When Permission is Not What We Need



The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng. —Psalm 68:11

My dad was a very authoritarian father. Whenever my sisters or I asked permission from him for anything, the answer, almost without exception, would be no because no was his natural default.

It was so much of an issue that our dear mother coached us to come to her when we wanted anything. The idea was that we would ask her and when the time was right, she would talk to Dad about it and talk him around, and then would come back to us and tell us we should now go and ask our father. We would ask Dad and he would magnanimously give permission for us to do what it was we wanted to do. It didn’t always work but it worked often enough for it to be worth it to us girls to take part in an elaborate charade that often lasted anything up to a week from first mention to permission.

For a seemingly innocuous word, Permission is a very large concept. Without permission, the only two courses of action are acquiescence or rebellion.

When we’re talking in terms of leadership, acquiescence to lack of permission is subjective. What do you most want? To get what you believe is right, or to preserve the status quo?

If preservation of the peace is paramount, then acquiescence is the only course of action. This can be a good thing, for instance, in the behaviour of children with their parents. Keeping the peace is great in a family, especially when the leadership is healthy and is invested in the well-being of the one to whom permission has been denied. It’s reasonable to assume under those circumstances that the best outcome for the one denied permission is tied up within the lack of permission.

But leadership isn’t always healthy, and when it is not, it is also not invested into the well-being of those who are being led. In leadership like that, permission is denied in order to control, constrict and confine those who are being led so the status quo can be preserved, and the status quo is keeping the leader in their position. (Think Kim Jong-un, leader of North Korea.)

When leadership isn’t healthy, non-acquiescence is seen as rebellion, and indeed, it may be, but rebellion against a corrupt rulership. All over the world, in ever century and every nation and people group since the beginning of time, people have been laying down their lives in order to overthrow corrupt leaders and legislation. Think Apartheid, the English workhouses, the plantations of the deep South, women and First Nations people denied the right to vote, FGM, child brides, the Dalit people of India, Mahatma Ghandi, the Hebrews in Egypt, the Arab Spring of 2011/12, Michael Brown, Philadelphia, and many, many more.

I could fill innumerable books with stories of people who have made a decision to not take NO for an answer. And some of them died of their decision. But the world was changed because they no longer waited for permission.

Jesus said, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword to divide families/nations/people groups.” (Matthew 10:34-36) That’s an odd thing for the Prince of Peace to say and yet peacemakers have so much more power to bring peace than peacekeepers. Peacekeeping may look quiet on the surface, but underneath is a roiling, boiling sea of tumult in which there is never any rest. Resentment, fury, depression, grey, unimaginative drudgery is the result of efforts to keep the peace.

Sometimes there has to be a fight. Sometimes people have to die to bring freedom. Sometimes permission is not what we need, but courage and faith and determination that the world we live in can be changed, and that we, with our tiny little lives, can contribute to that change.

The world we live in now doesn’t look like the one God created. The determination of governments to protect a peace that has no Prince of Peace to bring direction is a lost cause. The heavy religious leaders whose overbearing edicts have kept women and girls in places of deep shame, humiliation and subjugation, are becoming uncomfortable and agitated, as permission is no longer being sought and women are choosing not to take no for an answer.

Peacemakers are rising in numbers that even ten years ago we would not have thought possible. People with a greater vision and revelation than those who are leading them are growing up from the grass roots, refusing to wait for permission any longer. They have a call, they are empowered and empowering each other, and freedom to live according to God’s design is becoming the new norm.

Permission is a good thing to look for if it’s a God-given call. By all means, wait until God gives the word …

… but when God does, don’t wait for anyone else to sign the forms in triplicate!