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).

 

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.

Last week was a week of intense reflection and journaling.  The dominant theme was the issue of entitlement.  This concept began to be a regular topic of meditation for me a few months ago.  As always, I wondered why this word, which is not part of my normal vocabulary, had become a refrain in my thinking.

My first assumption was that God was trying to get my attention about this issue, so I spent some time listening and reflecting with God about it. As I pondered the concept, I began to see theological implications which captured my heart.    As it turned out, it became something of a central piece in my theological understanding of what a truly surrendered life looks like.  And I quickly realized  God was inviting me to examine my own motivations behind my actions on a daily basis.

The concept of entitlement is rooted in the issue of my will.  When I assert my own will in a given situation, I am acting out of a sense of entitlement, because I believe I am entitled to my way of doing something, or I have a right to something.

As I pondered the meaning of the word, I quickly realized that, as a Christian, as one who has been baptized, I no longer have any rights.  In baptism, I died to all of my rights, in exchange for God's sovereign right over all of my life. In baptism, I surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  He is now Lord; I am not. Rather, as the Apostle Paul states again and again in the introductions to his letters, I am a servant, or a slave, of Jesus Christ:  I have been bought; I am owned.  I no longer belong to myself.

This has profound implications in daily life.  How many times a day, in how many different ways, do I assert my own will...even demand my own way?  I shudder to think of the answer to that question.  However, the more important issue is this: when I assert my own will over the will of God for me, I am placing myself above God, as God.  Therefore, asserting my own will is sin against God. 

This realization led to a time of confession and repentance.  When this truth comes into focus for us, the sins of pride and arrogance also become clear.  It is prideful and arrogant of me to assert my own will over the will of God for me.  When I think of all that God has done for me, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, on my behalf, the only acceptable response is one of humility.  When I realize the depth of the gift of grace he extends to me every minute of every day, the only acceptable response is gratitude.  And in that place of humility and gratitude, there is no room for entitlement.

Another tangential concept related to entitlement is the issue of my will.  I have often wondered why God does not assert his "godness" in my life and change those things in me that seem to be such an affront to his holiness.  The answer is always because he respects my will at all times.  I have learned in this journey with God that he is very much a gentleman, and he will never use power to coerce me to change, to become something other than I am today.  Rather, he invites me into a relational process by which I come to know over time who he truly is, to know the truth about who I really am (the good and the bad), and he invites me to pray for a change of heart.  God is most concerned with the status of our heart.  If our hearts are in a surrendered attitude toward him, then he will enter in and do the transformative work that he longs to do in us and for us.  But he will never override our will to assert his own will.  Rather, he will love us into a place of surrender.

This, by the way, is the process of sanctification.  God knows what he desires to change in us, how he longs to transform us into the likeness of his Son, Jesus.  And in his infinite love, his grace is sufficient for us as he takes his time, wooing our hearts into a place of grateful surrender, a place where we willingly lay down our rights in exchange for his plans for us.

I am convinced, over and over again, that God has utmost concern for the status of our heart.  Yes, he loves to heal us and to free us from bondage.  Yes, his deepest desire is that we all come into an experiential knowing of his Son, Jesus Christ, through saving faith, and therefore be reconciled once again with himself. There are many other aspects of our being and our lives that God cares deeply about.

However, it seem to me that the core of our being, our heart, is his deepest concern as he works to transform us into likeness of his Son.

Recently I came upon a reflection in my journals from December 10, 2009, about Mark 7:6, 15 (NRSV, clarification added), which I include below:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me”… There is nothing outside a person which going in can defile; but the things that come out [of the person] are what defile [the person].”

These two verses, together, make it clear that God is most interested in the state of our heart.  What resides in our heart is what comes out of us.  You can often tell the true state of a person by what they say and do.  Is it possible to pretend to be holy by saying and doing the “right” things?  Yes.  But God knows the truth.  When we speak and act in a manner that is different than the true state of our heart, we are hypocrites.

God is seeking to change our heart so that we will not be hypocrites.  Our God is a God of truth, and His people are to be people of truth.  Believing one thing in our heart, and speaking or doing something contrary to what is in our heart is not honest, it is dishonest – it is hypocritical.

We often ask God to change our circumstances, and to change others.  How often do we invite God to us, to change our heart?  The Psalmist prayed, Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew a right spirit within me (Ps 51:10, NASB). This, indeed, is the prayer that God waits for us to pray.  And when we earnestly pray this prayer – not as a way of manipulating God, but because deep within us we want the unholy in our hearts to be removed – then God goes to work transforming us into the likeness of Christ, from the deepest recesses of our heart. 

Only when this transformational work is accomplished will we truly be like Christ.