and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.
Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:16b-19, NIV
I am in the ministry today because of the knowledge that within many of us is not only the rebel in need of forgiveness but an abettor as well: a wounded soul that is also an obstacle to faith and in need of being led out of the prison house. Today this freeing of the captives is often referred to as a healing ministry, but even so, it should be understood as merely a vital part of the gospel ministry that has been seriously neglected, if not lost… In the cross of Christ is forgiveness for the rebel and healing for the traumatized and wounded soul as well. I am in the ministry because of the sure knowledge that this healing comes in and with taking our place in Him, the very identification with Christ that is at the heart of baptism and of our ongoing empowerment to live out our lives in that baptismal reality. 
Most of us in this life absorb some serious soul-wounding, and it needs to be tended to. Damage in our souls distorts who we are, restricts our capacity to know God and others, and holds us captive to the worst of what we’ve experienced in this life. Seeking healing for our souls is not primarily about feeling better, but is about getting free so that we can live as vibrant people of faith. The awesome truth is that our ordeals and injuries can be healed – Jesus has already accomplished it on His cross and desires to bring us into the wholeness He won. Let us take our place in Him: our healing place, our whole place, our free place.
Holy God, we thank You that You have indeed conveyed us out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of Your Love. Thank you for Your gaze of mercy that sees not just a willful rebel, but also a wounded son or daughter. Thank you for Your passion to heal those wounds and free our faith. Give us all we need to choose healing, to take our place in You. Fill us with Your Spirit that we may have power to stand in You, rise with You, and collaborate with You fully.
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.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
– Psalm 27:4-6 ESV
Another lives in me. My spirit is one with His. That is my whole place. All else is raging around me and within me, but I can stand now, confident, and watch as God heals this part of me that is so wounded. 
Ours is an incarnational view of man and reality. Christ is, as F. B. Meyer has said, “the living Fountain rising up in the well of our personality.”He is present now. He, our Healer, has already become flesh, has already accomplished the work of the cross, has already poured out the full gift of His Spirit upon us. As long as we dwell in time, there will never be more of Him available to us then there is now. Our walk with Him, our acknowledgment of Him with us, within us, while remaining fully sovereign – all this in the now – is what faith apprehends. God is available to us; Jesus is indeed, if we are born again of His spirit, the living Fountain within. We practice His presence.
What you call “me,” where you understand yourself to be standing, shapes life tremendously. The erring and hopeless voices of world, flesh, and devil would tell you that you are your wounds, that you are most truly named by the damaged places in your soul. Answer those voices with confidence, testifying that you have received the most valuable privilege that exists: a place of wholeness already established inside your own being. When you stand in this place where you are one with Christ, there is solid ground under your feet and adequate provision for every need right within reach. This is an amazing, invisible reality, and one that your soul needs to ponder, imagine, profess, and own.
PRAYER: Come Holy Spirit, let faith arise in me. Thank You for living in me. Thank You for making my spirit one with Yours, Lord Jesus. Thank you that this Rock I am standing on will never crumble, will never change. Thank you that the fullness of Your healing power reaches me here. Amen.
 Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 1991), 71.
 F. B. Meyer, Our Daily Walk (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1951), 169.
 Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 1991), 72.
Painting: Ivan Aivazovsky & Ilya Repin, 1877, Pushkin’s Farewell to the sea [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Comments Off on For Talking Beasts: Begin with Silence
For Talking Beasts: Begin with Silence
by Sarah Colyn
In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis tells how Narnia began. At the climax of Aslan’s creative work he makes the talking beasts:
And now, for the first time, the Lion was quite silent. He was going to and fro among the animals. And every now and then he would go up to two of them (always two at a time) and touch their noses with his . . . The pairs which he had touched instantly left their own kind and followed him. At last he stood still and all the creatures whom he had touched came and stood in a wide circle around him . . . The chosen beasts who remained were now utterly silent, all with their eyes fixed intently upon the Lion. . . For the first time that day there was complete silence, except for the noise of running water. . .
The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare. And gradually a change came over them. The smaller ones – the rabbits, moles, and such-like, grew a good deal larger. The very big ones – you noticed it most with the elephants – grew a little smaller. Many animals sat up on their hind legs. Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand. The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees. Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying:
‘Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.’ (p. 48)
With this article I begin a series of reflections on what it means for us to be ‘talking beasts’ in our world. I pray that the Lord will breathe His long, warm breath through these words that they might be a rich blessing to you.
What does it mean to be a talking beast? Aslan’s words to these chosen ones in Narnia call them to a dignified, soul-stirring great commission: “Awake. Love. Think. Speak.” He is calling them to be creatures with a magnanimity more fundamental and all-encompassing than mere talkativeness. I love Lewis’s imagining of the talking beasts of Narnia. He is pointing to what an awesome responsibility it is to be human, and what a defining quality it is to be able to talk. Our capacity to talk reflects a singularly meaningful facet of the imago dei. By being talking beasts, we participate in the divine Logos, Word become flesh.
Maybe you’ve heard someone described as “quite a talker.” We know instinctively that to awaken, love, think, and speak is not about having a lot to say or being “quite a talker.” To become fully and beautifully human we must indeed learn to talk. But silence is where we must begin our quest to be and become talking beasts.
If we want to speak—truly speak—as awake, loving, thinking creatures, we begin in silence. This is true on every level of reality. Each of our lives begins in the secret silence of the womb; our first vocalization comes months after our first heartbeat. Each word that we speak requires an intake of breath and a moment of thought. Existentially, our doing proceeds from our being. First God created us, formed our beings, and gave us His own ruach, His very breath. As the “All Sons and Daughters” worship song expresses, “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only” (Leonard, Ingram and Jordan, 2012). It is as human beings, in-breathed by His being, that we are able to speak.
In Kallistos Ware’s book The Inner Kingdom, he points to silence as the genesis of true speech:
In an age when language has been shamefully trivialized, it is vital to rediscover the power of the word; and this means rediscovering the nature of silence, not just as a pause in the midst of our talk, but as one of the primary realities of existence (p. 136).
It is good for us to recognize silence as a primary reality. Silence is not merely an absence of talk but is something in itself. Silence is created, a given in our lives, made by God. We’d do well to consider what silence is and what it does for our talking-ness.
Silence is a blessed given of existence, a real thing that proceeds from God’s own being. Our holy God reveals Himself as I AM, the Existent One. In His being, in His presence, we encounter His existing-ness, and we enter silence as a given reality. In Scripture the prophets call God’s people to attend His presence:
But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
Be silent in the presence of the Lord God; For the day of the Lord is at hand,
For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests.
Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!
(Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13 NKJV)
In these texts we are called to be receptive, for God is coming. He is the Lord, He is on the move, and He has something for us. To silence ourselves is to become dynamically receptive to God, to practice His presence, to quiet ourselves, to hold our peace, to wait and rest. In silence He gathers up the fullness of our beings in His presence. Silence in its truest sense is a substantial and active state of being.
To be clear about silence, I will say a bit about what it is not. We may at times be mute in resignation, acedia, or passivity, and we may also sometimes encounter interpersonal voids, empty spaces where no one is engaging in real dialog. But these non-being absences are not what is meant by this powerful given of silence. Most mothers I know do not permit their children to say “Shut up” to one another. This colloquial phrase that tells another to stop talking has a rough edge to it. To order someone to shut his mouth is indeed a form of violence, although such violence may at times be protective and just. Even when we discipline someone by urging him or her to hush, our aim is to keep the door open for constructive talking. Coming back to speaking is still the goal of such correction. As we’re considering here, silence is a beginning and a centering place for talking beasts. But talking is still our commission, and God gives silence as a gift to aid us in being awake, thoughtful, and loving when we do speak.
To shut a person up is to cause her to stop talking, not as a call into silence, but as a damning up, a closing down, a pivot away from being and toward nothingness. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer says, “Silence does not mean dumbness, as speech does not mean chatter,” and goes on to quote Ernest Hello, “Dumbness is unholy, like a thing only maimed, not cleanly sacrificed” (p. 78). Dumbness is not silence as we’re considering it. We are looking for the silence that is a creative space, a hopeful space, and in this holy silence a person is not shut in, shut up, or shut down, but rather is ushered into the presence of God.
Silence then is a real thing, not merely an absence but an active and living entity. We experience silence as a contrast and complement to speech, as reception is to expression, inhale to exhale. Silence is a given in the rhythms of life as the writer of Ecclesiastes declares: there is “a time to keep silence, And a time to speak” (3:7 KJV). In Life Together Bonhoeffer writes, “Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech” (p. 79). Receptivity to the divine Word, to God Himself with us and within us, occurs in and through silence.
We are silent before hearing the Word because our thoughts are already directed to the Word, as a child is quiet when he enters his father’s room. We are silent after hearing the Word because the Word is still speaking and dwelling within us. . . . There is a wonderful power of clarification, purification, and concentration upon the essential thing in being quiet (pp. 79, 80).
Silence precedes speech and in this sense is a gathering-up space. The spiritual womb of silence enabled Mary to treasure in her heart the words of God’s messenger. The very incarnation of God was accomplished in silence, through silence, and the Word became flesh to dwell among us. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is an ancient hymn that evokes the awe-filled quiet that falls upon us at the coming of the Word:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
Silence also comes to us naturally after we speak. When we express something meaningful and true, we go through words into the life of God, and therefore again into silence. In The Soul of Prayer P. T. Forsyth describes how prayer can bring us into a region beyond speech:
Words fail us in prayer oftener than anywhere else; and the Spirit must come in aid of our infirmity, set out our case to God, and give to us an unspoken freedom in prayer, the possession of our central soul, the reality of our inmost personality in organic contact with His. We are taken up from human speech to the region of the divine Word, where Word is deed . . . We discover how poor a use of words it is to work them into argument and pursue their dialectic consequences. There is a deeper movement of speech than that, and a more inward mystery, wherein the Word does not spread out to wisdom, nor broods in dream, but gathers to power and condenses to action. The Word becomes Flesh, Soul, Life, the active conquering kingdom of God (p. 16).
How we need this deeper movement of speech that draws us into the life of God. Christian tradition has used the term recollection to describe our movement toward this unspoken freedom, this possession of the central soul. By actively settling the soul in silence before God, we are granted personal integration. St. Augustine described recollection as a state in which God “brings together what is scattered” within us (Confessions, 10.40). In the holiness of silence we turn ourselves fully over to God’s presence and providence. A quieted soul is the home within, a resting place within an active life. It is in the womb of silence that we come to know the inmost reality of our being in living contact with His being. Leanne describes our true center: “that place of quiet strength and solid being, that center from which we know and see ourselves to be white-robed in the very righteousness of Christ Himself” (Restoring the Christian Soul, p. 26).
The Hebrew root Has, which means “to be silent,” expresses this gathering-up quality, the home within, as in these texts:
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
(Psalm 131:2a; Psalm 37:7a; Psalm 62:5a ESV)
This silence is relational and integrating because it is towards Someone. There is an implicit trust in real silence, a hopeful expectation in the only One we wait for, look to, trust in and rely upon. Here we see how the silence of Christian reality differs from the nothingness and dissolving sense of being pursued in Eastern meditation. In the book of Acts we find the word hésuchazó, meaning “to be still, be silent, to lead a quiet life.” In chapter 11, after Peter has given the believers a clear and blessed teaching, we get the sense that teaching has “gone in:” “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God” (Acts 11:18a NKJV, italics mine).
In this becoming silent, reason and conscience are satisfied so that the people are at rest and moved to glorify God. This silence indicates consolation and satisfaction, like a hunger sated, a storm quieted, or even a war zone in which peace has been won. In silence we can hope to encounter ultimate reality where the veil thins between eternity and us, and we know, as Julian of Norwich expressed, that “all manner of things shall be well.” While silence is often consoling, we will also consider later how silence can be disturbing and painful. But whether comforting or provoking, we recognize that God moves in the quiet spaces to heal and mature us.
Silence keeps us grounded
As a given of existence, silence serves us in critically important ways. We’ll turn now to consider silence as a spiritual discipline, a means that God has provided to protect and empower us so that we might become glorious talking beasts. The discipline of silence is a powerful weapon against the threats of the world, the flesh, and the devil. God has provided us with the power to tune out these opposing voices and listen instead to His other, larger, quieter voice.
Silencing the world
Let’s begin by considering how silence can be a shield from the noise of this fallen world. The world today is anything but quiet, and we suffer when silence is stolen from us. The secularism that grips much of the developed world debases and demeans man and woman, deconstructs truth, and fills the airwaves with coarse and cynical chatter. A trip to the shopping mall reveals the wasteland we’re left with when we strip life of meaning and try to fill the emptiness with consumption and distraction. This world is an overwhelming generator of sights and sounds designed only to manipulate our bodily senses. Rather than encountering one another as living people sharing words together that build meaning, we’re inundated with infotainment and mood-altering soundtracks. The world’s noise bounces around in the void and fails to feed us. While our sin nature would keep us busy generating and consuming stimulation, Christ offers all a soul-saving alternative: we can use silence as a strong tower, wielding our authority to turn off the noise and listen instead for His voice. In silence we stop the noise and refuse distraction and stimulation for its own sake.
Dallas Willard describes spiritual disciplines as activities we undertake “to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and His kingdom” (Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 158; an excellent read that Leanne strongly recommended). I find it notable that many believers call their daily time of Scripture reading and prayer their “quiet time.” In this set-apart time and place, the voices of the world are literally not allowed to enter—email, social media, television, phone and radio are shut down. The family devotional we use at home includes a moment of stillness with the instruction, “In the silence, ask the Holy Spirit to help you pay attention to God” (Copley and Vander Haagen, Teach Us to Pray, p. 14). Even small moments of silence can shift our posture and outlook, and when we practice these regularly, our capacity to be quiet grows. By intentionally and routinely putting ourselves in a place of quiet, we are strengthening our ability to hear God’s voice and to tune out the inundation of sounds, words, and stimulation of the world. Those who practice the discipline of silence will steadily find themselves quieter inside even in the noisiest circumstances. Leanne writes that we must learn to quiet ourselves in listening prayer, to pause from “Martha work” and exercise our “Mary” capacity to be in the silence of his presence:
The literal translation of Psalm 62:1 is: ”My soul is silence in God alone, my salvation comes from Him.” In this silence we hear Him speak. . . . Within this silence our spiritual ears are attuned to receive the word He may need to speak throughout the noisier, more hectic times of the day (Listening Prayer, p. 151).
By viewing silence as a discipline, we are recognizing it as something we can practice in order to transform our minds into Christlikeness.
Silencing the flesh
The discipline of silence is also strategic in subduing the flesh, our sin nature. Without silence, we readily use our capacity to talk to serve self-serving and self-protective impulses. Silence slows those urges and reminds us of our freedom to choose Christ’s way and trust the Father to guide and defend us. In Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster makes a strong case for silence as an essential discipline in quieting the flesh:
The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image. We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. . . . Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification. One of the first fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier (p. 101).
This therapeutic and narcissistic age encourages self-expression to a point of absurdity, urging the flesh to speak continuously. The idea of choosing silence, of resting in quiet and treasuring things in our hearts is suspect, and instead we are encouraged to expose every thought and “vent” our feelings. Agnes Sanford highlights a wise contrast here between the world’s guidance and the deeper wisdom of the Christ-life: “If one desires only to get something off his chest, well and good. But if one desires to develop spiritual powers, let him get something into his chest instead: namely, the love of Christ” (Behold Your God, p. 21). As Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out,
There is a false form of honesty that suggests that nothing should remain hidden and that everything should be said, expressed and communicated. . . . Just as words lose their power when they are not born out of silence, so openness loses its meaning when there is no ability to be closed (p. 32).
The book of Proverbs emphasizes the wisdom of being able to be closed, to contain ourselves and hold some of our thoughts and feelings for the Lord’s ears only:
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
but he who restrains his lips is wise.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back.
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
(Proverbs 10:19; 29:11; 17:27 ESV)
Sometimes we use the phrase, “I’m just being real,” to justify the spewing of immature and emotionally reactive words. In doing so we are often deepening the grooves of old sins and injuries rather than finding true comfort and healing. God deeply desires to make us real and has a better way. Silence is a discipline that can check our preoccupation with the injured and immature self. Often it is in quiet with Him that we finally notice how very tired we are of the old complaints and our sick ways of reacting to them. Then we are able to receive from Him the healing word that will open new ways of being and relating.
The discipline of silence reminds us of the value of verbal restraint, what the epistle of St. James calls a bridle on the tongue. Perhaps the most obvious use of silence is in simply staying quiet when what we’re inclined to say would be destructive. Here too the book of Proverbs points to the better way:
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. (Proverbs 11:12-13 ESV)
Earlier I suggested that silence is the place to begin for talking beasts, and the book of Proverbs upholds silence as a beginning strategy for those who would become wise.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:28 ESV)
The discipline of silence is a tremendously valuable gift that gives us the upper hand over sinful and unhealed impulses. Silence opens up the opportunity for us to change, to grow, and to leave foolishness behind in exchange for the wisdom of Christ.
Silencing the devil
The discipline of silence can also deliver us from evil and help us stop listening to the words of the devil. The evil one hates all of God’s creative achievements, including the beauty of silence, and relentlessly works to destroy this good. Lewis included this reality in his clever exposure of the works of evil, Screwtape Letters. Letters between a senior demon and his nephew reveal their strategy: “We will make the whole universe a noise in the end” (p. 103).
When we are plagued with accusations, condemnations, and harassing words, listening prayer lets us run into God’s protective presence. By yielding to Him the ugly things we’re hearing, we can enter into holy silence and listen for His voice. In quiet the Holy Spirit will give us His healing word, speaking truth to banish lies and giving words of life that defeat death. A dear friend and prayer partner of mine recently shared how the Holy Spirit has been ministering to her in this regard. When a chorus of accusing inner voices starts clamoring, she sees herself as defendant in a courtroom with Jesus sitting beside as her public defender. As the noisy witnesses for the prosecution voice their words of criticism and condemnation, Jesus invites her to bury her head in His shoulder, or He quietly writes a note to her on His yellow legal pad, “Don’t worry about it, I’ve never lost a case.” What a gift, what a release, to let Him have those hateful words while we rest quietly and press into Him as our defender, advocate, and Lord.
What we must do: choose silence
Clearly we have an essential and unalterable need for quiet, but it is not often readily on offer in our daily lives. The reflective space afforded by silence has disappeared from this world, and our hearts cry out for quiet. So as with any good gift of God that is opposed and obscured by this world, we find that we must exercise that powerful and even godlike capacity we call the will. Dallas Willard gives this fatherly exhortation to choose silence:
God will, generally speaking, not compete for our attention. If we will not withdraw from the things that obsess and exhaust us into solitude and silence, he will usually leave us to our own devices. He calls us to “be still and know.” To the soul disciplined to wait quietly before him, to lavish time upon this practice, he will make himself known in ways that will redirect our every thought, feeling and choice. The body itself will enter a different world of rest and strength (Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul, p. 106).
John Gaynor Banks also urges us to choose silence:
Your daily life is too crowded with noise, activity and vibrations for Divine Love to reach and cure your frustrations. . . . Your conscious faculties must reach upwards and inwards. With your volition you must “seek the Lord and be silent towards Him” (Master and Disciple, p. 125).
As Willard and Banks both teach, we must actively choose to make friends with silence through the action of our will, practicing, and spending the time that it takes to increase our capacity for quiet.
Quieting ourselves toward God is the only way to come to know what is really in our own hearts. We cannot be talking beasts unless our words come from a foundation of truth and reality. And we cannot speak words of truth if we are continually running, noisy, and disconnected. Let’s remember that our topic here is how to be talking beasts—to be awake, to think, to love, and to speak. Quiet is not an end in itself, but an essential foundation from which we can speak words of reality and life. Kallistos Ware too urges us to learn to be quiet:
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).
Because we are fallen beasts living in a fallen creation, we don’t readily pursue the gift of silence. It is true that quiet offers a gathering-up place for the soul, but quiet also makes room for us to remember the trouble we are in and feel the pain of conviction. If we’ve been running, wrapping our raw selves in noise, then pausing in silence will disturb us. Nighttime can be especially challenging as fear, guilt, and shame that we’d avoided during the noisy day speak loudly. Some of us avoid silence because of what surfaces when we quiet down. The inner wounds that make silence painful are the very places where we need healing and union with Christ. In Crisis in Masculinity, Leanne shares David’s story, a gifted pastor whose life and ministry were jeopardized by sin generated by his deep inner wounds. When he and Leanne first met, “he could not spend ten quiet minutes alone in prayer. . . . When he was still for even a moment, he ran the danger of hearing the accusing voices of self-hatred within” (p. 52). He needed help so the Lord could get to the root memory. After healing prayer, he shared this: “I literally ran almost day and night for almost forty years, trying to find peace. But it never happened until we prayed and I became somebody. My whole life has changed” (p. 63).
Although quiet is closely linked to solitude, we often need help from one another to find it. Interestingly, the fellowship of believers helps us get alone with the Lord and His quiet. As Leanne writes in Heaven’s Calling:
As Western Christendom continues to decline, I meet people all over the world who are desperately searching for those places of deepest quiet, those permeated with the holy because hallowed by the presence of God. There, coming in out of the clamor of the modern world, we can indeed gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and our prayers as inquiry are quickened. This I found with Fr. Winkler. There was always a quiet in the Sanctuary. One could go in at any time, kneel and feel the hallowedness of all the prayers of the people, all the sacramental blessings over the elements, the anointings for healing and deliverance from oppression and depression, the ever deepening forgiveness of sins. The simplicity and quiet were healing. No noise, no technology apart from lighting and heating, only symbols of the Holy, the sacred, of redemption and resurrection (p. 154).
Faithful believers make places of quiet that bless others. A friend of mine was resting quietly in God’s presence at a chapel service, and a colleague slipped into the pew next to her. As they got up to leave at the conclusion of the service, her colleague turned and said, “Thank you for letting me sit with you. You have such a peace about you, and your quiet really affected me.” Each of us who practices the discipline of silence will be indwelt by God’s own peace, and in turn will carry a contagious quiet to those around us. If we wish to grow in this capacity we need to spend time with others who’ve learned to be quiet, following their lead and drawing on God’s serenity in them.
We help one another practice silence by remaining close enough to lend our support while urging each other to be alone with the Lord. Our God-given need and capacity for quiet isn’t a personality trait that some have and others don’t. We collaborate with the Holy Spirit when we affirm in one another, “Yes, you can rest in God’s presence. Yes, you can wait and listen for His voice.” We interfere with the Lord’s work if we allow anyone to depend on us for solace or calm. As an example, read Lana’s story in chapter four of The Broken Image. Leanne ministered to her by insisting on and leading her into the work of facing what emerged in the quiet and of learning to be in solitude with God.
Silence gives God opportunities to reach the deeper self. He leads us into quiet places in order to mercifully reveal to us what must be known, confessed and healed. At times our encounters with Him are profoundly comforting, and at others He touches on pain or shame for the sake of transforming it. For many of us increasing our contact with quiet requires fortitude. Silence and solitude are closely linked, and our resistance to quiet is often paired with a fear of being alone. But our God is waiting for us in the quiet places, and Henri Nouwen encourages us to enter:
Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude. To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent effort into a garden of solitude. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play (Reaching Out, p. 34-35).
I’ll close here with one final assurance, the most hopeful encouragement I know. Our God took on our flesh and knows intimately the threats and fears we face in the quiet. Recall of the time when an angry crowd brought our Lord a woman they’d caught in sin. Amidst all the clamor and strife, waves of quieting power radiated from Jesus as He silently wrote on the ground. Utterly sure of His Father’s love, He hushed the accusers and set the woman free. This is the One who lives in us, who goes before and behind us. We can call on Him to silence the wind and the waves. As we ask, He will impart to us the gift of divine serenity. Come, Lord Jesus, and reveal our unknown beauty, grant to us the restful spirit, gather us up in Your awesome presence and give us Your peace.
We would love to hear your testimony of how the discipline of silence has yielded fruit in your life. Write to us at email@example.com.
Augustine, St. Confessions. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Trans. Edward B. Pusey. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
Banks, John Gaynor, and Williston Merrick Ford. The Master and the Disciple. Saint Paul, Minn.: Macalester Park Pub., 1954. Print.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: Harper, 1954. Print.
Forsyth, Peter Taylor. The Soul of Prayer. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1949. Print.
Copley, Lora A., and Elizabeth Vander Haagen. Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-centered Family Worship Through the Year. Grand Rapids, Mich.: CICW, an imprint of Calvin College Press, 2016. Print.
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008. Print.
Leonard, D., Ingram, J. and Jordan, L. (2012) Great are you Lord. New York: Open Hands Music.
Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. New York: HarperTrophy, 1994. Print.
_____. The Screwtape Letters: With Screwtape Proposes a Toast. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975. Print.
Payne, Leanne. Crisis in Masculinity. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1985. Print.
_____. Heaven’s Calling: A Memoir of One Soul’s Steep Ascent. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008. Print.
_____. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal. Paperback ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1999. Print.
_____. Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer: Overcoming the Three Great Barriers to Personal and Spiritual Completion in Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991. Print.
Sanford, Agnes Mary White. Behold Your God. 4th ed. Saint Paul, Minn.: Macalester Park Pub., 1964. Print.
Ware, Kallistos. The Inner Kingdom. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2001. Print.
Willard, Dallas. “Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 26.1 (1998): 101-09. Web.
_____. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.
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.
Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour, 2000. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: HarperOne, 1949. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco: Harper, 2002. Print.
_____. The Problem of Pain. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.
Moore, S. David. The Shepherding Movement: Controversy and Charismatic Ecclesiology. London: T & T Clark International, 2003. Print.
Payne, Leanne. Crisis in Masculinity. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1985. Print.
_____. 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.
Questions & Answers on Sponsorship. New York, N.Y.: A.A. Grapevine, 1976. Print.
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.
Comments Off on The Cross – from Leanne’s Archives
By Leanne Payne
from her newsletter archives, Summer, 1993
The Cross is the Abyss of Wonders,
the Centre of Desires, the Schole of Virtues,
the Hous of Wisdom, the Throne of Love,
the Theatre of Joys and the Place of Sorrow;
It is the Root of Happiness,
and the Gate of Heaven.
Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations
I know of no modern poet who could have penned these words. There may be such a one whose lifelong meditation on Christ’s act of redeeming the world approaches the depth of the understanding this seventeenth-century Anglican poet-clergyman had, but he would have to be described, along with the likes of C. S. Lewis, as a dinosaur that somehow miraculously survived, and then suddenly appeared in this our time with its full Judeo-Christian symbolic system intact.
I read Traherne’s words to the precious folk in Denmark. I can still see the astonishment on one young man’s face. His was a wonderful one that reflected utter amazement and mutely shouted, “What in the world do such words as those mean?” Perhaps for some of you one phrase stood out. Write out that phrase in your journal just now, and then listen to God about what it means. Let the Scriptures speak to you anew of Christ’s Cross, and allow them to illumine the phrase that touched your soul. Whole books could be written on single phrases of Traherne’s eulogy. Don’t try to do that (just yet!), but begin to write out what echoed in your heart as you heard that truth.
Those of you whose hearts particularly resonated to the Cross as the “Abyss of Wonders” should not read the following until you’ve meditated upon it for yourselves. This is how it echoed in Andy Comiskey’s heart:
This means freedom from fear.
No matter what man has done to me, or will do.
No matter how badly I have fallen and have incurred the
consequences, all that raises its head above the
Lordship of Christ will die.
It dies as I dare to allow Jesus to reveal my sin
or that of another against me. I believe such revelation
is a risk – to face one’s blackness, to step off the
ground of one’s own seeming wholeness and into the
abyss of brokenness.
But that is where Jesus is found. He descended into the
abyss. In His crucifixion, He was swallowed up by the
blackness but not extinguished. In truth, the deeper He
descended and the weaker He became, the more He
revealed His power
For the abyss finds its end in Jesus. He established
the ground of the abyss by planting Himself at its
darkest, most sordid point, and then unfurling Himself
there, in glory. He frees the disfigured to rise with
Him in newness of life, in order to restore them to
their true design.
Our private and interpersonal abysses find their end in
Jesus. He establishes the wonder of His love and
creativity in those formerly hateful and barren places. He unfurls there and raises up one like myself to proclaim His substantial truth on the very ground once claimed by the darkness.
Andy Comiskey, Denmark, 1993
I italicized the last sentence of the above in order to point out the incarnational reality inherent in Andy’s words. The weapons of our warfare are incarnational; they have to do with the Real Presence of God with and within us. If I stand and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, and am not living in its incredible, substantive reality, if in other words, I am not married to Christ, and thereby a vessel that both holds and emanates His righteousness, I will be unable to speak and to be the truth our age is dying to hear. This gospel, in its incarnational form, that is, preached in the power of the Presence, delivers souls from the spirit of this age. It gains us a full divorce from Baal and Ashtoroth, Molech and Mammon, and espouses us to God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It heals. I will do no good, no matter what I say and teach, if I am not myself a living epistle, one from whom the very Light and the very Holiness, and the very Glory of God Himself emanates — even explodes into the lives of others who hunger for God and for meaning.
And that means I will be all the more human, fully human. The earth was given to us, the Scriptures tell us. I’ll be of the earth, earthy, feet flat on the ground, toes dug into the good earth, cherishing it. Yet I’ll be looking straight up to God, hands stretched up and out to Ultimate Reality, aware that God’s Spirit lives in me, aware of my immortality and that the more fully human I am, the greater capacity I have to carry and manifest the eternal, the heavenly.
You may want to share what the Lord speaks to your heart in regard to one of Traherne’s phrases. Address such a sharing to MPC, P. O. Box 3792, Peoria IL 61612-3792. Also, you may want to share about a healing you have received in a MPC conference, and we invite you to write that out as well. To write the story of our healing is nearly always to understand and receive more! We are listening in the Presence and celebrating God’s mighty hand upon our lives.
Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live.
(C. S. Lewis, Weight of Glory, p. 170)
In my meditations on perseverance I was stopped short by a phrase in The Imitation of Christ. A’Kempis describes the posture Christ desires from those who would follow Him: disciples are to await the bidding not only of Christ Himself, but also of “him whom God has placed as father over you” (Book III, chapter 32, italics mine). Similarly, in his Rule St. Benedict described our need to walk “by another’s judgment and command,” (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 5, “On Obedience”). Spiritual fathering has been a fundamental of Christian formation in both Eastern and Western Christian tradition. Yet I suspect that for many Western Christians today this picture of Christ placing a father over us is foreign or perhaps even alarming. You may feel provoked by this suggestion — to have a father over you, to accept the authoritative care of a leader, a teacher, a man.
I believe we will do well to consider our need, if we are to progress in becoming, to seek out and do the bidding of the godly authority He would place over us. Let’s consider what it means to receive spiritual fathering, and why it might be especially valuable in our current climate of extreme autonomy to have fathers over us. The verb to father describes a profoundly creative action. Spiritual fathering is a begetting of new life, the guiding and directing of one’s becoming in Christ.
What is Spiritual Fathering?
The Judeo-Christian Scriptures are filled with symbols of fathering and of men and women becoming through obedience to God the Father’s will. Christ Himself is the ultimate exemplar of this begetting. The Scriptures declare that Christ’s personality was made full through His total yielding of self to do the bidding of His Father, even to death on the cross. In The Cruciality of the Cross Forsyth helps us understand the profound, identity-begetting process Christ experienced as He followed His Father’s guidance all the way to the cross: “In His death He Himself found Himself fully. And His expiring groan was also the relieved sigh of self-realisation [sic]” (Forsyth, Cruciality of the Cross, p. 141). Jesus personally testified to His continual following of His Father’s direction: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38, NIV). He exercised continual obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thomas Smail, the Scottish theologian who authored The Forgotten Father, describes this divine Father-Son relationship: “There operates in the life of Jesus a secret, commanding and continuous personal guidance that shapes his decisions at every point” (The Forgotten Father, p. 80). God the Father was over Christ, loving Him by providing this perfect guidance. He stands poised and eager to do the same for us.
Anthropology proceeds from theology, and clearly this dynamic of begetting through fathering is knit into us as image-bearers. Jesus teaches us to address God in prayer, “Our Father,” Abba, in His heart-language of Aramaic. He also teaches that it is through keeping His commandments that we become (John 15:10-11). Relating to God as Father means doing His will from a heart yielded in obedience. Smail writes, “Abba is the intimate word of a family circle where that obedient reverence was at the heart of the relationship” (The Forgotten Father, p. 39). How might we become such reverently obedient sons and daughters? I believe God has generous provisions by which He intends to draw us into true relationship with Himself as our Father. First, by giving His only Son for us, we can now celebrate, “Another lives in me.” Christ’s own indwelling presence is at work within, transforming our character into His likeness. But in addition, I am suggesting that He desires to place godly human spiritual fathers over us to facilitate this reverent relationship of obedience with our Father. We humans mature as both this inner (mystical) and outer (relational) fathering hold us in The Way.
For many of you, Leanne was one of the important authorities God put in place to guide your becoming. I will remind us that, while human fathers are male, I am speaking here of the spiritual function of fathering that is provided within the Church by both men andwomen. In his chapter “The Spiritual Guide,” Bishop Kallistos Ware notes that throughout Christian tradition we have had both abbas and ammas — “there are spiritual mothers as well as spiritual fathers” (The Inner Kingdom, p. 129). In this essay I deliberately use the word fathering because it evokes a deep and powerful symbol that our souls need. Indeed, relationship with the Father is the motive for and result of all true spiritual progress. Sometimes the church today uses demythologized words such as “mentoring” or “accountability” when our great need truly is for fathering. These other words may feel less threatening, but they settle for describing a sterilized function without acknowledging the generative relationship. And it is relationship that we are called to — relationship with God Himself that is fostered by relationship with spiritual fathers. Fathering is a word that evokes the creative reality of a seed planted, a begetting of new life. Thus I will continue to use the word fathering intentionally and deliberately and hope to see us through the resistance and anxieties this symbol provokes.
It is possible for both men and women to provide spiritual fathering because God has gifted men and women with the masculine and feminine virtues. In chapter 5 ofCrisis in Masculinity Leanne writes about God’s design of the polarity and complementarity of the sexes. In this year of her passing into glory we have heard magnificent testimonies of the way Leanne’s books and pastoral care schools have provided salvific direction to your becoming. In writing on remedial suffering, Leanne describes how she helped her dear friend Patsy stand in the cross and suffer rightly, thus turning her wounds into healing power (see chapter 13 of The Healing Presence). This is one small but powerful example of the fathering function in our process of becoming. Patsy allowed Leanne’s wisdom and compassion to guide her healing in a storm of overwhelming emotion. Surely in the process of becoming we encounter tricky and overwhelming passages that we won’t find our way through without spiritual fathering.
Perhaps you are warming to the possibility of having a spiritual father over you. Certainly monks and nuns have fathers and mothers appointed over them. But where is spiritual fathering extended and received outside the walls of monasteries? God’s intent is for every church to be a body in which spiritual fathering begets new life. Throughout Heaven‘s Calling Leanne wrote of her need and desire to be under godly authority: “My desire to work under godly, divinely appointed masculine authority stemmed from the fact that the church has always taught that regardless of the gifts and calling God has bestowed on someone, these should be exercised under the oversight of proper spiritual authority” (Heaven‘s Calling, p. 220). Many churches formally support spiritual fathering via pastoral care, cell groups and counseling. Wise believers also cultivate prayer partnerships as Leanne exhorts us to do in chapter 12 of Restoring the Christian Soul. Spiritual directors and Christian counselors offer fathering relationships for those seeking healing and spiritual formation. And 12-step fellowships follow a formal practice of sponsorship that serves as an essential form of fathering. Anyone seeking sobriety can have personal, daily guidance from a sponsor who provides oversight for the sternly magnificent work of recovery. We can see that the Church provides spiritual fathering in many ways, but we must also consider our resistance to engaging in this form of relationship.
Obstacles to Spiritual Fathering
Despite the opportunity for spiritual fathering in many formal and informal structures, my suspicion is that most Christians lack spiritual fathers who function in positions of authority to guide their becoming. I believe we receive little spiritual fathering because it is optional. The urge for autonomy exists in us all — theologians call it our sin nature. We reject God’s authority in a perverse wish to remove ourselves to a corner of the universe where we can be our own masters. As Father Reardon has penned, “More deeply than it is comfortable to think, we are all rebels against God” (Christ in the Psalms, p. 69). We don’t have spiritual fathers because we don’t want them. The tempter relentlessly attacks our understanding of authority and freedom. Under sin, we imitate Satan’s own rebellion, rejecting God’s desire to give us “secret, commanding, and continuous personal guidance” (Smail, p. 80). We exchange the truth for a lie as though structure, law, and authority are the enemies of freedom. In truth, freedom is the release from bondage — a release that is only granted through a repentant return to our Father’s authority.
When human rebellion builds its camp in the illusory realm of autonomy, we make ourselves easy prey to the wages of sin and death. Under the vice of acedia, the will serves the purpose of resistance (I won’t become who God made me to be). And thus we find that we are in a state of rebellion. Add to this universal sinful inclination the particular toxicity of our time. We live in an age that idolizes an absence of authoritative oversight, misconstruing a poverty of fathering as freedom. The individualism and prizing of autonomy of our day are dangerous to human becoming.
A man I knew was beginning to work with a sponsor in a 12-step program, and his sponsor told him that he wouldn’t be able to continue overseeing his recovery if he did not attend meetings, study his recovery materials, and check in with him daily. The man found these requirements difficult and complained, “I was hoping for a little more grace.” He was misconstruing grace as a freedom from authority. In accepting the fathering that his sponsor was offering, he had the opportunity to use his freedom for formation, healing, maturity, and obedience.I believe this is grace — this clear expectation based on what the sponsor believes will enable this man to stand in his battle with the demon of alcohol addiction. We need courage and humility to step into guiding relationships that offer spiritual fathering.
Unforgiveness fuels our resistance to spiritual fathering. When we have failed to forgive authority figures, we resist acknowledging godly authority. Unforgiveness will also cause us to resist submission and obedience to any human authority. Those carrying resentment from past sins of leaders often “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” joining the world’s cynicism toward authority figures. The vice of acedia plays a wicked role here, luring us to hunker down in resentful resistance to much-needed fathering from both God and the men and women He would place over us. It is a costly fault (spawned by unforgiveness) to reject the structures of authority that God provides for our help.
Perhaps you’ve heard an embittered Christian reject the direction of any pastor based on the sins of some spiritual authority in his past or present. As C. S. Lewis challenges us, “the misuse of authority may provoke resentment; in this sin both parties share” (italics mine, Christian Reflections, p. 119-120). Adding our own sins of unforgiveness and self-righteousness to the damage inflicted by leaders who have sinned is a grievous response indeed. Christ-followers bear responsibility to acknowledge sins and forgive sinners-in-authority who have wounded us. For some, such forgiveness will remove a key barrier to progressing in personal maturity. Those of us most deeply wounded by parents, pastors, or other key spiritual leaders are also most in need of spiritual fathering from fellow humans in order to forgive, receive resymbolization of fathering, and restore right relationship with authority. Repenting from unforgiveness can open new receptivity to spiritual fathering that will powerfully serve our becoming.
I think I’ve made clear by now that the Father calls His sons and daughters to receive some of His direction through human spiritual fathers. But we also have fears and resistance to such relationships, in part because we misunderstand what God is asking of us. Receiving spiritual fathering is not bentness. Leanne wrote about the many spiritual fathers — both authors and personal mentors — whom God used to guide her ministry. In fact she made it clear that this receptivity does not supplant our receptivity to Christ, but rather enhances it. As Leanne wrote, “To be a disciple of a disciple is to be pale indeed. I do not want to be a pale Christian” (Restoring the Christian Soul, p. 54). Like the fading we’d see if we made a copy of a copy of a copy of a photograph, bentness instead of fathering would quickly produce such paleness. While submission and obedience are channels through which we receive fathering, it’s not that we imitate our spiritual fathers and erase ourselves in the process. To the contrary, under the begetting influence of spiritual fathering, one’s true self actually becomes more vibrant. Leanne was no disciple of Lewis or Sanford, and their fathering caused her to become more fully the true Leanne. And you are no disciple of Leanne, your pastor, or any other saint through whom God fathers you.
We must not project a Godlike quality of being onto our spiritual fathers. We remember that they are men and women with feet of clay, small ones who have heard the call to serve us, and we trust God to work through both their inadequacy and ours. A practice that keeps one erect even as you accept a spiritual father’s authority is to add those “over” you to your intercessory prayer list. Pray for your pastor, counselor, spiritual director, sponsor, manager, trainer, landlord, husband, parents — all those God has appointed to bear authority in your life, through whom God works to guide you. By praying for them you take an active, mature position in the relationship that allows you to receive their judgment without bending into it.
Spiritual fathering is also not coercion or punishment. The abbas of our wealthy Christian heritage never arrived on a believer’s doorstep saying, “Christ has placed me over you — come now and do my bidding.” Those who were spiritually fathered in the Egyptian desert or in St. Benedict’s monastery chose to place themselves in these fathering relationships. To seek out those whom Christ would appoint as father over us is an act of the will that connotes great dignity. Those who choose to follow the command of spiritual fathers demonstrate an awareness of the infinite riches God desires for His children.
Accepting spiritual fathering also does not permit us to displace responsibility for our becoming onto others. It is a temptation of immaturity to passively depend on human authority. It is also a temptation, at least in America, to adopt a consumer mentality that projects responsibility for our spiritual progress onto the programs the church offers or the charisma of those in leadership. When I stand before Christ on that great day, I very much doubt that He will allow me to speak about the actions of my spiritual fathers as an excuse for my failures in discipleship. We need to eat in order to remain alive, but we do not make the crops and weather responsible for our survival. It is possible to accept our genuine need for spiritual fathering, seek it out, and receive from those He appoints over us while yet remaining fully responsible before God.
The Good Fruit of Spiritual Fathering
God desires to provide us with good spiritual fathering to beget more of His life in us. One hugely transforming fruit of spiritual fathering is that it answers our fallen condition: what Leanne calls our crisis in separation. God never intended us to make this steep ascent alone. He does not agree with the inner voice that is disappointed when one is too weak to keep on track without help. He does not agree with the sense of self-loathing when one discovers that he or she is genuinely dependent on the encouragement and correction of spiritual fathers. Many of us are plagued with a wrong soul-symbol of a “strong” human who cleans up his or her inner mess alone with the Lord. Often we try to engage in healing and transformation in isolation because shame tells us we are not worthy of the attention and care of another who would be over us. We dread exposing our needs, our feelings, and our smallness to another. But these “by myself” attempts at wholeness are untrue and unbiblical, and usually yield disastrous results.
The entire arc of Scripture tells the story of God’s commands, hope, and guidance coming to us through men and women He appoints to minister to His people. God offers each one of us a unique place in this story and desires to set us into the body of Christ. Yet pride and shame seduce us into isolation and lock us in a vicious cycle. “By myself” attempts at becoming inevitably fail, inciting further shame and self-hatred and filling the soul with evil words: “I am pathetic; I should have more faith; I should just be able to do it.” Godly spiritual fathering stands with us against these lies and gives us the truth in their place. Perhaps a loving spiritual father has given you such a drink of living water: “Of course you can’t do this alone. Let me help you.”
Rescue from Subjectivism
I learned from the opening of Dallas Willard’s wonderful book The Divine Conspiracy that a pilot can be flying a plane upside down while her own senses tell her that she is right-side up. We see the same danger when an individual tries to pilot her own soul — she is likely to be self-abusive where she needs gentle mercy, and self-pitying where she needs stern truth. If we reject fathering in favor of the illusion of autonomy, we are left defenseless against our worst inclinations and caught in the subjectivism the world preaches: “Listen to your heart,” “Find your own path,” as though the fallen self can serve as its own guide.
In wonderful contrast, spiritual fathering offers us a guide who is other-yet-with-us. A spiritual father or mother stands outside the cloud of the soul’s emotions, perceptions and habits and brings divine objectivity to the process of becoming. Jesus taught us to pray, “lead us not into temptation,” or as Eugene Peterson has paraphrased, “Keep us safe from ourselves” (Matt. 5:13a, NIV and MSG). I am convinced that spiritual fathering is God’s answer to this prayer as He offers us relational, human help with the inner temptations of the wounded human soul. St. Teresa of Avila addresses this vulnerability to temptation in her masterpiece, Interior Castle, and expresses her own wish that all Christ-followers would be spiritually fathered: “Even though they be not in a religious Order, it would be a great thing for them to have someone to whom they could go, as many people do, so that they might not be following their own will in anything, for it is in this way that we usually do ourselves harm” (Interior Castle, p. 44, italics mine).
It’s interesting to me that American culture, the champion of personal autonomy, does grasp the need for fathering when it comes to physical fitness. Americans spend $10 billion annually for personal fitness training. Many of these dollars are paid by people who will only reach their fitness goals with the assistance of a trainer. Imagine what might happen if Christians would make this level of investment in seeking out spiritual fathering for the fitness of their souls. For those alone in subjectivism, “I don’t feel like it,” soon becomes our boss. It can be painful to face our sin and weakness, and persevering with daily spiritual practices isn’t constantly gratifying. But fleeing discomfort will not bring consolation, and we will not find life by seeking our own way. Loving spiritual fathering urges us to obey even when it hurts, and we will receive our Father’s blessings and affirmations to sustain us. By doing another’s bidding over time, we are able to internalize the firm, clear, and wise guidance of a spiritual father. Good spiritual fathering not only holds us in the place where God is at work, but over time also begets wholesome structures within our souls. We come to know the goodness of the extravagant Father: “all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31b, ESV).
Mortifying the Flesh and Healing the Will
“Walking by another’s judgment” also offers the vital, albeit painful benefit of mortifying the old man. As C. S. Lewis describes our fallen state, “human nature . . . wants to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than itself” (from Mere Christianity, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, p. 97). I have shared at MPC schools about my transforming experience of mortification when I sought out a 12-step fellowship. In taking my seat in the circle, I added my voice to the profession of faith: “we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; and made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God” (from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous). But perhaps even more important than this declaration was the admission that I needed authoritative fellowship in order to abide in that decision. In joining their circle I crucified the old man who refused to need, to depend, to receive. Week after week I drew on Christ’s own strength and put to death my wish to keep well away from anything higher than my self. The fathering of that group guided me into fellowship with that which is better and stronger and higher than my rebellious aloneness.
Healing of the will is one of those wonderful Christian paradoxes: by finally using the will to submit to fathering, our sacred power to choose can become healthy and strong. “It is when we try to make our will conform with God’s that we begin to use it rightly. To all of us, this was a most wonderful revelation” (AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 40). As a good friend recently wrote to me about those of us who have trespassed into addiction and codependency, “The real truth is that we have always possessed plenty of willpower; we just mis-used our will so long that we crossed over some spiritual boundary into slavery.” Through the act of confessing our need, of asking for help, and of setting ourselves to follow direction, we are choosing this day whom we will serve. Refusing to serve the old man, we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Through this turn from death to life the human will is strengthened and healed, thanks be unto God!
Setting Us into the Body: Return to Inequality
The final benefit of spiritual fathering that I will call attention to is what C. S. Lewis calls the “return to inequality.” His essay “Membership” considers our call, “not to individualism but to membership in the mystical body” of Christ (Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, p. 163). In this wonderful sermon (which I highly encourage you to read), Lewis reminds us that even the word membership has lost its Christian roots and meaning. Always the consummate apologist, Lewis contrasts life in the body of Christ with the harsh conditions of this sin-ruined world. Lewis clarifies that, although equality is needed medicine for sin-sick humankind, it is not food. Equality then is a protective concept, needed in this fallen world. Because sin has mis-created the possibility of exploitation and oppression, “equality under the law” is a principle that serves the virtue of justice, giving each person his or her due. But while assertion of equality is needed in the world of sin and death, it has no power to usher us into the kingdom of God.
God created humanity for something more dynamic and brilliant than a monotonous sameness. We catch a hint of the richness God has in mind by looking at the human family. The various members are different kinds of persons, not at all interchangeable, who together form a rich unity. The life of the family would be in no way enlivened by an insistence that the family’s members are symmetrical, interchangeable, the same. To properly understand the body of Christ and find our place in it, we need a return to inequality. Like members of a family, members of the body of Christ are “essentially different from, and complementary to, one another . . . differing not only in structure and function but also in dignity” (p. 163-164). In this essay we are focusing on one aspect of this complementarity, which is the blessed inequality of spiritual fathering.
“In the Church [when]we strip off [the disguise of artificial equality], we recover our real inequalities, and are thereby refreshed and quickened” (Weight of Glory, p. 168). The inequality within the body of Christ is a haven from the strife of the world that is continually bogged down in the muck of sin and grievous responses to sin. Christian inequality creates a haven where we can lay down the defenses that relentlessly strive to assert, “I am as good as you. ” “It is like turning from a march to a dance. It is like taking off our clothes. We become, as Chesterton said, taller when we bow; we become lowlier when we instruct. It delights me that there should be moments in the services of my own Church when the priest stands and I kneel” (p. 171). By putting ourselves in the care of spiritual fathers, we choose to accept their offer of service as priest, mentor, pastor, counselor, or sponsor and open ourselves to the immeasurable benefits of obedience to our Father.
In current parlance, to say that someone “put me in my place” has a shaming connotation. But in the context of our life in Christ, we hear this differently. It is Good News that there is a place for each one. As Lewis makes clear, being put in our place by God Himself is the only real deliverance from shame and into healthy identity: “We shall then first be true persons when we have suffered ourselves to be fitted into our places” (p. 173). God has made a way for every man and woman to belong in the body of Christ, and His begetting aims to fit each into his or her particular place. I would suggest that we experience the blessing of this return to inequality when we take our place in relation to those God has appointed over us. No matter who you are, what your talents or station in life are, you were made for some relationships with spiritual fathers God appoints over you. Receiving the ministration of a spiritual father is a most beautiful choice made by a free man or woman, restoring us to an inequality our souls need and long for. The soul that chooses to be fathered has won a battle against its own fleshly fear and resistance, gaining a sanctified will in the bargain. Our Father calls His sons and daughters to return to inequality for the sake of becoming, for there is more begetting He yet desires in and through each one.
We latch onto egalitarian models because we are trying to stop bad leaders from hurting people. We say, “I am as good as you” and “every person has equal value” as a way to draw ourselves up, “stand up for ourselves.” This is necessary at times, to say, “I don’t have to take that from you.” In these moments we are asserting the concept of equality as a way to push out wrong uses of authority that try to name us destructively or control us for purposes that serve the ego of the leader. The concept of equality then serves a needed remedial purpose in our sin-torn world. But we must not stop there.
My concern is that, even in popular Christian thinking, we have embraced the concept of equality as an absolute good and made it our model for relationships, which is a costly mistake. When we make equality an absolute good, we end up with an assertion of sameness that then goes on to erase differences. This leads to bizarre assertions such as the fruit we are now seeing of the sexual revolution — feminism asserting that there are no real differences between men and women but only damaging cultural inventions about gender, or the growing movement to promote all sexual “orientations” as equally valid that has even begun to legitimize pedophilia. Equality has remedial value in this fallen world but makes for a perverse religion. Equality is no guide to eternal life and does not usher us in as living members of a body with Christ as its head.
God gives us much richer symbols for relationship: a family, a body, a vine. God’s symbols of His people allow for the startling variety, the infinite uniqueness He is capable of, and delights in, as Creator. An important aspect of finding our wholeness in Christ is to confess the refreshing truth that I am not just the same as you or even just as good as you. The body of Christ offers us relationships that affirm a holy inequality. You may serve me as confessor, for I am the penitent. You may serve me as celebrant, for I need the Bread of Heaven. You may serve me as father, for I am a child of God. One of the mysteries of the body is that even our fathers are not only fathers — they too are sons and brothers. All of us need relationships in which we kneel while another stands, in which we trust another to be taller, to see further, to extend wisdom to us, because God has appointed and anointed them to do so. Jesus did not consider equality something to be grasped. Christ is formed in our midst as His members take their places. Somehow, as I assent to be just one member — the unique and particular member I am — the body of Christ becomes, and I take my place in it. I am not all things but just one thing, one small and priceless member of the perfect, eternal, infinite body of Christ. May God grant us this refreshing return to inequality, this receptivity to fathering, for the health of His body and bride.
A’Kempis, T. The Imitation of Christ. Edited by P. M. Bechtel. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.
Avila, St. Teresa of. Interior Castle. Edited by E. Allison Peers. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1946. Print.
Forsyth, P. The Cruciality of the Cross (American ed.). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.
Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: HarperOne, 1949.
_____. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco: Harper, 2002. Print.
Lewis, C. S., and Walter Hooper. Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967. Print.
Payne, Leanne. Crisis in Masculinity. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1985. Print.
_____. Heaven’s Calling: A Memoir of One Soul’s Steep Ascent. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008. Print.
_____. Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer: Overcoming the Three Great Barriers to Personal and Spiritual Completion in Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991. Print.
_____. The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul Through Union with Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1995. Print.
Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms. Ben Lomond, Calif.: Conciliar, 2000. Print.
Rule of St. Benedict. Retrieved January 11, 2016, from http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbejms3.html#5
Smail, Thomas Allan. The Forgotten Father. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981. Print.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. San Francisco: Harper/Hazelden, 1987. Print.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1981. Print.
Ware, K. The Inner Kingdom. Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001.
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. Print.
Marco Alvise Pitteri (Italy, Venice, 1702-1786), Pietro Longhi (Italy, Venice, 1702-1785),Ordination [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1668 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Incarnational reality is a concept that permeates Leanne Payne’s teaching and writing. By incarnational reality, Leanne means the presence of God both with us and within us. Through incarnational reality, in all of its aspects, we share in the life of Christ and undertake a glorious adventure. Read more…
By Leanne Payne from her newsletter archives, Fall/Winter 1990
To invoke the Name of Jesus, or to breathe it in prayer (as in the Jesus Prayer that comes to us from the Orthodox tradition) is a special and wondrous way of practicing the Presence. That is because:
The Name is the symbol and bearer of the Person of Christ. Otherwise the invocation of the Name would be mere verbal idolatry. ‘The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.’ The presence of Jesus is the real content and the substance of the Holy Name. The Name both signifies Jesus’ presence and brings its reality. [On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus by a Monk of the Eastern Church. Published by The Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 52, Ladbroke Grove, London, W. 11, p. 9].
The full prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” but it is best shortened to simply breathing the Holy Name.
Before beginning to pronounce the Name of Jesus, establish peace and recollection within yourself and ask for the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost. ‘No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost’. The Name of Jesus cannot really enter a heart that is not being filled by the cleansing breath and the flame of the Spirit. The Spirit Himself will breathe and light in us the Name of the Son [Ibid., p. 2].
It is no small joy to leave off breathing the Holy Name, only to hear the Spirit audibly speak it within.
This prayer, it seems to me, this holding of the Holy Name, is one of the most special ways of practicing the Presence. All this was quite forcibly brought to my mind as a way of not only preparing but safeguarding Christians in the event of persecution for their faith. I had been reading Revelation, chapters 13 and 14, and was horrified at the fate of the lost who are destined to wear the name of the Beast on their foreheads:
The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast–all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world….
He [the second beast) was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name [Rev 13: 5 – 17, italics mine].
After such a terrifying word and image comes this beautiful one. It is for those whose names are written in the book of life, those in whom “No lie was found in their mouths”:
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had His Name and His Father’s Name on their foreheads [Rev 14:1].
Lord, may your Name be deeply inscribed on our foreheads even now.
And may Your Name be as a Holy Fire within us, one that not only purifies us, but spills over onto all around us.
May Your Name be so glorified in us that we can speak your truth with great authority and effect, even in the face of slander and persecution. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.
Comments Off on On Desire: The slum or the seaside?
by Barbara Byers
“May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.” Ps. 20:4 (ESV)
Desire is a well of energy within us, the great capacity to dream, hope, yearn and aspire to that for which we long. Leanne Payne, drawing from both C. S. Lewis and Fr. John Gaynor Banks, writes of desire as a “radiant thing,” the “mighty force” that is “part of the atomic energy of the soul.” If desire is indeed beautiful, radiant, and explosively powerful why then do we not live alert and fully alive to our deep hearts’ desires? Are we perhaps afraid to desire so deeply because the possibility of disappointment and failure loom greater than bright expectation? In that fear, do we anticipate nonfulfillment more than fulfillment, and thus live against true hope and desire?
C. S. Lewis, grappling with this in The Weight of Glory wrote: “Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of reward promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea, we are far too easily pleased.” We choose to stay in the slums, playing in the mud puddles instead of bringing our longings, indeed our whole capacity for desire, trembling before the Lord. We haven’t truly taken in the profound generosity of our God. It is His good pleasure to grant us the desires of our hearts! We may be like Tolstoy’s character in A Confession–if a fairy were to come and offer to fulfill our desires, we should not even know what to ask, or how to hope and ask greatly.
Yet God, who intricately designed our souls for His glory, gifted us with the capacity for deep desire. This divine attribute, this creative vitality, seeks expression through our choices. Indeed, the person we are becoming is directed by desire. Our true becoming depends on it! A. W. Tozer framed it thus: “Every Christian will become at last what his desires have made him. … The great saints have all had thirsting hearts.” The psalmist echoed this thirst in Psalm 42:1 (NIV): “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” As Christ Himself becomes our first and greatest desire, then our desire for all things can become defined, ordered into its proper place, well-directed and whole.
Sometimes our desires arise from deceit or illusion, and thus trap or entice us amiss. When that happens, we may find ourselves in a place of exploiting or manipulating others in order to fulfill those desires. At this place God’s refining fires are a needed mercy. We see this embodied in Scripture when God journeyed with men and women through years of maturing until their desires could be fulfilled. How great our need for maturity is as we contend with the power of desire. Because we have a tendency toward impatience or giving up too easily, we may repress, hide or even kill real desire and give our hearts to the false, to the idolatrous. Even more common, I think, people seek fulfillment in the false and idolatrous because they don’t understand that only God can fulfill that real desire. One of the most chilling verses in Scripture is the indictment against Israel in Psalm 106:15 (CJB): “He gave them what they wanted but sent meagerness into their soul.” There is a demanding, carnal part of us that does not desire purely and our souls suffer leanness because of it. It is the Spirit’s work of sanctification that cleanses and purifies this carnality, differentiating between demand and desire. It is the Spirit who helps us to desire good things, to desire them in good ways, and to wait on the Lord. It is critical to our maturity to die to the false, self-demanding and allow Him to burn away false, carnal desires. Some desires then simply blow away as ash, but some come out purer, more tempered, but also larger and stronger. This too is His mercy.
What happens when we need to find or even to recapture our desires? We may have repressed desires out of self-protective fear or from shame. Fearing our desires will never be fulfilled, that an ache will remain, we may avoid laying out before the Lord our deepest desires. We may even fear that our desires are not in line with God’s will. Often instead of contending with the real content of our hearts in His presence, we cover our desires, retreating into a self-imposed safe, silent zone. But safety cannot be found by retreating into the false self that only subverts the emergence of true desire. Our quest must be to boldly name our desires, trusting He will hold them safely. In The Broken Image Leanne Payne assured: “We can safely desire even those things we’ve been so fearful to acknowledge before, because they are wholly offered to Him. … He will remove the chaff from the wheat, He will transmute the desire when and where necessary, He will elevate it to higher planes when our perception of His will for us is too low.”
What happens if we substitute our own solutions, demanding that our desires be fulfilled in the way and time we expect? In Genesis16 we see this happen when Sarah, who had been waiting many years for a son, interposed her own idea and convinced Abraham to have a child, Ishmael, through her maid. God had promised a son but she would not wait. God had promised a son and indeed Isaac was born in Sarah’s and Abraham’s old age. God was faithful “at the appointed time” (Gen. 21:2), but the consequences of her demand remain today as the people of Israel and those of the Arab nations are at enmity.
In His presence, we must repent of self-willed, self-timed demands. We offer Him our disappointment of waiting; we offer Him our grieving and our double-mindedness over thwarted or quenched desires; we offer Him our mistaken counterfeits and shaky attempts at self-fulfillment, and we open all the hidden places of our hearts to His light. Then repentant, we return to hope and invite Him to bring up and restore buried desires. Job expressed this well: “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow. …My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near” (Job 17:7, 11-12 NIV). As light is near we sense anew the Holy Spirit’s creative indwelling presence “brimming with endless possibility” and willing to restore all within us, including deep desires (Guardini, The Lord).
When the well of energy of desire has diminished, it is by prayer that the flow of living water radiantly comes again to fill the well, awaken creative dreams, and infuse us with forward impetus to pursue those desires aright. In the true self, when we are quiet before Him in listening prayer, He draws up the deep desires of our hearts, those we may have quenched or set aside prematurely. As we acknowledge these desires, offering them to God so that our wills become His, we can then listen to His word of healing and direction that sustains us until the time of fulfillment. Faith, united with enduring patience, remains the key to pleasing God and receiving our promised desires (Heb. 6:12).
In faith we trust deeply that we can wait for that good thing we are asking because He is a good God, full of grace and lovingkindness toward us. He will be faithful to every “staggering” promise. We turn again to that place of abiding in His presence, offering our desires in joy, inviting His purification, uniting with Christ who is greater than all our desires and has the power to open His hand and fulfill every good desire (Ps. 145:16). With the psalmist we also cry: “All my longings lie open before You” (38:9 NIV). Thus we are enabled to pray with surrender: “Keep alive within us, Oh Christ, your most precious gift to us which is our burning, longing, wordless yearning for you” (Gerald May). Alleluia!
Photo courtesy of num_skyman at freedigitalphotos.net
The season of Advent is so easily taken over by the bustle of Christmas preparations. We must pause to listen for “that other voice… letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”(i) Read more…
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
A friend of mine, interceding for a newborn baby in the hands of a pathologically selfish mother, could not sleep for her extreme concern for the child. She had tried to procure help for the baby, but all her efforts (and seemingly even her prayers) had failed. Read more…
Woody Allen’s movie Zelig portrays a character Leonard Zelig whose need for approval is so great that he adopts the identities of those around him. He adopts their attitudes and perspectives while minimizing his true self in an attempt to fit in. Psychiatrist Harry Karlinsky, professor of clinical psychiatry, University of British Columbia, notes that Zelig had forty-four “transformations” in the movie.
Of course, Zelig’s “true self” is not the real self that Christ encourages us to grow into. The real self is the divine image of Christ in us that emerges as we partake of the incarnational reality of Christ living within us. As Leanne Payne writes in Real Presence, “By the principle of the incarnation, the Highest is transposed into the lowest and man finds himself resurrected in every faculty of his being. This is the true, the whole self” (p. 75).
Our false selves fail to live out of our true center in Christ. Instead, we live out of the unaffirmed hurting little boy or girl or out of the self-pitying self and other illusory selves. C. S. Lewis paints a picture of the false self through the ghostlike characters in The Great Divorce who fail to become real. In chapter 11, Sarah Smith of Golders Green meets two ghosts, a dwarf and a tall Tragedian. The dwarf is all that is left of Frank, the real self, who was Sarah’s husband on earth. When Sarah tells the Tragedian that she does not need him anymore he exclaims, “Would to Gud [God] I had seen her lying dead at my feet before I heard those words” (p. 111). The Tragedian, or false codependent self, needs to be needed so much that he cannot exist without being needed. Sarah, a picture of the real self in union with God and no longer enslaved to her own sin and brokenness, lives in the fullness of her true center, because she lives in “Love Himself.” How many of us can live from the true center?
Lacking a true center in Christ, the false self is entirely self-centered and focuses on its own needs. Leanne Payne gives us a great example of such a false self as she writes about Charles Williams’s character Wentworth in the novel Descent into Hell. Wentworth lives in an illusory world populated by fantasies. As he loosens his grip on the real world, he descends further and further into the hell of the false narcissistic self, and like the Tragedian in The Great Divorce, his real self becomes smaller and smaller.
Christ calls us to become. C.S. Lewis writes in Beyond Personality about the transformation that happens when we choose to become. “He meant what He said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect–in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality” (p. 50). Our real selves then will reflect the image of God as we put ourselves in His hands.
My husband, Doug, and I have watched in awe and wonder as one young man, “Josh,” that we have been praying with is being transformed into his real self. Josh’s addictions and diseased fantasy life are some of the most severe that we have ever encountered. Through what Leanne Payne calls “radical repentance,” renunciation of the idol god Baal and confession of sin, the diseased fantasy lives and illusory worlds Josh had created began to lose their grip on his soul. His deep emotional pain and abandonment wounds began to surface, and he began to see how he had manipulated others, seeking their approval, love, and affirmation.
As he repented his healing has progressed. Josh’s imagination was cleansed and began to be filled with images of the holy, of glory, and beauty instead of the vile pornographic images that had at one time filled the empty center in his soul, forming a false sense of being. Through healing prayer he was given the power to see truth, and as Leanne Payne writes in The Healing Presence, “the power to recognize and hate the delusion-and to walk away from it and into his “true center” (p. 84).
Josh’s healing journey has not been easy, but his willingness to obey and follow Christ in the path of repentance is bringing him out of the dark, illusory world and into the glory of redemption. His false selves are being revealed as he practices the presence, and he is being transformed from “glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).
As we take the healing journey and our real selves emerge, Christ, promising us heavenly aid, will never leave our side. As the bright spirits sang to Sarah of Golders Green in The Great Divorce:
Falsehood tricked out as truths assail her in vain: she sees through the lie as it were glass. . . . He details immortal gods to attend her: upon every road where she must travel. They take her hand at hard places: she will not stub her toes in the dark. . . He fills her brim full with immensity of life:.. (p. 117).
Finally, in the Eastern Orthodox Lenten service, the soul is pictured as a coin that has been marred with the dirt of sin, and no longer reflects the image of the glory of God or the “real self.” As we repent and obey, the image of God in us shines brighter and brighter.
O Savior, I am the coin marked with the King’s likeness, which Thou hast lost of old. But, O Word, light Thy lamp . . .and seek and find again Thine image.