In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
This, it seems to me, illustrates the power to persevere that is given us along with the unique and greatChristian virtue of hope. Surely, it would be difficult to find a truer picture of the sheer grace God gives us not only to survive but also to overcome the impossible. It depicts the very way this grace is experienced as we inch a straight and steady line through a fallen, hostile, world to our true home.
I’m sure some who read these lines have faced or are even now facing the impossible in terms of what God has called them to do and to be. Perhaps calamity, in the form of circumstances so irrational and dark they could only have been engineered by the powers of darkness, is even now on their horizon, barreling toward them. The enemy’s blow is calculated to maim or to crush – to stop them right in their tracks. But God’s message to His own is ever the same: “My power and strength that I give you are sufficient. Call upon it,ask for it, see if I will not cause all grace to abound toward you!”
It is no small thing to abound in every good work when boulders the size of mountains hit us, but that is exactly what we can do when we place our trust, not in ourselves, or in other created things but wholly in God We learn to cry out with the psalmist, “You are a faithful God!” 
Our present reality may be full of“boulders.” Many are walking with the good shepherd through the corona virus crisis which has many challenges. We face the impossible undergirded by God’s grace and hope. God’s message to us is to trust in His power and grace in the midst of overwhelming difficulties. We place our trust in God Who created the heavens and the earth and Who gives us the power and grace to persevere.We partake of His divine strength and fortitude as we cry out to Him in our difficulties and we overcome.
Lord Jesus thank you for the grace and power to persevere through what can be impossible difficulties. We know that You walk beside us every step of the way infusing us with your grace and power. Help us to look to You in these difficulties so that we may persevere and not lose our hope. Strengthen us with your divine strength and fortitude as we cry out to you. We are afraid but we pray for Your courage to persevere and pierce through our difficulties. For you are a faithful and gracious God.
 Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 1991), 219.
Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne. Image credit: Kraft, Carol, in Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 1991), p. 218
Comments Off on Pray like Nehemiah for America’s Racial Strife
by Sarah Colyn
Calling my brothers and sisters in Christ to prayer over the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd:
A 5th century Israelite named Nehemiah offers us a powerful model of what to do. Nehemiah’s story starts as he learns that his people are in trouble and shame (Nehemiah 1:3). His response to this terrible news provides us a model of how to respond to these killings and the broader trouble and shame they reveal. Nehemiah’s story is an important read that shows us how an ordinary person can utterly depend on God to rebuild a society that seems hopelessly broken.
When he heard that the walls of the city of God were broken down and its gates burned with fire, Nehemiah sat down and wept and mourned for days, and continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven (1:4). Nehemiah’s mourning put his heart in deep alignment with God’s as he grieved over sin and longed for righteousness. Some of us may not feel very connected to Ahmaud’s, Breonna’s, or George’s stories, and may be uncomfortable with the idea that their killings have anything to do with us. If you have hardened your heart in reaction to what seems like politicization of these deaths, repent. Their loved ones are weeping. Ask the Spirit to help you share their grief, and weep with them. Lay down your ideological objections, and come close to humanity like Jesus did.
If you feel apathetic, resistant, or angry, ask God to shine His light inside and reveal what’s controlling your heart. If you’re not willing, ask God to help you become willing. If you distrust the pain and outrage of others because you don’t understand it, ask God to lead you to someone wise and godly who can help you. Don’t hold yourself distant from this lament — ask God to help you enter it.
Nehemiah’s lament led him into confession:Hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. (1:6). His confession came not from a place of superiority, but from a place of deep humility as he put his shoulder under the burden of his countrymen’s trespasses. He was deeply offended by the evil that the Israelites were doing, but rather than dissociating himself, he identified with them and confessed their sin as his own. Some of us may take pride in our moral outrage. But any sensitivity or awareness you have about these issues is likely a gift of your circumstances or the privilege of your education. If your woke-ness has fostered a spirit of self-righteousness, repent. There’s a profound difference between being angry and grieved that “they” did this vs. that “we” did this. Nehemiah’s powerful leadership shows us how to pray with spiritual authority from a place of association with the trespassers.
“As for me and my father’s house, we have sinned against you.” Through his confession Nehemiah sought a new move of God for his nation on the grounds of repentance. We can kneel before God in the power of the Holy Spirit, naming sin for what it is and crying out for His mercy to deliver our nation from its relentless and devastating consequences. Let us pray for those who committed these murders, pray for the investigators, prosecutors, judges, and jurors who will be appointed to bring justice. Let us pray for the pastors of predominantly white churches in their communities and around the country, and for our brothers and sisters in the pews of those churches. And of course, let us pray for our African-American brothers and sisters, that God might deliver them from the terrible consequences of ours and our father’s house’s sin.
Yes, Nehemiah worked for reform, and his leadership was tremendously effective in recruiting allies and protecting a violently opposed mission. But he started with prayer, because prayer changes our hearts. In dialog with our Father we become people who can wield redemptive influence in our families, churches, communities, and the structures of society of which we are a part. If we won’t get on our knees as fellow sinners, our impassioned voices for justice will be clanging gongs.
We have a deep stain in our souls, worked into us through the generations of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, red-lining, and mass incarceration that runs through of our family lines and our nation. We need a heart-healing of the deepest order. None of us are good enough to accomplish this, and apart from God’s grace we cannot even face it. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash us clean and bring restoration. We need our hearts to be resymbolized; we need God to cleanse diseased and hateful images of African-Americans from every heart in this nation. This is not something our human efforts can accomplish, but Christ’s living water is powerful enough to cleanse, and pure enough to renew all things.
The Church is meant to be the hope of the world, including hope for healing our country’s blight of racial hate and injustice. White Christians need to intercede for one another and for the nation. Where we let the Enemy trick us into polarization and fragmentation, the Body of Christ is weakened to impotence, and the flow of His grace and healing power choked to a useless trickle. Our Lord has the prerogative and power to bring about shalom, to create the conditions in which mercy and truth meet, and righteousness and peace kiss. We are members of His Church, and He is calling us to take up the weapons provided by His Spirit. Let us engage in the essential work of prayer. Let us fall on our knees together in lament, confession, and broken-hearted intercession. Through the cross of Christ, God has provided the rescue from our trouble and shame, so let us kneel at that cross now and let the power of God loose.
For further guidance, please consider the following:
A Family’s Journey– personal testimony of racial identity and the consequences of racism, given by Sill Davis, MPC Vice-President, Wheaton MPC School 2019
Healing of Memories – a lecture on corporate repentance focused on the sin of slavery and racism, given by Sarah Colyn, Wheaton MPC School 2019
Painting:Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1900, The Savior [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house;
his hands shall also complete it.
Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.”
Zechariah 4:6,9 ESV
In the Presence there is spiritual power, and under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we are to do the works of God. Whether our task, like Zerubbabel’s, is one of building a place where a nation can once again find its true identity in the worship of God, or if, like Zecharaiah’s, it is one of proclaiming truth and healing, we are authorized and under a mandate to move in the power the Spirit gives. We can then celebrate our smallness and our inadequacy, knowing that it is by His Spirit that we are to transcend our limitations. We do not run ahead, nor do we lag behind, but we moment by moment obey God. When we wait upon the Lord for His mind on the task or the difficulty, then we are spared from substituting our own limited vision and unaided wisdom for the mighty work He would do. 
Here we find a peculiar Christian mandate: engage in grandly important work, and do it without relying on human ability or coercive force. This rule puts every sinful inclination in check and places us in a posture that is both comforting and glorious. Our efforts originate in God’s own desires, and His steadfast will and inexhaustible resources will see us through to success. The very definition of success deepens, and we discover the secret smile, the inward fulfillment, of Christian obedience. Living by this rule confers a dignity on our actions and even our inactions, imparted by His loving countenance resting on us.
Gracious Lord, save us from our sinful impulses that would pollute good work with fallen tactics. When we look inward to take inventory of our abilities, lift our eyes back to You. When we consider using corrupt methods to serve pure purposes, correct our wanderings. Rein in our independence and teach our hearts to more closely follow You. Thank you for the glorious calling You have spoken over our lives. Teach us Your ways and bless the work of our hands, that You might be glorified through us, now and always.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), 42.
Painting: Pierre Reymond, 1550, Pentecost [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:18–20, KJV
The “all power” is in such contrast to the poverty and humility He knew as the divine Son who “laid aside His glory” and “emptied Himself.” His state of vulnerability never once veered but rather culminated in the cross and His full sacrifice for our sin. And Paul says that we should imitate Christ’s humility, even that our attitude should be as His:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6–11)
The immensity of who we worship, and who we become—real persons—sons and daughters of God by adoption into Christ, prepares us to look at the divine humbling and the incredible scriptural mandate to imitate it. 
In Jesus we find the ultimate Someone — so solid, so real, unswervingly entrusting Himself to His Father’s love. The gospel stirs our hearts with His dignity and faithfulness, and gives us the amazing news that we’ve been made to become like Him! We seek healing so that we can imitate Christ. His peace can ground us enough that we lay down our self-protections. His healing can integrate the divided heart so that we become servants of God’s will in this world. He gives us His life so that we can share in the glory of humility.
Fairest Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us the way. Thank you for being the Way. Thank you for countering all the power-grabbing, prideful pictures of power with the awesome reality of Your self-giving love. Lord we want to follow You, we want to abide in You, we want to please You, but on our own we cannot. We believe our lives are hid with You in God, but help our unbelief. Set Your unbreakable trust in the Father into our hearts. Cleanse us, heal us, and raise us up that we might know more of the joy of imitating Your humility.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 44. Painting: R. van der Weyden, 1435, Deposition [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers,
that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,
and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything
from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:
“‘Look, you scoffers,
be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”
Anyone can be delivered from heterosexual or homosexual sin and behavior, just as from any other sin and compulsion. But deliverance comes only with choosing to remain in God. It comes from loving Him and dying (“in the teeth of every inclination” as C. S. Lewis says) to the old wounded, narcissistic self — that which wants to be separate and on its own. 
Sexual and relational brokenness isn’t the essence of our problem, but rather a symptom that shows our need of God. Our heart issue is that we avoid Him: we listen to that damaged thing inside that is afraid to pray, we let our proud and resistant impulses rule. God knows how to set disordered desires in order if we will put ourselves in His hands. It isn’t easy, but easy is an illusion anyway. Choosing Jesus delivers us from degrading, deadly kinds of hard and puts us on the good-hard, noble path of becoming. Remaining in Him simultaneously crucifies the old man and liberates the new. Daily prayer and active Christian fellowship are within our power to choose, and our Lord is eagerly waiting to deliver all who turn to Him.
Gracious Savior, thank you for opening the way of freedom. I do love you Lord, and ask you to empower me to put that love in action by remaining in You. Grant me the courage and humility to draw near to You. Strengthen my will to remain in You. Make my life a living witness to You, for I do believe that you can free everyone from everything.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 226-227. Painting: Meister der Schule von Nowgorod, 1360, Crucifixion [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:8-10
I sadly watched… neognostic spirituality penetrate and destroy the larger part of Catholic and Anglican renewal, together with that within the older Protestant denominations. Now it is flooding into the evangelical world. It is characterized by an absence of true learning — the good of reason that attends wisdom from the Spirit. And it always reconciles good and evil. It assigns innocence to sin and sinful behavior — calling it good.
Many who control church organizations today have fallen into the trap of neognosticism. They are busy not only publishing this new “gospel” to all who will listen, but because they are in authority they are enforcing their views as “politically correct” — a new “law.” They are often heard or read today as “Christian” speakers, teachers, and writers. Such is the final result of our egoistic subjectivism and the loss of the Unseen Real. 
Not every teacher who borrows Christian vocabulary is leading us to Christ. So how do we resist having our minds changed, our consciences captivated by the confusion? Only through Jesus, who still is the way, the truth, and the life. Turns out, “Keep your head on straight” is profound advice. Devotion to Christ gives us His mind and discernment, and keeps us in fellowship with others who are after the same prize. When we stand up straight under our living Head, we can effectively love His Church as He does, pray for her off-track influencers, and seek freedom for our brothers and sisters who’ve been taken captive.
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the head of all rule and authority, and we thank you for taking us into Your body through Your cross. Rule in our minds. Give us discernment that is free from paranoia. Give us love for Your truth that is free from hostility. Show us any teaching we’ve absorbed that lures us away from devotion to You. Have mercy on Your Church Lord, expose the schemes of the Deceiver, and deliver those who are imprisoned and separated from You.
 Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer (Grand Rapids, Hamewith Books, 1994), 216-217. Icon: Christ Pantocrator from Church of the Paster Noster [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Comments Off on The Way Of The Dragon Or The Way Of The Lamb
I discovered The Way Of The Dragon Or The Way Of The Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It through a Christianity Today article written by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel (see Confronting the Toxic Power in Me). At the time, I was studying the topic of spiritual power and authority, both its true manifestations and sinful distortions. In The Way Of The Dragon Or The Way Of The Lamb, Goggin and Strobel convey an earnest commitment to Christ and love for His church by separating the clean from the unclean in regards to Christian power. They write humbly, confessing their own vacillations between the Christ’s way of power and those of the world, drawing on the wisdom of some exemplary spiritual fathers and mothers. Several of the chapters describe their meetings with J. I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, James Houston, and Eugene Peterson who each contribute key insights into the unbridgeable gap between the way power is used by the world, flesh, and devil and the way of Christ.
The Way Of The Dragon Or The Way Of The Lamb is an important read for pastors and ministry leaders. But I also believe it’s important for all of us who are being pastored and led. We live in a day when many are unaffirmed and are therefore easily tempted to either grab worldly power themselves, or to excuse and even idolize leaders whose wrong uses of power seem to bring ministry success. Christian leaders, supporters, and followers alike need to hear the correction, challenge, and inspiration offered in this book. I’ll share here a couple of passages, first on identity, and then on the importance of Sabbath:
“What we face in the world today is a self-achieved identity. As Christians, we believe in a given identity, not an achieved one. The Christian is found in Christ. The self-achieved identify is very fragile because we have to sustain it. Nobody else is going to sustain it for me when I have built it up myself. The result of this is a tendency toward narcissism, because there is a depleted sense of self. This is not what God ordained that we should have for an identity” (41, quoting James Houston).
“The wilderness was supposed to be a time of ‘putting off’ the way from below and ‘putting on’ the way from above. The wilderness was supposed to be an education in faithfulness. God led his people in specific ways to shape their hearts and minds to present themselves to God, to participate in His way, and ultimately to proclaim his name to the world (Isa. 49:6)…
We are now in a different sort of wilderness – led out of the world and into the kingdom of Christ – awaiting the promised land that will come when Christ returns… On our day of rest we remember our own leaving behind the land of slavery (the world, the flesh, and the devil), and we fix our hearts on the journey toward the promised land. While Sabbath might have seemed odd, lazy, and utterly counterintuitive, it was God’s way of realigning the hearts of his people to his way. Our actions on the Sabbath day will seem odd and worthless to others as well, but when they are grounded in God’s work to bring us through the wilderness and into his kingdom, they reveal God’s deep recalibration of our hearts to his way” (174, 175).
Comments Off on The power and responsibility of choice
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that you should say,
‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
But the word is very near you.
It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
In cases where the will has long been in captivity, and is not only passive but is for whatever reason undeveloped and withered, we may need to pray for its freedom and strengthening, or even for an outright miracle of restoration. But the will, that most essential faculty of the human soul, the one that chooses self or God, must then actively choose life or death, Heaven or Hell. Then, in the strength and grace of God’s Presence, we do not look up and ask God to strike a death blow at any lusts of the spirit, soul, or body that war against the full ‘putting on’ of Christ. We do it. We then, in the practice of the Presence, ‘put on’ Christ.
Every human being has a will, although in this darkened world this vital organ is too easily broken, bent, and co-opted. Regardless of its condition, our will is the critical frontier where we meet God and confront our responsibility to choose life. We must learn to wield the power we’ve been given, the power of the will. Using this power properly yields great dignity for the one who chooses Christ. Knowing the inescapable and eternally consequential decisions we must make, we have powerful motivation to pray for the strength and right orientation of our wills.
Come, Holy Spirit. Descend into me anew, Divine, Eternal, Masculine Will. Descend into me, radiate through me. Make my weak and insufficient will one with Yours. Thank you Lord for Your literal and actual indwelling, forming my will in union with Yours. Speak your commands to my ear, and will your commands within my heart. Thank you for empowering me with Your heart, Your mind, Your energy, and Your love. I do put You on once again, my Lord and my God. To You be all honor, glory, and praise, now and forever.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 95-96.
Painting: Szymon Czechowicz, 1758, Resurrection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Meditation prepared by Sarah Colyn, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.
And this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith.
I John 5:2-4 ESV
To be obedient is to choose joy, that is, utter reality. And the choosing of joy is, of course, the choosing of Love Himself. St. John says that loving God and obeying Him is proof that we love our brothers and sisters; and conversely, that loving our brothers and sisters is proof that we love God. To step outside the Great Dance is to step outside of Love and back into the hell of self and separation; it is to step from the co-inherence of all things, animated by the Love of God, back into in-coherence. We see, therefore, that love and the choice to obey are inextricably intertwined and related. We choose to love God and others; or, pridefully, we choose self-love instead. 
Love and obedience are inseparable. What a radical truth! In a world averse to commandments, we followers of Christ remain in reality – there is no love apart from submission to God and His glorious ways. Although rebellion against Him abounds in this world, praise God that He does yet have sons and daughters who stick to the ancient paths. Some may brand us “haters,” but keepers of the Way are in fact true lovers, indwelt by Love Himself. To keep His commandments is to watchfully care over them, to hold to them firmly even when under assault, and to carry them out continually. Each way that we remember His commands and order our lives in submission to His guidance is an act of love for God and all His children. So the next time you meditate on His word, whether you’re in a solitary place or gathered with others, I pray you will know His face shining upon you. For truly, each humble, simple choice that keeps His word active in our lives places us in love with Love Himself.
Holy God, we thank you for the goodness of Your ways. We thank you for the gift of the Holy Scriptures. We thank You for putting Your law in our hearts. What a privilege it is to love You, who loved us first. Let us know more fully the glory of Your Great Dance with us, and rejoice more fully in our participation in it. Receive our humble offerings of obedience, and bless them with Your love and power. Correct us quickly in our strayings, and lead us back into reality with Your mercy. Love Your world through us as we abide in You.
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 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!
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