Comments Off on Meditations on Wholeness in Christ: Our Inborn Hunger
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
Psalm 63:1-4 NKJV
Created in the image of God, we arrive in this world with an inborn hunger for the transcendent, even for heaven. Something in us is born knowing. In such a time as this, when
the Western world finds itself in the horrors of a spiritual and moral freefall, many come out of this culture to our conferences trapped in the ugliest of sinful compulsions, having forgotten this inborn holy craving. And it is in the presence of the Holy One, the very coming into sacred space filled with true worship, that these dread bonds begin to break and fall away from them. The true self that yearns for the good, the beautiful, the true, and the noble then begins its heroic journey up and out of the false self, with its layers and layers of sordid behavior, and breaks through into God’s light with His pathway in sight. 
We exist for a single and awesome purpose: to enjoy the Holy One forever. Daily news reports grieve us with the consequences of the loss of knowledge of Him, but let us keep faith that returning to Him is the remedy for every horror. No matter how buried our longing for Him may be, our holy God never calls off the search party, for He wills to pull us from the rubble of generations of neglect and rebellion. We are yet responsible to consent to and participate in His rescue mission. The Father is calling through Jesus His Son to every man, woman, and child: “Come out, come out of the prison house and live!”
Father, we thank You for calling us to such a heroic journey. We praise You for Your holiness that is undiminished by our faithlessness. We thank You for continuing to seek us in Your faithfulness and mercy. Truly You are a loving God, not willing that any should be destroyed. Come Lord Jesus, come Spirit of the Living God, and increase in us knowledge of the Holy. Breathe on us that we might lift true worship to Your throne. Make our homes and churches places where bondage is broken and many are empowered to walk the radiant path, for the glory of Your name.
 Leanne Payne, Leanne Payne Newsletter (Advent 2007), p. 1-2.
Painting: Arkhip Kuindzhi, 1895, Sunrise [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Comments Off on Opening Your Hand – The Art of Obedient Surrender
Opening Your Hand – The Art of Obedient Surrender
By Barbara Byers
“It is in learning to persevere through the really tough times that we grow in resolve (the masculine will to choose life and wholeness), in moral and spiritual discipline (the feminine wisdom to choose aright), and in the understanding of our own hearts…. True identity is … in our ability to obey and respond to Someone far greater than ourselves.” “It is when man is obedient, when he wills to unite himself with God, that he finds himself to be one person-a person whose choices are continually changing him from the very center of his being into that perfected person that shall be…. infused by the very power of God” (Crisis in Masculinity, Leanne Payne, p. 93 and p. 81).
At a particularly dark time about 10 years ago I was weeping and praying for my children who were suffering from some painful family circumstances. I imagined I was praying in faith, but truthfully I was just crying out in a self-pitying and very subjective way. My heart was not fully engaged and aware, not resting in a place of trust and hope. Expecting the sweet comfort the Lord so often brings, I wanted Him to commiserate with me. Instead, responding to my real need, He said something that seemed abrupt and even stern at the time, but it was so kind because it was so necessary and objective. God said simply: “Open your hand and give each of your children to Me.” I didn’t much like this injunction, preferring to hold on and have some illusion of control over this pain.
Uncertain of the outcome except that God alone was faithful and could be trusted, I pried open my fingers in an act of submission to His living word, for this is where true life and peace always are, in that choice of will to unite with God in listening obedience. Naming each of my children, I gave each to Him. I didn’t feel immediate comfort; I didn’t hear a promise, just that directive much like the one Abraham received over his son. Abraham had waited decades to receive what was promised, his beautiful Isaac, and then was tested. God told him to take Isaac up to a mountain in Moriah and sacrifice him on an altar. Immediately Abraham set out and had three days of what must have been an agonizing journey. His heart was revealed when he told his son, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8 NAS).
As with Abraham, surrender sometimes thrusts us into suffering, into a place we would much rather not go, but which produces the beautiful fruit of maturity. Sometimes suffering is the necessary tool that enables our surrender. As in Hosea 2, we may be wooed into the wilderness, but in that place of relinquishing, a fruitful future awaits us. God does not suppress or control our will; He invites us to unite our will with His in clear and robust choice. “There is all the difference between a will which is extinguished and one which is surrendered. God does not demand that our wills should be crushed out … He only asks that we should say ‘Yes’ to Him. Pliant to Him …we shall never be right till we let Him take, and break and make us” (F. B. Meyer, The Secret of Guidance, as quoted in Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer, p. 247).
“Not my will but yours” was the cry of Jesus just after the plea: “If you are willing, take this cup away from me” (Lk. 22:42 ISV). If He learned “obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8 KJV), how much more must we? When we finally lay down the demand that we must, simply must, have something our way, then life no longer has to be lived on our terms. We live in the obedience of surrender, and as St. Francis de Sales wrote in Finding God’s Will for You: “In obedience everything is safe.” Then De Sales quoted the psalmist: “‘Lord, You have held my right hand, and You have guided me in Your will, and with much glory You have received me. I have become like a horse in Your presence, and I am always with You'” (Ps. 73:22-24). For just as a well-trained horse is gentled and turns easily under the hand of his master, so also a soul that loves is pliable under God’s will.
Surrender, coming to the place of a vibrant unequivocal “yes” to God, unifies our will with His. We have settled that He is good in all His dimensions and faithful in all His ways; so the directed action of His will enables us to live more fully and freely. Surrender may be hard won in the battle, but knowing that Another is in control grants sweet relief. This is what Oswald Chambers termed “reckless abandon.” We may remain uncertain of the outcome, but we are certain of the love of the One into whose hands we have placed the future. “True abandonment is a simple resting in the love of God. It is like a child lying in its mother’s arms” (Francois Fenelon, Let Go). True abandonment is encapsulated in Psalm 131:1-2 (NIV): “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” What a beautiful image of a child at rest in his gracious mother’s arms.
Mature spirituality, the transformation into the true self, involves letting go. But does anyone really want to surrender, renouncing the right to have things his way? “The more we insist on control and the more we resist the call to hold our lives lightly… the more artificial our existence becomes. Our belief that we should grasp tightly what we need provides one of the great sources of our suffering. But letting go of possessions and plans and people allows us to enter, for all its risks, a life of new, unexpected freedom…. How can we live with greater willingness to let go… not clutching what we have, not trying to reserve a safe place we can rest in, not trying to choreograph our own or others’ lives, but to surrender to the God whom we love and want to follow” (Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing). Indeed, how can we live with that greater willingness to let go, to surrender and unite our will to God’s?
We have to have our hearts softened by grace, and often by suffering, so that we are ready to let go. Operating under our own illusions, we try to clutch at what control we believe we may have. Fear drives us to monitor and manage, and may make us wonder: “If I give this up, can I really trust God to bring good?” We may even fear scarcity. “Will I return empty if I give this up?” A friend of mine, in prayer, had an image from the Lord of this fear. She was holding onto the handle of one door, trying mightily to stretch across to take the handle and open the next door, but couldn’t make the connection. Fear kept her grasping the old door handle, but God wanted her to release the old and in faith step across the space to the next door, believing “she knew not what.” Fear can drive our unwillingness to relinquish, and unbelief undergirds that fear. We may be fearful or stubborn at first response, but if we trust the One who is asking, we can “give up” because we are “giving in to” Him. Words from the old hymn “Rock of Ages” says this well: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the Cross I cling.”
So surrender cannot be passive, I must take a faith action – I open my hand, collaborating with the Lord’s instructions. Another word for this is relinquishing. It suggests “not the tearing away of treasures but the willing and graceful sacrifice of them” (Goudge, The Bird in the Tree, p. 242). And when we relinquish, we may feel we relinquish into a darkness of we know not what, but our treasure goes straight into the hands of God. And whatever we won’t relinquish has not been purified, and we will clutch it to ourselves in idolatry. So every part of our soul-conscience, emotions, will, desires, mind, imagination, passions-must be surrendered to Him.
Like Mary we must say: “Be it unto me according to YOUR will, O God.” Paul echoes this prayer in Romans 12:1-2 when he urges us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice in a spiritual service of worship so that we may prove what His will is. How is that possible? He gives us the grace to trust Him! His love is always drawing, always making possible our surrender, always making a way. James 4:6-7 (NAS) exhorts: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit therefore to God.” One day every knee will bow, but what an honor to bow in surrender now! To do so is an act of worship, presenting to the Lord all that we are, trusting all that He is.
Remember Moses with the staff in his hand? In Exodus 4 God asks: “What is that in your hand?” God wasn’t asking for information! God was leading Moses to revelation. God tells him to throw it down. Can you imagine what Moses was thinking? “But, Lord, I’ve used it for decades and this is all I’m good at, and I can’t shepherd without my staff! I must have it, I must!” Don’t you know God knew it was time for that staff to be transformed and the desert years to be over? But it would not happen for Moses or for a nation waiting on him, without the choice of obedient surrender. So he opened his hand and threw it down, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran for his life! Then God told him to pick it up, and it was transformed again, no longer the rod of Moses, now the rod of the miraculous, the rod of the sovereign God.
There is no transformation without surrender, nor real power without surrender. If we don’t open our hands at His invitation, our willfulness makes it harder later…and that closed fist can become a clinched fist we shake at God. Without surrender, we haven’t given God the permission and the place for which He is waiting to work on us, in us, through us, and on our behalf. But we can’t dictate the terms of surrender: the how, what, when, if. It’s all given to Him, and He then takes our small staff, that thing that is the most important and seems most necessary for our well-being, transforms what is offered, and what is given back is infused with His life and power. Mary offered her womb, Peter and Andrew their fishing nets, Moses his staff, Abraham his son, the boy on the hillside his fishes and loaves, the widow her bit of flour and oil, and Jesus His body. All was transformed! All was infused with God’s creative presence.
In Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities Dr. Manette had been falsely imprisoned for 18 years and during that long time had only his cobbler’s bench and tools to keep him occupied. Even after his release he continued cobbling shoes, living at times within the traumatic memory. The patient love of his daughter began to draw him out of that isolation. But in times of stress, he would still slip back and occasionally occupy himself that way at night or even for some days, not knowing what he was doing, not remembering afterward that he had dissociated. In a particularly difficult time, after a terrible shock, he reverted to cobbling for a week. He was asked by one who cared for him if perhaps he would release the activity so that the fear would also go. He replied, “You see, it is such an old companion.”
Fear can be such an old companion. The old ways of thinking, reacting and making decisions can feel so natural. Our old way of coping, our old defenses of holding on because we just can’t see any other way, can seem like true friends. But they’re not; they’re just the familiar that captivated our false selves. And when God calls us to pry our hands open, life awaits. He doesn’t want us to manage, He wants us to surrender. But He really does leave us with the choice and will not make it for us. In Deuteronomy 33 He enjoins and invites us: Choose life!
And as we choose life and release what’s in our hands, our hands are then open to receive; they are clean but empty. It’s a beautiful sight to God when our hands are open and extended to Him in expectation. And He responds: “Abraham, I see you haven’t withheld your only son.” “Jesus, I see that You have chosen to drink the cup; now come sit at My right hand.” “Esther, I see that you will risk death for such a time as this; so I will deliver a nation.” “Mary, I see that you have offered your womb for Me to inhabit; so I will come into the world.” “Child, I accept your loaves and fish; now I will feed thousands and demonstrate My power.” God is now given the freedom, by us, to move as He will. With our open hands, able to fully receive, His will is imparted to us along with the grace to move forward in it. And we mysteriously also find our desires are fulfilled in His will.
Once we have surrendered what we have been clutching, He wants to transform it! In Exodus 14:15, 21, 22 (NAS) the Lord spoke to Moses: “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. [That is, stop praying and go!] As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it…. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land….The sons of Israel went through.” And as for Abraham who didn’t withhold? We see a ram caught in brush, God’s provision for sacrifice. Abraham receives the ram, God receives the sacrifice, and Isaac is free to eventually become a great nation.
At this stage of surrender we need to be “patient and strengthen our hearts” (Jas. 5:8) to trust that the Lord will act on our behalf and not leave us standing empty-handed. This is where our scarcity mentality, our orphan attitude, and our fear are revealed. At this juncture we may need to see what is blocking our journey of faith….perhaps sin, regrets, fears, and disappointments. If we ask the Lord, He will be faithful to show us any hindrances. This time of the “open empty hand” is an interim season, a time of testing. It’s as if God asked Joseph, “Will you serve me faithfully in Potiphar’s house, even in prison? Will you wait with open hands of faith, expectant until the dreams can be fulfilled?” The temptation at this point is to grasp back, to falter, to become disappointed and to close our fists again. Yet we are exhorted to persist, to wait, to trust as those “…who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12 NAS) As Eugene Peterson wrote, this faith and surrender journey is indeed “a long obedience in the same direction.” But if we demand to “… know the entire journey, instead of trusting in God… our road is lengthened and our spiritual affairs get behind. Abandon yourself as absolutely as possible to God and continue to do so until your last breath. He will never desert you” (Francois Fenelon, Let Go).
Faith is a necessary element, but it isn’t just a faith that says, “God please give me what I need.” It is a faith that says, “I trust You and surrender to Your will because I know You are good and I know You do good! I simply trust You and You don’t have to do it my way. You will release the good things to me in appropriate time.” Psalm 145:16-17 (NAS) declares: “You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.” And again in Ezra 8:22 (NIV) His word joyously proclaims: “The gracious hand of our God is on [over] everyone who looks to him.”
Our hands are now open to receive, but above them are God’s hands, now opening to release! We see this in God’s dealings with Abraham who opened his hand, even to the offering of his only son for whom he had waited a lifetime! And God responded: “Because you have done this thing…. Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:16-18 NAS). Abraham obeyed and God’s hand was over him to fulfill every promise. Do you see God as good, as giver, as one who delights in giving to you?
We must willingly accept what God brings, how and when He brings it, and relinquish our grasping demands. It is a chilling warning to consider Israel’s fate in Psalm 106:15 (CJB): “He gave them what they wanted but sent meagerness into their souls.” There is a carnal part of us that demands, and refuses God’s way. It results in leanness rather than abundance. But, oh, God intends abundance. And if we surrender, He knows how to keep, enlarge, and transform what we have offered to Him. “When God has begun the work of absolute surrender in you, and when God has accepted your surrender, then God holds Himself bound to care for it and to keep it” (Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender). God is able to then work His good pleasure in those who have made this choice.
God will never, never fall short of His promises. He will always fulfill His side of what He has promised. As we unlock our hands and truly give God permission to have what’s there, He will see and respond. As we stand with open hands, waiting with anticipation and endurance, then He opens His hands over us to bless and create fruitfulness. So what is that you are holding in your hand? What are you most attached to? He doesn’t want us to manage, He wants us to surrender. In that movement of surrender, from clutched hands to opened, empty hands, to stretched-out hands, God moves. Will you open your hand in trust? Will you now hold your hand open to receive what the Lord gives back, transformed and pure? Will you declare that, even if you have to wait for that good thing, the one who has promised is good and you will experience a robust fruitfulness as He completes that desire?
Once we surrender, there is one more foundational step that we need to take to stay anchored in trust. We need to be actively practicing giving thanks. Gratefulness is an essential partner of surrender, keeping us God-directed and shielding us from our need to return to control. By maintaining gratitude, by thanking Him no matter what comes our way, we are surrendered to His will: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 5:18 NAS). Do you want to know and do His will? Keep thanking Him in everything, keep being filled with the Spirit and praise (Eph. 5:18-20). He is worthy of our praise, of our obedience, and of our surrender as we are infused with joyful expectancy. So let us look to Him with our hands raised in praise, open to all the ways He desires to open His hand and fill us.
Comments Off on Spiritual Fathering and Godly Authority
by Sarah Colyn
Authority exercised with humility, and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live. (Weight of Glory, p. 170)
On becoming spiritual fathers and mothers
God loves us and wants to bring us to life. His love is creative and procreative, and we humans are the consummate objects of His begetting love. He is always brooding over us with His fathering intentions, moving toward us, desiring that we become. In this relentless movement of His will, generation after generation, He is always raising up spiritual fathers and mothers to serve the becoming of His people. God Himself initiates spiritual fathering. To understand how someone becomes a spiritual father or mother we must begin with the desire and action of God. Bishop Kallistos Ware, esteemed Orthodox priest and teacher at Oxford, wrote a chapter about spiritual fathering in volume one of The Inner Kingdom: “Spiritual guides are ordained, not by human hands, but by the hand of God” (p. 129). The Spirit proceeds from the Father, is sent by the Son to those who trust in Him, and anoints His followers with the charisms of spiritual fathering. We’ll return a bit later to what these charisms may be – these gifts that empower spiritual fathering. But first let’s consider a bit more how someone becomes a spiritual mother or father.
God Himself ordains spiritual mothers and fathers, and when we study the lives of those who have worn this mantle well, they did not aim themselves at this job. Leanne has written about the moment in her life when she fell to her knees in conversion to a single resolve: to obey God’s will (see chapter 9 of Heaven’s Calling). After this prayer her life had a singular aim: “My eyes would now be solely on the object – on God Himself” (Listening Prayer, p. 138). In his chapter on the spiritual guide, Kallistos Ware relates stories of some extraordinary elders in the Orthodox tradition. What these spiritual fathers and mothers had in common was a wholehearted longing for communion with God. Ware describes these saints who fled to solitude: “They fled, not in order to prepare themselves [to guide and inspire others], but simply out of a consuming desire to be alone with God. God accepted their love, but then He sent them back as instruments of healing in the world from which they had withdrawn” (Inner Kingdom, p. 132). It seems that a true spiritual father or mother becomes one not by applying for the position, but by desiring nothing but God and then responding to His will. Oswald Chambers puts it this way: “Never choose to be a worker for God, but once God has placed His call on you, woe be to you if you ‘turn aside to the right hand or to the left’ (Deuteronomy 5:32). We are not here to work for God because we have chosen to do so, but because God has ‘laid hold of’ us” (My Utmost for His Highest, June 16).
If God ordains spiritual mothers and fathers, how do they end up in positions where they can exercise their gifts? The most natural way to discover that you are becoming a spiritual mother or father is that others will ask you to serve them in this way. When God ordains, fellow humans will identify by recognizing the gifting and seeking this person out. Kallistos Ware describes this process in which others approach, seek advice, and even ask to live under the care of someone who evidences the capacity to give spiritual fathering: “Thus it is his spiritual children who reveal the elder to himself” (Inner Kingdom, p. 130). Sponsorship in A.A. and other 12-step recovery programs is a modern manifestation of spiritual mothering and fathering. Sponsors are revealed in the same way Ware describes – identified by those who need sponsoring. As A.A.’s literature on sponsorship describes, “Often, the new person simply approaches a more experienced member who seems compatible, and asks that member to be a sponsor. Most A.A.s are happy and grateful to receive such a request. An old A.A. saying suggests, ‘Stick with the winners.’ It’s only reasonable to seek a sharing of experience with a member who seems to be using the A.A. program successfully in everyday life” (Questions & Answers on Sponsorship, p. 9).
Wonderfully, to become a spiritual mother or father is to be ordained by God and identified by members of His body. What then of the many lay and clergy leaders in our churches today whose appointment may have been more bureaucratic than charismatic? Perhaps there are some leaders reading this essay who have been assigned to a spiritual leadership role and feel the pain of inadequate preparation for this calling. Surely there are some of us who, rather than being sent by God from our desert cell, were nominated by a Tuesday-night committee. And perhaps some of us have mistakenly tried to rise to this challenge in our own strength or turned to the wisdom of the world for tools and techniques to lead others. Kallistos Ware offers us compassion and extends a lively hope:
Under the pressure of outward circumstances and probably without clearly realizing what is happening to us, we assume the responsibilities of teaching, preaching, and pastoral counseling, while lacking any deep knowledge of the desert and its creative silence. But through instructing others we ourselves perhaps begin to learn. Slowly we recognize our powerlessness to heal the wounds of humanity solely through philanthropic programs, common sense and psychoanalysis. Our self-dependence is broken down, we appreciate our own inadequacy, and so we start to understand what Christ meant by the “one thing that is necessary” (Lk 10:42). That is the moment when a person may by the divine mercy start to advance along the path of the starets [spiritual fathers and mothers]. Through our pastoral experience, through our anguish over the pain of others, we are brought to undertake the journey inwards and to seek the hidden treasure-house of the Kingdom, where alone a genuine solution to the world’s problems can be found…. Provided we seek with humble sincerity to enter into the “secret chamber” of our heart, we can all share to some degree in the grace of spiritual fatherhood or motherhood (Inner Kingdom, p. 135).
It is not too late for any of us to grow in this “grace of spiritual fatherhood or motherhood”; there is a radiant path through this world, and walking this path in obedience to God will cause us to become, including as spiritual fathers and mothers. Perhaps we will find ourselves more able to stay on that path if we highlight what it looks like when we leave the path. When those attempting to serve as leaders “turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (Deuteronomy 5:32), certain characteristic errors ensue. On the one hand, spiritual mothers and fathers can assert carnal forms of power over those they are called to serve. This error is based on an ersatz masculinity. On the other hand, spiritual mothers and fathers can turn aside from God’s will by failing to exercise godly authority. When Christian leaders bend to worldly pressure and unhealed fear, they fail to come into the true masculine. Let’s consider these two errors in turn that we might better discern how to walk on the narrow but radiant path of obedience to our Father’s ways.
Ersatz masculine and false images of spiritual fathering
In chapter 5 of Crisis in Masculinity Leanne explains how Christian maturity requires that the natural masculine drive be tempered by God’s own masculine will. If a man does not find himself in union with God, he will continue to seek affirmation, self-acceptance, and identity in what he can accomplish. And in chapter 4 of The Healing Presence Leanne writes about how natural masculine giftedness becomes perverted by the Fall: “[the] power to initiate can turn into a raw drive toward power” (p. 66). In this important chapter she illuminates the dangers for both the church and family when the ersatz masculine supplants the real. It is not difficult to see how Christian leaders would misuse positions of authority to serve their own ego and trespass against those they are called to serve if they do not remain centered in Christ. Jesus explained this inevitability to His followers: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them” (Matthew 20:25 NRSV). He went on to explain how it is in His Kingdom: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” To offer spiritual fathering is to serve — to serve our Father’s will in the life of the one seeking fathering. As Bishop Ware puts it, “The abba is… a fellow-servant of the living God; not a tyrant, but a guide and companion on the way. The only true ‘spiritual director,’ in the fullest sense of the word, is the Holy Spirit” (Inner Kingdom, p. 144).
Spiritual fathering is not about being recognized as superior or being given a special title or position. In Matthew 23 we have the record of Jesus cautioning His disciples about this very temptation. He knew better than anyone how hierarchical inequality is “evil in the world of selfishness and necessity” but “good in the world of love and understanding” (C. S. Lewis, Miracles, printed in Complete Signature Classics, p. 276). If we are “loving” the way identifying as a spiritual mother or father strokes our ego or props up our false self, we leave the Vine and fail to love truly. As Lewis said, “It is indeed only love that makes the difference” (p. 276). As Leanne wrote in chapter 9 of Restoring the Christian Soul, spiritual maturity requires that we know the “bad guy” within. Those who are called to spiritual fathering must become especially well acquainted with Christ’s warning here: there is bad guy in every one of us who schemes to win special standing, seeks a distinguished title, and craves recognition as especially admirable. For those in positions of authority or leadership, the question is not, “Do I struggle with pride?” but rather, “How did pride tempt me today?” Jesus gives His beloved followers the antidote to this weakness: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11 KJV). C. S. Lewis articulated this key principle of spiritual fathering in Miracles: “To be high or central means to abdicate continually: to be low means to be raised: all good masters are servants: God washed the feet of men” (Lewis, p. 278 in Complete Signature Classics).
At times the Body of Christ suffers under ersatz spiritual fathering that is formalized into a program or institutional structure. This occurred with what became known as the Shepherding Movement that developed in charismatic circles during the 1970s. (For those who aren’t familiar with this movement, the emphasis was on creating structures in the local church that would provide accountability for each believer in submission to a “shepherd,” a designated spiritual authority figure who “covered” each member under him.) Believers who have been injured through distorted teaching and practices regarding authority and obedience continue to receive healing through the cross of Christ to this day. True spiritual fathering is never coercive, and even in instances where spiritual fathers or mothers call the ones they are serving to obedience, influence is never sought through threats or force. Bishop Ware speaks most plainly on this issue: “Do not force people’s free will. The task of our spiritual father is not to destroy our freedom, but to assist us to see the truth for ourselves; not to suppress our personality, but to enable us to discover our own true self, to grow to full maturity and become what we really are” (p. 145). As is always God’s merciful way when the Church is afflicted with dangerous errors, leaders of the Shepherding Movement were called to repentance. This statement of apology from one of those leaders, Bob Mumford, models the humility required of true spiritual fathers while confessing to the great harm caused by those moving in the ersatz masculine:
Accountability, personal training under the guidance of another and effective pastoral care are needed biblical concepts… However, to my personal pain and chagrin, these particular emphases very easily lent themselves to an unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders. Many of these abuses occurred within the spheres of my own responsibility. For the injury and shame caused to people, families, and the larger body of Christ, I repent with sorrow and ask for your forgiveness (Mumford’s statement of apology published in Shepherding Movement by S. David Moore, p. 173).
I would suggest that we are more prone to the ersatz masculine when we have a low view of God that fails to appreciate the awesome power of Incarnational Reality. A leader who lacks faith in God’s great secret – “Christ in you, your hope of glory” – is more likely to place faith in his own methods of training others or rely on the control of legalism or coercion. One who offers true spiritual fathering depends wholly on the real spiritual director, the Holy Spirit, and invites the one being served into personal relationship. As Bishop Ware explains, “This personal contact protects the disciple against rigid legalism, against slavish submission to the letter of the law. He learns the way, not through external conformity to written rules, but through seeing a human face and hearing a living voice. In this way the spiritual mother or father is the guardian of evangelical freedom” (p. 146). It is also worth mentioning here that the commitment of spiritual mothers or fathers to the ones they are serving can also tempt some to the practice of substitution. Leanne writes of this confusion that can harm spiritual leaders who over-identify in sympathy or concern with those they care for (see chapter 13 of The Healing Presence). With all due respect to Bishop Ware, I would humbly caution readers regarding his suggestion that spiritual fathers and mothers “make others’ suffering their own” (Inner Kingdom, p. 138). Just as the Holy Spirit is the real spiritual director, Christ is the only redeemer, and the proper work of spiritual mothers and fathers is to point to Him as the source of all life and hope.
The true masculine and godly authority
We live in a day that is impoverished of true masculinity, and therefore of godly authority. This poverty has devastating consequences for the structures essential to human life – most obviously our families and churches. Leanne was compelled to write Crisis in Masculinity to teach the church to pray for healing for this cultural epidemic. I believe one reason Leanne’s ministry continues to grow in its reach even beyond her lifetime is that God moves through MPC to restore the divine masculine to His body, and to clergy and ministry leaders in particular. To put it simply, the Church cannot serve the world in her full power without the operation of godly authority. As Leanne wrote in Heaven’s Calling, “There is no greater need today than for knowledgeable and noble men in authority everywhere, capable of courageously speaking the truth both in the church and in the public square” (p. 292). In her memoir Leanne described her personal wrestling with this deficit in the Church as she sought covering for the work God had called her to do.
Even priests such as Fr. Winkler, were they to be found, were having great difficulty going forward due to problems at higher levels of the institutional church. I was searching for godly authority, which is what hierarchy is supposed to provide, and like Fr. Winkler, could not find it. Increasingly, faulty seminary training together with political correctness had robbed even the better clergy and bishops from the ability to rightly name sin, confront it, hear confessions, and minister into the lives of penitents – the basis of all healing prayer rites and that which brings into our midst the power of God to heal (Heaven’s Calling, p. 233).
Spiritual mothers and fathers must love the truth and love those they are serving enough to speak the truth. Serving God’s will requires us to become men and women who can wield authority rightly to correct sin and extract good from evil in the world around us. We learn to pray for the healing of the will: Descend into me, divine, masculine, eternal will! As C. S. Lewis writes, “A father half apologetic for having brought his son into the world, afraid to restrain him lest he should create inhibitions or even to instruct him lest he should interfere with his independence of mind, is a most misleading symbol of the Divine Fatherhood” (Problem of Pain, p. 387 in Complete Signature Classics). It is Christ’s own living presence within that enables spiritual mothers and fathers to transcend the fear and weakness of human inadequacy for the sake of God’s begetting purposes. Bishop Ware writes of the mysterious power of the saint who abides in Christ: “Such is the pattern of spiritual fatherhood or motherhood. Establish yourself in God; then you can bring others to His presence. Each must learn to be alone, and so in the stillness of their own heart they will begin to hear the wordless speech of the Spirit, thus discovering the truth about themselves and about God. Then their word to others will be a word of power, because it is a word out of silence” (Inner Kingdom, p. 133). As small as we know ourselves to be, we also know that the Holy Spirit delights to come as counselor and helper, moving through us with His mighty presence. In the end, becoming a spiritual father or mother happens in the same manner as all becoming: we listen for the voice of our Beloved and obey all that we hear Him say.
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_____. The Problem of Pain. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.
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_____. Heaven’s Calling: A Memoir of One Soul’s Steep Ascent. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008. Print.
_____. The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul through Union with Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1995. Print.
_____. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal. Paperback ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1999. Print.
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Ware, Bishop Kallistos. The Inner Kingdom. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2000. Print.
Photo of Leanne Payne and Manfred Schmidt courtesy of Jean Holt.
“Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn derivative work: carulmare [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
“David” (Michelangelo) by Korido (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.