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Concrete Surrender

June 13th, 2019

Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)

Surrender to God cannot be achieved merely on a theoretical basis. It must have something concrete behind it.

Like obeying our parents as children, obedience must always have a specific matter behind it, something they have told us to do. And on the specific and concrete matters of life do we surrender to God.

We have a problem with a theoretical Christianity. Charlie Brown of Peanuts once said, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.” Just as the concrete realities of unpleasant body odors, the sights and sounds of societies, the unkind words that proceed from mouths, slovenly habits, insensitive and selfish actions make us as individuals more difficult to love, so the command to take up our cross and follow Christ is made difficult not by the theory of the idea but by the specific nature of applying it.

Oswald Chambers wrote:

There is only one thing you can consecrate to God, and that is your right to yourself (Romans 12:1). If you will give God your right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you. God’s experiments always succeed. The one mark of a saint is the moral originality which springs from abandonment to Jesus Christ.

In Streams in the Desert we read:

There is a good deal of mere mental and logical sanctification nowadays, which is only a religious fiction. It consists of mentally putting one’s self on the altar, and then mentally saying the altar sanctifies the gift, and then logically concluding therefore one is sanctified; and such an one goes forth with a gay, flippant, theological prattle about the deep things of God.

The great daily need in our lives is to learn the benefit of difficult challenges, and to use them to put real teeth into what it means to surrender to God. Again, from Streams in the Desert: 

So few are willing to undergo the suffering out of which thorough gentleness comes. We must die before we are turned into gentleness, and crucifixion involves suffering; it is a real breaking and crushing of self, which wrings the heart and conquers the mind.

Your Cross to Bear

True abandonment must have something specific to abandon. True surrender must have something specific to surrender. A cross to bear must have something specific about it. We will only know complete surrender as we deal with actual concrete circumstances in life. So God allows these things to come into our lives so that we might grow through them. But the specific cross or the concrete circumstance we deal with is always the more minor and transitory issue. The great matter is that I learned to surrender my heart to God.

Again, like a child learning to obey his parent – the specific matter of obedience is not as important as the child learning to trust and obey his parent. And in the same analogy, what to a child might seem like a very significant matter, such as going over to Johnny’s house to play, later as the child matures is understood to have been completely unimportant. It was the trust and the discipline of obedience that were the weightier matters.

Taking the Cross to Calvary 

Crosses must be concrete, but be careful! Some limited thinking has taken this teaching of Christ and made it only about carrying our burdens. People speak of their “crosses to bear” but they never get to Calvary. They stay right there on their own via dolorosa complaining about how hard their life is. This idea misunderstands the original meaning of Christ’s words. Cross were not burdens to bear in Jesus’ day. They were instruments of cruel crucifixions. To take up one’s cross was not to merely endure a trial, but it was to carry it to the place where you were nailed to it and left to die.

Do not use the unpleasant things in your life as tokens to carry with you. We all do our share of complaining, but there is something much better to do with our problems than complain about them. Let God use them as He intended and let them be cross you carry all the way to Calvary. You may pray, “God, this person (or situation or circumstance) seems an incredible burden to me. I feel all alone in my misery, abandoned by those who should support me, and unnoticed by others. But if in this circumstance I can learn to surrender to you, then not my will but your will be done.”

Some people just get bitter through their problems. Those who get better through them learn this matter of surrender to God. If we do surrender, then we give God the opportunity to do something God-sized in our hearts, to truly change us inwardly. David prayed, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). That rock is the place where in the midst of your challenges you surrender your heart to God.

A Fellow Missionary’s Testimony

A missionary colleague of mine several years ago shared this personal story – I will leave names out, both the missionary’s and the foreign land in which he served.

For several week he had been dealing with the difficulties of trying to get government permission for a children’s home, and was returning to his home after spending a very frustrating time in that nation’s capital. It had been a long day of dealing with crowds, strange odors, and corrupt public officials, as well as the frustrations of travel.

The final leg of his journey home was a twenty minute taxi ride, with a rather chatty driver. The driver asked him what he did for a living and the missionary told him. Then the driver asked him how he liked living there, and the missionary the “proper answer,” and said that they loved living there and that they loved the people there, even though that was not what he was feeling at the moment.

Then the taxi driver asked, “What do you love about us?”

The missionary was struck by the question and he said to me that at that moment he could not think of a single thing he loved about the people. It troubled him that he really did not like the people or the place.

After he got home he went to his study to pray and confessed to God that he really did not love the people. God seemed to say to his heart, “I did not send you because you love them, but because I love them.”

Those frustrations and difficulties led the missionary to take that cross and go to Calvary and die to himself. This gave God the opportunity to put in the missionary’s heart something infinitely greater than the missionary’s love – God’s own love for the world. We will never be able to be true channels of God’s love until we learn to lean upon Him in faith and surrender.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties, The Deeper Christian Life

Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit

May 7th, 2019

For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. (Psalm 31:3-5 ESV)

The believer ultimately leaves his entire life in the hands of God, for God to lead him through whatever challenges He has ordained for him to face. This is not a matter of hopeless resignation but of hopeful confidence in the grace and power of God. 

Notice that this prayer is not merely about entrusting circumstances into God’s hand, but rather it is about entrusting the very spirit of the psalmist into God’s hands. It is in our spirits that victory must be found. As Christ prayed this very prayer on the cross, He reminded us that our bodies shall be taken from us one day and it is the spirit that lives on. It is the spirit, not the body or our finances or any physical or material element of this life, that will live on for eternity. 

Our spirits are built up by God’s Word and by His Spirit, and we are strengthened in the midst of the passing but physical realities of this life. While the psalmist prayed for mercy, deliverance, and for every consideration, he ultimately said – as we all must say – “Lord, my times are in your hand” (31:15). This is faith – the faith to remember that we are not n end in ourselves alone, that God has called us to bear witness to His grace and power. If we may bear a better witness through our sufferings than we can through our blessings, then we leave those matters in God’s hand. 

We should remember when there are frustrations, that every life has such things. Rather than being jealous of someone else’s struggles that seem less than ours, we should realize that the very understanding of what a struggle is depends entirely on the strength of faith and character in each of us. What to one Christian may be a matter of great difficulty, may be to another who has greater faith and who displays the transforming work of God’s Spirit in a deeper way simply a mild inconvenience. 

The secret of enduring all difficulties is an ever deepening faith that trusts the Lord in all circumstances. There is nothing wrong or immature about praying for our deliverance, for Christ Himself taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil!” And it is also plain foolishness to try to leap into hardship and difficulty, as Christ also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). But having lived our lives with prudence and holiness, having entrusted our souls to the Lord, having daily dedicated ourselves for the good of the Lord, and having discharged all duties God has assigned to us, then we have nothing to worry about, other than the duty to be faithful to God.

What circumstances are you currently dealing with that you would prefer not to? Health issues? Difficult people you have to bear? Frustrating work and challenging situations? A person is entitled to his reputation, but do not seek to endure these things only for your own reputation. Seek to do it for the reputation of the Lord and of His people. Live beyond yourself, as God has called you to, and you will find the peace and grace of God will sustain you in all that you face. 

Do not aspire merely for a happy and problem-free life on the surface – no such life exists. Do not compare your life with others, for we can never fully understand another’s burdens. But rather entrust each day into God’s hands and be prepared to handle whatever He gives you. Remember the prophetic words Christ spoke to Peter at the end of John’s gospel. When Peter asked about John’s challenges, which seemed at first sight to be less than his own, Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22)

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties, Psalms