During the past few weeks I have been pondering the difference between submission and surrender.  These two words have recently come up repeatedly in my meditations and reflections, and I have gradually noticed that I am less able to use the word submission, feeling more compelled to use the word surrender.  I began to ask the Lord why. . .

In pondering the meaning and essence of submission, I find myself confronted with a sense of harshness and dominance:  a person in a position of authority over another may demand submission from his or her subordinate.  In this case, one can submit to authority grudgingly, in effect doing what is asked, but with a heart that is quite possibly in rebellion, metaphorically with clenched teeth and fists.

When I think of the essence of surrender, I sense a heart and will that are yielded to God's will.  This component of the yielded heart seems to be missing in the concept and essence of submission.

As I continued to ponder these two words, the Lord began to show me that he is most interested in the status of my heart (and therefore my will).  He is not interested in me submitting to his Lordship out of sheer grit and determination, if my heart is not also willing to do so, for that would put God in an authoritarian position.  Rather, the Lord is ultimately interested in inviting me to surrender to his Lordship over every area of my life.  The essence of surrender is that I am willing to accept his Lordship, and therefore I surrender my will to his will for me.

I love the idea of invitation.  In this dance of the spiritual life with God, he does not demand anything of me or from me. Rather, he invites me to join him in seeing the world and my life through the eyes of his heart.  He then waits for me to agree to surrender my will in favor of his will for me.  Once I find within myself the willingness to make this shift, he then goes to work enabling my heart and will to make it real. In doing so, I am then able to journey on with God from a place of authenticity and honesty, trust and peace.

God is always respectful of my will:  he may ask whatever he will of me, but he will not force me to comply.  In his love, mercy and grace, he woos me to a place where I begin to see his truth, and discover deep within my heart a desire for his plans and purposes for my life.  This is a foundational process of dancing with God:  invitation and acceptance, out of a willingly surrendered heart.

This is the process that moves me further along the sanctification path of transformation into holiness.

Yesterday, the last day of August, I took some time to reread my first journal entry for the month. I was surprised to discover a link between my reflections from the past two weeks and my first journal entry for August.  In my August 1st reflections, I was conversing with the Lord about his desire for his people: in his words, "...to know the deep call to surrender to me as their Lord and King.  (Generally) they know me as Savior, but that is all."  He went on to say, "I call my people into a deep, intimate relationship with me that can come only through surrender and deep trust.  I am with them, yet they hardly know me."

As I reflected on those words in my Aug. 1 reflections, I realized that my more recent reflections and journal entries have been about one aspecct of holiness, what it is, and what it looks like in daily life.  The emphasis of my musings has been on surrender to the lordship of Jesus, and in surrendering more and more in the moment to do as he leads me to do, I experience a deepening intimacy with him.  At the time I did not realize this connecection to my Aug. 1 journal.

This connection is no coincidence; rather, it is a clear demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit within me to not only hear my Lord speaking, but to also see him at work in my own daily life: as I focus on surrendering to the little nudge to do a personal daily discipline, I sense a deepening intimacy with God.  This deepening intimacy is the result of my surrender to the nudges of the Holy Spirit; it is the result that comes from doing what is right.

The past two weeks have consisted of intense reflection, meditation and journaling, in an attempt to put into words that which the Lord has been impressing upon my heart and spirit.  I really love that process!  It is intense, focused, and feels amazingly holy to me; it happens to me on a regular basis.  It is a drive that guides and forms how I spend my time, for I am compelled to continue to think, reflect, and process through writing the theological concepts God is impressing upon me. However, after I have apprehended the intended theological understandings and conclusions, my life seems to get rather quiet on the inside, and I am left wondering what to focus on next.

Yesterday the Lord showed me that the "quiet times" are the times when I get to "practice" the theological insights and truths he has been impressing upon me, and that these times are just as holy as the times of intense reflection when I gain new theological understanding and insight.  Right now, that means continuing to be aware of all the ways that I say "no" to the nudges of the Holy Spirit to do a particular task.  I am then invited by my God to choose to surrender, to be willing to do the thing I am being nudged to do, not with a resentful heart, but with a willing, surrendered heart.  This is the essence of holiness:  surrender, and doing what is right.  And in the doing, I experience a deepening intimacy with my Lord, Savior and King.

It seems to me that these little daily disciplines are at the center of the sanctification process.  Through them, I am being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ my Lord; for he was fully surrendered to the Father's will for him on a moment-by-moment basis. When I choose to surrender to God's guidance as I live through my days, I am becoming like Christ, in that my daily life is a surrenderd life: my heart (my will) is surrendered to my God - my Lord and King. This transformational shift can take place only when I deeply trust the goodness of my God toward me at all times. When I am willing to trust God with absolutely everything in my life, and I am willing to accept his will for me as my own, even in the smallest details of daily living, I am in a holy place. And in this holy place, I am dying to self and gaining more of Christ my Lord.

This is the essence of life in Christ:  For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). This is holiness.

This week I continue to process what holiness means, what it looks like in daily life. My thoughts and reflections swirl around James 4:4, and the biblical truth it contains:  to know what is right to do, and not do it, is sin.  In this instance, James is talking about the sin of omission.  

The process of pondering this concept is eroding my tendency to procrastinate; this is a really good thing!  I am staying organized, productive, and on top of things. The result is that I have an ongoing sense of rightness deep within me, along with a gentle joy of simply living life - something that is truly foreign to me. Until now, my life has been characterized, unfortunately, by procrastination:  putting off doing now what I know I need to do.  Certainly this has not always been the case, but there has been a significant amount of procrastination in my lifetime - an embarrasingly large amount of it.

This shift away from procrastination, which is nothing more than an assertion of my own will, toward doing the right thing in the moment, an act of surrender to the will of God, is a sign of the transformative work God is doing in me. As I ponder this shift in my will, as I notice that I truly desire to do the right thing in the moment, I discover that I am in a dance with God.  His Spirit nudges me to do something, and I do it; as I do the right thing, I am living in holiness, I am living a holy life.  In the dance metaphor, God leads, and I follow.  This concept is deceptively simple, because it is deeply profound.

This surrender to God in the moment is the essence of holiness, of living a holy life. It requires that I accept the lordship of Jesus Christ, in that as his Spirit directs me to do something, I do it.  As a Christian, I am a follower of Jesus Christ; as Paul frequently confessed in his letters, so I, too, am a bondservant of Christ.  I have been bought with a price; my life is no longer my own.  Thus, not my will, but God's will is my daily prayer.

This dance of holiness is an intrigueing concept to me.  It can happen only by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit within me, who is working daily to conform me into the image of Christ - who was obedient to his Father's will, even unto death. The amazing thing about this dance is that, by surrendering my will to the will of my Lord, I gain peace, joy, freedom from guilt (gulit that comes from knowing the right thing to do and not doing it)... and discover a deepening intimacy between me and my Lord.  And it is this deepening intimacy that I am most hungry for.

This dance is not complicated:  I notice the little thing that God is nudging me to do, and I willingly choose to do it.  Quite simple, really.  And yet these simply little acts of surrender, of following the lead of my Lord, brings me the deepest satisfaction and contentment my heart has ever known.

This process of living a holy life is nothing more, really, than doing what is right, and not doing what is wrong.  It is a moral life.  And in this life of doing what is right, my daily life becomes an example in the world of the goodness of my God, who is always holy, who always does what is good and right.

God invites me to dance with him daily - to willingly surrender my will to his lead, and he asks me to follow.  In essence, he transforms my will from what I want to what He wants for me.  So, I'm not even surrendering my will, really.  I'm simply asserting my will to choose God's way of living.  

I am learning to truly love this way of living... dancing with God.

This week God has been talking with me about the essence of holiness.  He has taken me to several passages of scripture that, when considered together, reveal an imporant insight about holiness.

I've often asked, what does a holy life look like?  We tend to use biblical and theological terms quite readily in our conversations with other believers, but I wonder if we truly understand the meaning of those terms and concepts. Holiness is one of those terms for me.

Thankfully, God has given me some insight this week about the meaning of holiness.  Here are the most central points from a long conversation I had with God about this topic today in my journaling:

  • Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin (James 4:17, NRSV).  We can deduce from this verse that the opposite could be stated as, "When we do the right thing, we are without sin." Being "without sin" is a way to describe being holy.
  • In Ephesians 1:4, being holy and blameless are linked together. The essence of "blameless" is "to be without sin."  In Christ, we are seen by the Father as blameless, because Christ has paid the price for all of our sin - past, present and future.
  • ... as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct... for it is written "You shall be holy, for I am holy (1 Pet 1:15-16, NRSV).  When this verse is read in light of James 4:17, it seems that the way in which to be holy, as God is holy, is to do the right thing.

But then Romans 7:14-24 comes to mind:  I do the thing I don't want to do, or in my case, much of the time I don't do that which I know is right to do; it is the sin of omission rather than comission.  It can all seem rather hopeless. . .unless I ask the Holy Spirit to change my heart, mind and will.  I love to pray David's prayer, found in Psalm 51:10:  Create in me a clean heart o God, and renew a right spirit within me.  This prayer never fails to bring about a transformation in my heart and will, and I find myself willing to do what is right, wanting to do the thing that, just a few moments ealier, I did not want to do.

For me, this whole issue of doing what is right is a counterpunch to procrastination. For various known and unknown reasons, I have developed over my lifetime a habit of procrastination.  During any given day, I find myself saying in my mind, "I will do that later," or "not now."  I have been stunned recently to discover just how often this line of thinking occurs.  The tasks at hand can be large or small, it doesn't seem to matter. What does matter, I've come to see, is the attitude of my heart, for a heart that consistently resists doing the right thing is a rebellious heart.

What I have discovered this week is that procrastination is the opposite of surrender to God.  When I sense little nudges from the Holy Spirit to do something, and I respond with "not now," I am asserting my will over God's will for me in that moment, and thus revealing the rebellion that is lodged in my heart.  This was a startingly realization.  (I expect some would disagree with me; however, I know this to be true for me.)

God, in his great mercy, grace and love, is gradually addressing procrastination in my life, and he is doing it in a way that leaves me feeling free from shame and guilt over all of the right things I have not done during my lifetime that I could have done; it reflects a tremendous waste of time. Additionally, as God is changing my heart and my will about this issue, I am being transformed; I find myself tackling the incidious chaos that seems to develop around the edges of my life, and at times seeks to overwhelm me.

Amazingly, when I do the right thing, in the moment when the Holy Spirit nudges me, I find a deep sense of order emerging within me and in my tangilbe world. Tasks are getting done; things are in their place.  There is a deep sense of order and rightness that leads me to a place of peace, freedom from guilt, and joy.  I can breathe deeply and easily because I know that I am doing the right thing. And in this place of freedom, I sense a deepening intimacy with my Lord.

Truly, his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

 

I have spent a lot of time recently listening to God speak to me through my journaling. The focus has been a call to dig deeper into scripture. So... I've been digging!

I continue to marvel at how God speaks to me through scripture. Two days ago he took me to 2 Kings 12:1-12. . . not a passage I have often read, nor would I expect to find in it a message applicable to my own life!  However, as I read through the passage, certain verses popped out at me, and I noticed a quickening of my spirit within.  It seemed there was a message for me in those verses!  I sat quietly to see if anything definitive would surface.  As I listened, I sensed there was a hint of a promise from God to me.  I will let that promise sit loosely in my hand, trusting that if it is indeed from God, he will fulfill it in his time.

As I continued to ponder this passage, I noticed that King Jehoash asked the priests in the temple to use some of the money that came into the temple to repair the house of the Lord.  And yet, (apparently) years later, nothing had been done.*  So, the king took the job away from the priests and gave it to workers with the necessary skills to complete the necessary repairs. And he ordered some of the money that came into the temple to be given to those workers.

In light of this passage, I understood from a different perspective that in post-resurrection times, the "house of the Lord" is each believer.  The presence of Jesus Christ, in the form of his Holy Spirit, resides within each of us; we are the "house of the Lord."

For the past few months, God has been speaking to me more about the call to ministry that he has given me.  The essence of this passage serves as a confirmation of my call, and has shed new light on what that ministry is: as a spiritual director and spiritual mentor, my ministry is one of rebuilding the house of the Lord, one believer at a time.  I am called to walk with others as they seek deeper intimacy with God, and thus grow toward spiritual maturity.  I was touched by the specificity of this passage to my ministry, and loved receiving a new perspective on this work that I do.  I now see myself as a carpenter - one who works in partnership with God to rebuild that which has been damaged by the hardships of life and that which has been inflicted upon us by the enemy our our souls. Additionally, according to this passage, I trust that God will provide appropriate income to meet my needs from other sources as I engage in a ministry that does not bring in an income.

God can and will speak to us through his word about any issue in our lives, if we will simply listen.  We do this by spending time in the word regularly, with an open heart, asking the Lord to speak to us as we read. He never fails to speak to me through his word when I ask him to do so - and sometimes he speaks even when I am not expecting it.

He is an amazing God!

 

*Scripture is not clear how many years transpired.

I am rediscovering a truth about myself:  I was made to study and to write. When I do not do these things, it doesn't take long for me to begin to feel like something is off-center deep within me, and I start to notice that I am hardly breathing. Then, once I begin to engage in these activities again - almost on a daily basis, I not only feel like I'm centered once again, but I feel like I am breathing again, as though I am truly living.  Learning through studying, and writing to process what I'm learning and the truths God shows me along the way, are the things that cause me to truly come alive. This awareness convinces me that these activities must be a central part of my daily rhythm of life.  Without them, I simply exist, but I do not fully live.

I wonder if this is true for all people?  Is this something God has built into us, so that when we are engaging in the specific work for which he has designed us, do we all have this sense of being fully alive?  And if we do not do this specific work, do we all have a sense of not truly living?   I wonder. . .

In any case, once again God has broght me face-to-face with the truth about myself: I must be reading, actively studying and processing by writing that which I am learning.  I have also noticed that the topics always seem to be about biblical theological and spirituality. I know God does not waste anything he does in our lives; all that he does in us throughout our lifetime is intentional, and it is designed to fulfill the purposes he longs to accomplish through us in his world.  Therefore, I must believe, even when I do not see or understand, that my drive to study a partiular topic is part of God's intentional design and plan for my life, and that he will use it to further his purposes in his world, for the sake of his kingdom.

Last summer I had a similar experience:  I felt compelled to start this blog, which became a learning experience in itself!  I also felt led to start transcribing over a dozen large notebooks filled with hand-written journals. Once I started the transcription process, I quickly realized I also needed a database to track the topics in my journals throughout my lifetime, so I learned how to set up and use a database.  I began those projects with a great deal of energy, focus and determination.  But somewhere along the line I lost stight of their importance and gradually stopped working on them.  God reminded me today of the importance of this work from last summer, as well as the importance of my current topics of study:  Pauline theology and spiritual mentoring.

Thus, today, I recommited to being intentional on a daily basis to work on one of these projects.  None of them will be done easily or quickly, so they require true discipline and ongoing intentionality on my part. However, with the truth imbedded deeply in my mind and heart - the truth that God calls me to do this type of work - enables me to be intentional, focused, disciplined and faithful.

It is so very easy for me to get sidetracked into things that others do, in essence, to live life accordding to the rhythm of others. But I cannot permit myself to do so.  I must make these study and writing projects my top prioroty.  This can be a lonely road, as I do not know anyone else who is called to such a path. However, I know God is taking me through this process, and inviting me to do this specific work, because it is foundational for what will come in the future. . .again, because God does not waste anything!

So, with renewed focus, determination, and excitement, I embark on this road, again, of studying and writing.  We will see where it takes me.

Question:  What deep inner desire is trying to work its way to the surface of your life?  Are you paying attention to it, giving it space and time in your daily life?  Are you talking with God about it?  If not... why not?  And, if so, then I assume that you, too, are experiencing the fullness of life that God intends for you to experience. Blessings on your journey!

 

Sometimes God takes action to further transform us into the likeness of Christ and we can’t see or feel the work he is doing.  We can, however, notice that some things have changed within us, especially when our desires change.  Of course, it is easy to miss this work if we are not tuned into our inner being on a regular basis.

This type of transformational work is always a delightful surprise to me, and I love discovering that God is at work in me. . .and that I’m clueless about what he is doing, until I notice that I am different!  This happened a few weeks ago, and I am still marveling at how God changed my heart’s desires – and I did not feel it or see it happening!  I simply noticed one day that my desires were different in an area of my life that has been devastating for me. . .my relationship with food.

I have experienced incredibly deep struggles with food cravings and the inability to lose weight, and I have not understood why. All of my personal efforts brought only slightly marginal change, and never permanent change. And yet, after almost 60 years of this seemingly endless struggle, God has changed my heart, and my way of thinking about food. Now, instead of craving or emotionally seeking out food that I know is not good for my body, food that leaves me sleepy, lethargic, and even in pain, I now easily choose food that is “clean” and healthy, with absolutely no desire for food that can harm me.  How did this happen?  When did it happen?  I do not know.  All I know is that a specific clean eating opportunity was presented to me, I decided to give it a try.  I asked God, if this was indeed his path for me, to change my heart about food and about the program – for I was rather resistant to it.  He answered that prayer, and he changed my heart within two days!  Over five weeks later, the old way of thinking and the old desires have simply not returned.  This change feels like a miracle to me.

This experience reminds me that God is in control of the timing of when he will deal with issues in our lives.  And, HE is the one that will do the work.  This transformational work is not our own, yet we do have a role in this partnership with God.  If we remain faithful to our intimate relationship with God, he will continue to deal with the issues that plague us – in his timing, and not our own; in his way, and not our own.  I’ve learned that his timing is best.  I cannot force the issue; I can only make myself available to God, so that when God decides it is time, I am positioned to notice the insight he gives about the specific issue, as well as the gifts of healing and freedom that are the result of his deep inner work in me.  I can trust that God’s grace is sufficient for me until his time arrives for active transformational work to take place.

Why does he continue to work to bring us healing and freedom from the issues that bind us up?  I think it is simply because these things interfere with our ability to continually go deeper in intimacy with him.  He is most concerned with the status of our hearts, and he will continue to work to free us from those things that bind us up.  It seems that this is a central part of the transformation process.  It is his work alone, for the sake of his name.

During this year's Lenten season, I began to ponder a truth that has gradually emerged for me, but which I have not heard taught or preached - or, at least I don't remember hearing it.  This truth is quite simple, really, but exceptionally profound: If Jesus was God incarnate (Emmanuel, God with us), as well as human, then it was God himself who was nailed to that cross, who died for our sins.  God not only sent his Son in human form to help us see and know God, and to reconcile us all to himself; Jesus was also God.  Therefore, out of his deep and endless love for each of us, God sent himself, and took sin upon himself to save and  reconcile the world.

I continue to wrestle with this revealed truth. It seems that I am able to grasp the reality that God the Father sent his Son to die for all people, to pay the necessary price for all sin, even though this truth is quite profound. However, to think in terms of God, himself, willingly being nailed to the cross, and taking on all sin unto himself is even more profound.  I don't have words for how deep God is pressing this truth into my heart and spirit.  This truth has sufficiently silenced my words... I am speechless...

 

Over three years ago I began to study, rather inconsistently, Pauline theology.  For unknown reasons, I became intrigued by the person of  Saul/Paul*.  Who was Saul before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus?  What drove Saul to stand by and watch Steven stoned to death?  What drove Paul's passion for the gospel after his conversion?  Why was the Jewish law seemingly such a central issue in his letters, especially Romans?

I had a lot of questions which had accumulated almost unnoticed by me over a long period of time, and which apparently were not answered for me during my seminary days.  Unintentionally I found myself deep into Jewish theology as I sought to understand the person of Saul/Paul.  Who he was as a person before his conversion, I believed, played a central roll in his life as an apostle of Jesus Christ, and influenced him deeply as the primary author of so much of the New Testament letters we now have in Scripture.  Clearly, Paul's influence on how we understand Christ's work on the cross, along with the foundational elements of Christianity, is unmistakable.  I found it necessary to understand him better as a person, as well as the development of his zeal and his thought.  Thus. . . I am still engaged in this study.

Although I have not consistently studied this topic over the last 3+ years, I have periodically gone back to it.  Now, with the help of a friend who is willing to read the books I am reading, so as to engage in dialogue with me about the deep theological concepts found therein, the intense drive to learn as much as I can about Paul and his theology has re-emerged.

There is one thought that continues to surface as I read, journal and discuss Saul/Paul:  his truly intense zealous nature.  In his own words, he defines himself prior to his conversion as exceedingly zealous (Gal 1:14, NAS).  The word "zealous" is an extreme descriptor by itself; to add exceedingly to it seems to dramatically convey the depth and intensity of his zeal.  But... zeal for what?

That will be the content of future reflections.

For now, I simply marvel at the zeal for which I am pursuing understanding of Paul's theology, both before and after his conversion to believing (knowing) Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

* When writing about the Apostle Paul, I must take into consideration his birth name of Saul, which he was known by prior to his conversion, as well as the name by which we know him today,  Paul.  Therefore, I will use both names to indicate the person as a whole, or the specific name that refelcts which part of his life my thoughts are referencing.

The past two months have been filled with travel, Christmas with friends and family, play and work, as well as the standard fight against illness that is so common during the winter months.

Yet through it all, I have had a profound sense of experiencing the reality of Immanuel, God with us.  His presence has taken on the form of peace in the midst of so much activity.  Often, through the pressing needs and seeming shortage of time, I have been at peace, which has enabled me to more thoroughly enjoy what I was doing, and the people I was with.

This is a new development in my journey with God.  I have lived through decades of deep anxiety on a daily basis about almost everything I experienced in this world, as well as wondering what God would have me do with my life. This anxiety only deepened in seasons of impossible work loads, pressing family issues that demanded resolution, and a history of ill health for much of my adult life. Thus, this new sense of peace in the midst of all that has been going on seems miraculous to me.

As I have pursued inner healing for over 20 years for the many deep wounds of my heart and soul, I have not only found myself drawing closer to God over time, but also experiencing a profound peace that seems to expand and encompass more and  more of my waking hours with each new round of healing.

I am becoming convinced that one of God's deepest desires for his people is that we not only believe in his Son and the work of the cross and resurrection, but that through these truths we know experientially that Jesus truly is Immanuel, God WITH us!