shouldn’t matter. right?

    • 2
      Simon Elliott

      Thanks for commenting, Dan!
      Perhaps my analogy was clunky and convoluted – I’ll give it another try.
      I think you nailed it already, though, the post is about doing stuff (works) disconnected from grace.
      Jesus’ grace to us is free and sets us free. It requires nothing of my other than accepting its invitation (or it wouldn’t be grace). As I enjoy that grace I WANT to respond to that grace (not have to, want to). The greater the glimpse of Jesus’ grace to me, the more I want to respond. I think where I was (clunkily) trying to head in the post is that when we separate responses (in the case of the post, catching the bus) from response, we lose the essential connection of the ‘why’. (And if there has been no enjoyment of His grace, there is no compelling ‘why’). I’m not suggesting you use any particular mode of transport (!) rather, that when any of them turns from joy, to duty, we need to return to the grace that is the foundation of any response…rather that ‘trying to pretend we love the bus’. In fact, in the absence of Jesus’ grace, we may come to despise ‘the bus’ (whatever ‘the bus’ is)!
      Does that make any more sense?

  2. 3

    Cheers Simon!
    Don’t worry the analogy wasn’t lost in a mode of transport debate! But I think you nailed it.
    I’ve heard this topic discussed alot, but it always comes with the final caveat of ‘you’ve received grace, so you should want to respond, cause it’s a response of joy’. But I think it creates (high potential for) a condition of acceptance instead of (whatever form of) a genuine response. I.e. ‘Here is the correct response to this’. Which failing a genuine correct response and obvious subsequent desire to respond correctly tends to lead into a discussion about either needing to really understanding grace (Said condition, if you understand grace, your response will be this), lack of commitment to work xyz or the wonderful provision of opportunities for character building.. hang on, wasn’t grace catch free?
    I guess I just wish sometimes that it wasn’t always ended with a correct response, but rather the response was just inferred. I.e. guess what, here’s grace and there’s no strings attached! enjoy 🙂
    or as you put it.. “Jesus’ grace to us is free and sets us free. It requires nothing of my other than accepting its invitation”
    That for me would really unlock the truth of grace without setting up a subset of acceptance requirements. I feel like then we wouldn’t be having this discussion, cause the point would be mute!

    • 4
      Simon Elliott

      I totally agree with you.

      You know I can’t stop there…

      I love Fi. She loves me. I respond to the love I have for her and the love she has for me by doing different things for her/with her. I don’t have to, I want to. I love her. If she was to say to me ‘thanks for telling me I love you, now don’t do a thing to show this…don’t let anyone know, don’t put me above anyone else, don’t spend time with me, don’t honour me, don’t encourage me’, then I’d feel pretty bummed. I love her, I want to.

      You could argue that this is my ‘correct’, dutiful response and that I am obliged to do these things cause I’m married to her and I SHOULD do them anyway. I probably wouldn’t enjoy that kind of response.

      You could also argue that I should just accept her love and leave it there – but who’d want to leave it there. She’s great and I love her!

      I very seldom consider any of my responses to Fi as ‘acceptance requirements’ but I totally get that someone could decide to frame them that way. That’d be sad – they’re not demanded by her…but I also get that she’d expect that someone who loved her would respond in that way.

      To receive grace without response would feel loveless to me. Transactional. To respond without love would feel similarly transactional. I know both are possible.

      In some ways, this gets to the heart of the original post. Separate love from response and it turns dutiful, obligatory and transactional.

  3. 5

    Hmmmm, I think the best thing to do here is seperate love from relationship. Cause love can be unconditional, but a relationship definitely isn’t! A relationship absolutely comes with an expectation of behaviour, emotion and response. I can guarantee that if you do nothing in your relationship, eventutally Fi will be like, this isn’t working, I’m out! And if you said to Fi, I don’t love you, you’d prob be heading in the same direction but even faster!

    But it would be totally ok for Fi to say, I Love you Simon, and you don’t have to do anything to make me feel that way, you don’t even have to do anything for me, just accept the fact I love you. Surely this is the best way to describe grace, as an unconditional acceptance of who you are, as you are. When you signed up to Fi on the alter as a confirmation of your relationship, I’m fairly sure there was a list of expectations you both agreed to. If grace is more like a relationship, with a list of expectations, emotions and behaviours, then pretending it’s unconditional just doesn’t work for me!

    Maybe my idea of unconditional is wrong? There’s no problem with saying that to accept God’s grace there is a ‘relational expectation’ and ‘expected behaviours’, but to me that’s at odds with unconditional love.

    • 6
      Simon Elliott

      Yep, I hear what you’re saying but I don’t think it’s possible to separate grace from love – one is extended unconditionally in the context of relationship.
      I’m not sure how grace would look disconnected from relationship – wouldn’t it be a hypothetical notion (cause for grace to be given and received there needs to be a giver and receiver…and that’s in the context of relationship)
      Before I loved Jesus, he loved me. That’s unconditional love expressed as grace in the context of relationship.
      But it does take love and relationship to extend grace.
      For God so (unconditionally) LOVED the world, that he GAVE (in grace) his only Son…
      Why does God love us? Why did he gift us his grace? Is there any purpose in his love and grace towards us beyond us receiving it?

+ Leave a Comment