Like many other Christians, I read The One-Year Bible. Recently, while reading in Deuteronomy, I found myself becoming impatient with the Israelites.
“How can they be so blind to what God wants to do for them?”
It just seemed so pointless. They wandered and grumbled and complained, while all the time God waited to give them the Promised Land. They worried, fought amongst themselves and looked for solutions – they tried everything their own way, even though they saw God’s faithfulness over and over.
I was struck then by how like an ancient Israelite I can be. Do I really allow Him to direct my life and allow His Spirit to work through me?
Repeated throughout Deuteronomy is the simple command to love and obey the Lord:
Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
Deuteronomy 8:6: “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and revering Him.”
Deuteronomy 10:12: “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s command and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.”
Deuteronomy 11:22: “. . . to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to him.”
Deuteronomy 30:20: ” . . . and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life . . . ”
I could see what Moses was trying to get the Israelites to understand. This kind of relationship with God – to love Him with everything we are and hold fast to Him – is not about commitment. It is about surrender.
This is a difficult thing for me to accept. I am a committed person. I like to do things, to move ahead, to see progress made. I want to do the Lord’s work, yet I sometimes find that I have been “keeping busy” in my own strength, and that I have taken back control of my life from Him. Commitment is about me and what I do; surrender is about Him and what He does in and through me.
Are we afraid?
Sometimes keeping busy helps us to avoid the still, quiet place where God can really speak to us. It is in solitude that we often become aware of the closed doors, the true motives behind our actions and the areas in our lives that aren’t surrendered. We do anything we can to find something to do, rather than just rest in His presence and listen to Him. What are we afraid of? C.S. Lewis explored this in the Chronicles of Narnia.
“He’ll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme in these parts;
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
You’ll understand when you see him.”
“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.
“Why Daughter of Eve, that’s what I brought you here for. I’m to lead you where you shall meet him,” said Mr. Beaver.
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man?” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan ia a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (Oxford, 1997)
This is not the usual C.S. Lewis quotation, but this passage from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe illustrates our own lack of understanding. Why are we afraid to “hold fast” to Him? Why are we so concerned about the “safety” of meeting OUR King?
God is our King, and He is GOOD! We don’t have to be afraid to give up, to allow His Spirit to fill us, and to rely on His strength. God is GOOD and He wants to be good to us! If we want to have real intimacy with God, we have to let go: “. . . for whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). I learned this the hard way.
Riding God’s wave
Several years ago, I was living in Australia to attend Bible College. I made several friends working as a youth leader in my church. One day, these friends took me to the beach to teach me how to body surf.
When we arrived, the beach had been closed due to bad weather: the wind was up and the ocean’s undercurrent was very strong. The lifeguards had gone home and there wasn’t anyone else around. My pride and desire to learn pushed me to go anyway, and after a couple of tries close to shore I decided to swim out further to catch bigger waves.
After swimming for a while, I turned to look at the shore and saw that I was out much farther than any of my friends. I didn’t worry at first. I waited for a wave to come and carry me back to shore. But none came.
I decided I had better swim back. Yet the harder I worked, the farther I was pulled out. Struggling, I began to panic. I was getting so fatigued. I decided to let myself sink to the bottom – about 14 feet down – to allow my feet to touch the ground and get some rest. Then I would push myself to the surface again and try to swim in.
I did this several times, and realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere. I could see my friends on the shore yelling at me, but I couldn’t hear them. I knew there were no lifeguards. I resolved that I was going to die, so I stopped swimming. I let go.
I surrendered and let the water take me. I don’t remember how, but within a few minutes I turned up on shore. I was quite a way from where I began, but that was where my problem had been. I had been trying to swim STRAIGHT back to shore, doing it under my own power. The current was pulling back to shore at an angle, leading me in quite a different direction than I would have thought. When I stopped fighting, I was brought safely home.
Lord, here I hold within my trembling hand,
This will of mine – a thing which seemeth small;
And only Thou, O Christ, canst understand
How, when I yield Thee this, I yield mine all.
It has been wet with tears, and stained with sighs,
Clenched in my grasp till beauty hath it none;
Now, from Thy footstool where it prostrate lies
The prayer ascendeth. Let Thy will be done.
-D.M. M’Intyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer
The goals we set for ourselves are often not His heart, desire or kingdom purposes. He may not take us straight back to shore. He may have a reason to direct the current at an angle. We need to be seeking His will.
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes that we must let go before we lay hold. Only in giving everything to Him do we allow Him to give us all of the rich gifts He has in store.
When thou hast Christ, thou are rich and hast enough. He will be Thy faithful and provident helper in all things, so that thou shall not need to trust in men. For men quickly change and quickly fail; but Christ remaineth forever and standeth by us firmly to the end. -Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
In quietness – when we are no longer consumed with our own “busyness” and we are listening to His voice – He can reveal to us and convict us of the things that prevent us from being truly surrendered.
In Psalm 86, David prays “give me an undivided heart.” We are wholly His when we have an undivided heart, and then we are able to love others. This is true love–overflowing from His love in our hearts. This love is His, not ours – it seeks to give, not to have needs met; to understand, not to be understood; to comfort, not to be comforted.
God used Haggai to demonstrate this to the remnant of the Israelite nation in Jerusalem. The Lord commanded them to rebuild the temple, but they hesitated and procrastinated and found excuses. They would not give in, and they were a divided, unhappy, poor and hungry people. Then Haggai brought them God’s message: “Give careful thought to your ways” (1:5) When they surrendered to God’s will, a number of things happened: God stirred up their spirits, He gave them assurance of His faithfulness and promises for their future, He gave them unity and fellowship as a people, and He said “From this day on I will bless you” (2:19).
It is about being consumed with something infinitely greater than ourselves. Then we can truly love others and be used of Him for His kingdom purposes. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 5:15).
It is not about being successful; it is about being faithful. It is not about commitment; it is about surrender.
“May the Lord grant us so to be engaged in the heavenly mysteries of His wisdom that we progress in true godliness, to His glory and our own edification. Amen.” -John Calvin