Check-in day at BJU dawned cloudy with a chance of tears—for me anyway. I pushed the door open to leave the girls’ dorm and blinked at daylight like a groundhog coming out of hibernation. Seven weeks of Christmas vacation had kicked my introvertish nature into hyperdrive. I wanted to turn around, head back to my bed, and hide under the covers. It felt like everywhere I looked there were people.
Generally, I like people, and I am one—which helps matters significantly. But on that day in January, the walk to class looked as intimidating as a marathon looks to a puffing one-miler like me. There were hellos to say, conversations to start, and class discussions to join. There were problems to solve, dinner plans to make, and advisors to meet with—good things that all required proactive effort.
Even for people less introvertish than I am, taking initiative is hard. No one wants to be the first to speak up in class. Or to be the first to offer friendship to a co-worker who might take it or leave it. No one wants to say the first hello on the sidewalk. Or to make the first move in a relationship. First moves are risky. And the potential of being rejected nags at all of us.
But here’s the good news. The most important relationship in your life and mine has already been initiated for us.
God is the Initiator. He is the Creator of beginnings. As recounted in Genesis, God started the world with His voice. He made the first move in a personal relationship with humans when He created Adam and Eve. He created them with minds and wills, rather than robot control panels. In essence, He created beings that could reject Him.
When Adam and Eve rejected Him for power and a piece of fruit, God initiated a plan that would allow mankind to turn their wills back to Him. God came to Abraham and told him that he would be the father of a nation. God chose Israel. He listened to His servant, David. He spoke to the prophets. He actively sought after His wayward people.
He put a rescue plan in motion by sending His Son to a dusty corner of the world, to be born to a carpenter’s fiancée. The Son, Jesus Christ, suffered the ultimate rejection when He was killed by the people He came to rescue. After submitting to a tomb for three days, He shattered the grip of death and came back to life, subduing death and offering life to all who believed in Him.
And it doesn’t stop there. God initiated His Word through the inspiration of human authors. He preserved Scripture so that we could know Him. He initiated your life and mine when He set our hearts beating in the womb. And He has a good future for us beyond the darkness of death and pain. The most amazing part is that no one asked God to follow this script. He didn’t perform His plan as a favor to mankind. He acted simply because He is the Initiator.
God desires to reach out to us, and this desire is driven by compassion. In his book Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis wrote that “[God’s] compulsion is our liberation.” The driving force of His character releases us from the clutches of evil. Throughout the Gospels, the compassionate heart of God is revealed. In Luke 15:4—6, Christ, in His own words, gives the illustration of a kind shepherd. This shepherd, discovering that one of his sheep is missing, goes and searches for that sheep. When he finds it, he lifts the sheep onto his strong shoulders and carries it home, rejoicing.
Notice that the sheep doesn’t do much in this illustration. Though we can safely imagine some full-throated baaing, the emphasis of this passage is on the shepherd. Grammatically, the sheep isn’t even a subject in these verses; rather, it is always the object of the shepherd’s desire. And, like lost sheep, we are the objects of Christ’s desire. We are the ones who accept or reject the saving grace of the shepherd as He offers to lift us and carry us.
In his book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund calls the kindness of God “a divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve.” Again, God did not reach out to us because we first reached out to Him (John 4:19). His initiating kindness reappears throughout His Word. If nothing else, we should read the Bible for all the instances when God intervenes from a heart of compassion. We should note the times that God acts first, realizing that God’s love—His initiating love—has transforming effects.
As I left the dorm on that first day of classes, I might have been scared about all the beginnings ahead. Okay, I was. I didn’t want to start conversations, grow relationships, face possible rejections, and (oh, terrifying thought) say hellos on the sidewalk. But I felt reassured—safe, even—in knowing that the most important relationship of my life was one that had been initiated for me.