Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)
For sixteen weeks I shared with you my thoughts about “losing control.” This week we hear from four Christian writers on this topic:
The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down… Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”…
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to God. But it is far easier than what we are trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way—centered on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do…
That is why the real problem of the Christian life arises where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in… — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
…as a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea.
That means, we recall, how to live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that he did all that he did.
My main role in life, for example, is that of a professor in what is called a “research” university. As Jesus’ apprentice, then, I constantly have before me the question of how he would deal with students and colleagues in the specific connection involved in such a role. How would he design a course, and why? How would he compose a test, administer it, and grade it? What would his research projects be, and why? How should he teach this course or that? — Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
When the Galilean boy brought his bread to the Lord, what did the Lord do with it? He broke it. God will always break what is offered to Him. He breaks what He takes, but after breaking it He blesses and uses it to meet the needs of others. After you give yourself to the Lord, He begins to break what was offered to Him. Everything seems to go wrong, and you protest and find fault with the ways of God. But to stay there is to be no more than just a broken vessel—no good for the world because you have gone too far for the world to use you, and no good for God either because you have not gone far enough for Him to use you. You are out of gear with the world, and you have a controversy with God. This is the tragedy of many a Christian.
My giving of myself to the Lord must be an initial fundamental act. Then day by day I must go on giving to Him, not finding fault with His use of me but accepting with praise even what the flesh finds hard. That way lies true enrichment.
I am the Lord’s and now no longer reckon myself to be my own but acknowledge in everything His ownership and authority. That is the attitude God requires, and to maintain it is true consecration. I do not consecrate myself to be a missionary or a preacher; I consecrate myself to God to do His will where I am, be it in school, office or kitchen, counting whatever He ordains for me to be the very best, for nothing but good can come to those who are wholly His.
How then shall we lay hold of that Life and Power and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning all of our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward him who calls in the deeps of our souls.
Mental habits of inward orientation must be established. An inner, secret turning to God can be made fairly steady after weeks and months and year of practice and lapses and failures and returns. It is as simple as Brother Lawrence found it, but it may be long before we can achieve any steadiness in the process.
Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet, glad surrender to him who is within. In secret ejaculations of praise, turn in humble wonder to the Light, faint though it may be. Keep contact with the outer world of sense and meanings. Here is no discipline in absent-mindedness. Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes, keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake.
The first days and weeks and months are awkward and painful, but enormously rewarding. Awkward, because it takes constant vigilance and effort and reassertions of the will, at the first level. Painful because our lapses are so frequent, the intervals when we forget Him so long. Rewarding, because we have begun to live.
Lapses and forgettings are so frequent. Our surroundings grow so exciting. Our occupations are so exacting. But when you catch yourself again, lose no time in self-recriminations, but breathe a silent prayer for forgiveness and begin again, just where you are. Offer this broken worship up to Him and say: “This is what I am except thou aid me.” Admit no discouragement, but ever return quietly to Him and wait in His presence.
…though we begin the practice of secret prayer with a strong sense that we are the initiators and that by our wills we are establishing our habits, maturing experience brings awareness of being met and tutored, purged and disciplined, simplified and made pliant in his holy will by a power waiting within us. For God himself works in our souls, in their deepest depths, taking increasing control as we are progressively willing to be prepared for his wonder.
…In the early weeks we begin with simple, whispered words. Formulate them spontaneously. “Thine only. Thine only.” or seize upon a fragment of the Psalms: “so panteth my soul after Thee, O God.”
Repeat them inwardly, over and over again. For the conscious cooperation of the surface level is need at first, before prayer sinks into the second level as habitual divine orientation. Longer disciple in this inward prayer will establish more enduring upreachings of praise and submission and relaxed listening in the depths, unworded by habitual orientation of all one’s self about him who is the Focus. — Thomas Kelly, Testament of Devotion
Beginning next week: Weekly installments from my book, Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teenage son about Christian belief.
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