Change Your Life with an Ancient Practice
By Ed Gungor
CBN.com In his first release since the best-selling There is More to the Secret, Ed Gungor calls the church back to authenticity and community. His book, The Vow, invites readers to return to an ancient practice.
Over and over again in scripture Christians are encouraged to "make vows to the Lord" (e.g., Psalm 76:11). Is it possible that making vows-- intentionally inserting various Christian practices into our lives-- would have great value to 21st-century Christians? What if we thoughtfully and publicly articulated vows before God and those we love? Would it help our lives take on the tone of the eternal? Has something been lost in the openness of the 21st century? The answer is yes!
Gungor recently discussed his book.
What does it mean to make a vow?
Vows are promises made to God. They may be certain special acts a person decides to participate in, or ways in which he or she chooses to live for a limited period of time (or for a lifetime). They are simply our own love, transformed and directed towards God and the cause of his Kingdom. They emerge from the free will (vows can never be forced on us), and because a vow is a free-will promise, it is binding and so differs from a simple decision or resolution to do or change something. Because vows are made to God, they are considered very serious.
If Jesus wants us to make vows, why is there so little instruction in the Bible regarding them?
When I first began to unearth this whole vow-making enterprise, I couldn’t help but wonder why both the Old and New Testaments only mention vows without much in the way of specific instruction regarding them. In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster makes the point that, though the Bible addresses ancient practices like solitude and fasting, it gives “almost no instruction about how to do them.” He explains that the Bible doesn’t give specific instructions because these practices “were so frequently practiced and such a part of the general culture that the ‘how to’ was common knowledge.” It turns out the same holds true for vow-making. The fact that Scripture does not give us specifics about vowing does not mean it is an invalid practice anymore than the absence of directives on how to approach fasting in the New Testament invalidates that practice. The truth is, these things were so common in the everyday experience of people during the time the New Testament was written, they needed no specific instruction on the how or why they should fast or vow—they just did it.
Why is the concept of making vows such a radical idea in American culture?
Vows are promises you make directly to God—we’re not talking about New Year’s Resolutions here. They are promises from which there is no retreat. They imitate the ancient warriors who burned their ships to cut off the possibility to run from battle. You are committed when you enter a vow to God. That is why they should not be entered into lightly.
But most Americans are in trouble in the “keeping your word” department. We are a flip-flop culture—you can have a strong opinion about something one day and completely change your mind the next. And this is considered OK; nobody bats an eye. We are part of an ideologically disposable and ever-changing society. What is “odd” is for people to stand firm in their convictions—that crowd is seen as “closed” and “narrow-minded.” As a result, the average American feels he or she can make commitments and then back out of them whenever they become too hard to keep. Even the marital vow has become a pretty pale enterprise. When a vowing young couple says, “I promise to love and cherish you,” to each other, they are really saying something more like, “I promise I will try.” For many, the marriage vow comes with a prenuptial “out” implied. Our society really doesn’t see a vow as something that is considered irrevocable. We have lost our capacity for integrity.
What are some specific examples of vows people can make before God?
There are so many. Vowing is simply a way of going the extra mile, of loving God in ways that go beyond necessity and requirement. Obviously, simply obeying the direct commands of Scripture is not going the extra mile. For example, no one should make a vow to avoid sin because God already commands us to avoid sin. However, we may vow to participate in things that support our obedience to direct commands. For example, a dating couple might get to the point where they keep slipping closer and closer to inappropriate physical contact and they don’t want to fall into sin. They cannot “vow” not to sin, but they can vow to keep themselves out of situations where sinning is easier (i.e. vow to only be “alone” in public).
Vow-making enables us to take our good intentions from landing on the back-burner. It encourages us to conquer the fickle nature of the will and actually do the things that demonstrate our love and devotion to God. There are several kinds of vows: vows of communion (our relationship with Christ), community (our relationship with one another in the believing community) and commission (our relationship to the world and the mission God has given us to reach them with the claims of Christ). As the Holy Spirit leads each of us in the practice of making vows, we have endless opportunities to express our love for God in the most individual and creative ways. In community vows, a group of believers join together to make a promise before the Lord. Most importantly, vows tend to be sacrificial in nature. Our commitment, whether to serving in a homeless shelter, to fasting for lent or to practicing the spiritual disciplines, will cost us something.
Why do you think the practice of making vows has the potential to make a significant impact on the world for the cause of Christ?
Vow-making brings influence. It is both personally transformative and political. Our union with the person of God never just takes place in our hearts or personal space. It influences situations, community, family, friendships, civic work — everything. Faith is pushed out of the domain of thought. Our choices plunge us into real life and all the suffering and contradictions that occur there, while remaining steady in our devotion. This is a quest for influence. This is how the typical mom with three kids still in diapers can influence the world. This is how the high-school student, who is still trying to discover who she is and where she fits in the world, can influence others for Jesus. This is how the retired person struggling with health issues or intensely caring for an elderly parent changes the world.
It is evident that we are walking into a dark night of deep cultural displacement as the church. The ways we used to influence the world are passing away. The old symbols of safety (big church buildings, political power, Leave It to Beaver culture, etc.) are becoming more and more a thing of the past. What is needed in these coming days is a prophetic people, tethered to the vision of the kingdom of God through a lively confession and a prophetic praxis—a vow-rich people. By so living, we do a couple of things: 1) we show that the kingdoms of our world are less than they think they are—we “judge” them; and 2) we embody our salvation in real time in real circumstances—we offer “salvation” to the kingdoms of the world. We need to be, as Paul puts it in Philippians, a politeuma—a robust, lively “colony of heaven” situated right smack in the middle of the chaos of pagan culture.
When did you first discover the concept of “vowing”? Why devote an entire book to an idea that, on the surface, seems pretty simple?
Have you ever been hiking on a trail and noticed an old, faint footpath wandering off the main trail deeper into the woods? I love those. I can hardly resist the temptation to explore. Making vows has been one of those less-traveled footpaths for me. I came to Christ in my teens and I’ve been on the God-trail for almost forty years (I’m an official old guy). About six years ago I noticed this little path of vowing as I was casually reading through the book of Acts. Vow-making is an old trail that was very familiar to the ancients who have gone before us, but is virtually unknown for us moderns. As I have wandered down this intriguing, empowering—sometimes dangerous—path, I have seen that it is really leading somewhere. I feel like vow-making is a misplaced gem that, except in the lives of a relative few, has been “tucked away” for many years. It holds a key to authenticity and community that could well spark a world-wide church movement.
The Vow releases in January 2008. Purchase your copy here.
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Interview courtesy of The B&B Media Group and Ed Gungor.
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