Moment of Surrender


There once was a man who flew to Rome to meet Jesus. He had been told my a close friend that Jesus wanted to meet him there. When he got there he skipped the tourist sites and went to a basement chapel in one of those storied cathedrals. As he walked towards the altar he saw a man kneeling in the dust in unremarkable clothing. Jesus knelt before him and despite his promises not to ask anything stupid, the man asked, “What are you doing?” “Praying,” Jesus replied. “For what?” the man asked. “I gave man free will and I will never take that away, but I pray always that the hearts of man would be surrendered to my will.”

The most powerful moments in the Bible are characterized by the weakness of surrender. Abraham who surrendered his comfortable life to become a nomad with a promise. Moses who left his dessert home to return to certain death in Egypt as a prophet declaring freedom without hope of success. David who was so surrendered to God’s will that he would not kill Saul even as Saul hunted him. Mary who said let it be, disregarding the scandal and death that might await her if she was found to be pregnant. The ultimate moment of surrender as Jesus prayed, “Father not my will but thine,” in a garden; the very opposite of the first sin in the Garden.

The first sin of man was to reject God’s will, not to surrender. Ever since then, the battle for men’s hearts has been fought with the goal of surrender. The mystery of Christianity is that our surrender does not lead to the abolishment of identity or efficacy, in fact it leads to the very opposite. We surrender to God and become more truly ourselves. We surrender to God’s will and find ourselves more in control of ourselves than ever before.

Nevertheless, we continue to seek control in our lives. We are an anxious and striving people. We find the illusion of control in many ways. We try to get money which symbolizes the power to control our lives. We buy shiny things to distract ourselves from the lie. We build ourselves little kingdoms which are characterized by addictions, escapes from reality, self-loathing, or a false sense of holiness. The call of Jesus denies all these things. Our plans for our lives, our guarantees of success, our dependence on substance abuse, our media-insulated isolation… all of these things are obstacles in the way of surrender. Bonhoeffer writes that the call of Jesus can be summarized, “Come and die.” Everything in our fallen outlook screams at us to run from this invitation and clean to our false sense of control.

The lie is shown in the reaction that follows excess, the emptiness that succeeds our attempts at self-fulfillment. “There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every man.” That moment of emptiness is when the call can be heard. “Pain is God’s megaphone to an unhearing world.” That is why Jesus says, “It is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven…” When we fill ourselves with the shadows of God’s goodness, the earthly things that fade, we cause ourselves to believe in our own control, our own sufficiency apart from God. When that rug is torn out from under us we have two responses before us: we can proclaim all is meaningless and eventually cycle back into the illusion of control (whether through suicide or less extreme sedative) or we can embrace the moment of surrender. The invitation is always there, He stands at the door and knocks. It is an invitation into a “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

The most powerful moments in history are when humans give back the gift of free will and find themselves truly free. God is always calling us to give up that thing that we need to be happy, that thing that you cannot live without. That is why it is a call to die, a call to die and experience resurrection. The result is love, joy, and peace if we will only let go. We need the moments of surrender, because it is only in our weakness that Christ can be strong in us.

Hunger and Thirst

Nature_Mountains_Misty_hills_017805_The primary position of the Christian heart is to be hungry and thirsty. We cannot come to the Father except through Jesus Christ, and we cannot come to Jesus Christ except through our hunger. “How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Luke 18:24) When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he needed to gain eternal life, Jesus told him to go and sell all he had and to come follow Him. Why did he need to sell all he had? Because he needed to hunger for Jesus, not be filled up with his material wealth! “The original sin is not primarily that man had ‘disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him, and Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God.” (Schmemann, “For the Life of the World”) Man walked with God in the Garden, and yet he allowed Satan to tempt him to hunger for the forbidden fruit, the only fruit that was not a gift from God to man. Man ceased to hunger for God alone.

All of our desires are ultimately an echo of our eternal hunger for the Father. We can blunt this hunger with the things of this world. We can fill ourselves with the bread that perishes and, always, be hungry again. But Jesus came to be the bread that satisfies. He came for the sick, those who lack and have hunger, not for the healthy, who are in need of nothing. People who are full of the world have no need for the “Bread of Life.” All our life is a cultivation of this hunger for the Father. Heaven is presented as banquet. The Lord’s Supper is the center of Christian worship. In the Old Testament, the Passover was salvation through a meal. The Israelites ate their meal as God redeemed them from the hands of their slavers.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) C.S. Lewis writes about a desire for something throughout his life. Words could not contain this intense longing, but he decided to term it, “Joy.” The experience of longing for something “other” is cited as the means to his conversion. One memory from childhood in particular showed this longing. He looked out from his room through a window on a rainy afternoon–his brother was off in a boarding school and he had no playmates–and saw the distant hills and was struck with this hunger. “I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” This desire, and even the desire for the desire, repeated throughout Lewis’ life and was better than any other experience he had ever had. When he began to discover the power of Theism to account for this desire and the narratives he found throughout history (of human desire, fulfillment, despair, etc.), he was able to come to God in his mind and his heart. We can only come to God in this hunger. Look at the example of Lucifer: instead of hungering for God, he allowed himself to hunger for glory, the desire to be “like God.” This illustrates the key to our hunger, it must result in complete surrender. When we are hungry, we will give anything to be fed. When we hunger for Christ, and recognize the hunger as our need for him, we will offer up our very lives. Esau sold his birthright for a cup of soup. This is the position of greatest worship and humility: to hunger, to thirst, to seek. The worship is in the receiving and the simultaneous surrender.

“‘Holy’ is the real name of God, of the God ‘not of scholars and philosophers,’ but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him.” (Schmemann, “For the Life of the World”)

We are in the last couple weeks of the season of Lent. This season is in the Church calendar precisely to encourage us to remember our hunger as, ultimately, a desire for Christ. We acknowledge our depravity and His holiness. We empty ourselves in the discipline of fasting so that we can experience a deeper longing for Him. This is especially important in the west where we rarely experience hunger: “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7) We read in the Psalms, “As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for You,” but we do not even know what it is to be thirsty! So we throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ and desire the desire for Him. I remember the strangest experience of hearing people who hungered for the Bible and talked about voraciously consuming Scripture in their devotions. I hungered for that hunger! God used even my hunger for hunger and, after years of this desire for a desire, I have been tearing through the Bible. My new found longing is sweeter than the Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll at the airport. As we come into Holy Week, let us renew our desire for Christ; our desire can never outstrip His provision. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus is the first and last of God’s word, man lives by feasting on Him.

A Brief Look at the Hall of Faith

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First, I need to apologize for not following up my last blog as I had planned to with a list of Kingdom Principles… It proved to be a bigger task than I expected. For now this blog will remain random bursts of impassioned writing attempting to relay whatever facet of Truth happens to have ignited my interests enough to require a blog entry. Hope you are encouraged!

I was reading Hebrews 11 today and was struck by the last verses of the chapter (and the beginning of chapter 12). Some of you may have heard this chapter referred to as the Hall of Faith and it is quite the challenge to get through in one sitting. There is so much here! The writer of Hebrews simultaneously argues for Christianity to the Jews using their most revered ancestors, does some serious exegetical work that refines and nuances the Christian faith we take for granted today, and sets up the link for the Hebrew Christians (and all Christians afterward) between the God-breathed Old Testament and the New Testament. For the sake of this blog however, I am going to just focus in on the last section and what it might imply for us.

In Hebrews 11:32, the author begins the ending of his treatise on the Hall of Faith. In 11:33, He describes the actions accomplished through faith (argued here and elsewhere to be the same faith as our own) by OT figures, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection.” Oh yeah! This is the Christianity I am all about! We have access to a faith that can move mountains and do all that other cool stuff with kingdoms and strength and lions! If you get nothing else from this blog please understand that our faith is POWERFUL.

But… there the author is not finished yet. He continues, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Wait a second… That doesn’t sound like the faith I signed up for. A faith that leads to social, physical, and emotional persecution? A faith that could even lead to death? Well I guess there are things in life worth difficulty, “no pain, no gain” and all that. In the end they lived happily ever after, right? God promises abundant life here right? That doesn’t sound too abundant. Well next He writes something that blows my mind, “39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…” This is my favorite pat of the chapter. These men and women of faith experienced the power of God in ways I can hardly imagine and were persecuted in a similarly spectacular fashion, but they did not receive the promise. They continued to persevere in faith (through many bumps on the road) for a promise they never fully received. And yet, without them, we would not have received the promise of God. God used them to further His Kingdom, the promise they were pursuing, so that we could share in its inheritance. The author continues, “40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” We were given the Kingdom as our inheritance. We were given the promise that the whole heritage of our faith was looking towards!

There is more here than I could possibly cover, but two thoughts: what an amazing and unappreciated inheritance we have through Christ! and God fulfills His promises even if you do not see it in the short term (we’re talking thousands of years here) 🙂

Chapter 12 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

No commentary can surpass the power of these last two verses. Thank you Jesus!

For all of you who feel like you are not able to accomplish your goals… or anything productive for that matter.

This is a journal entry from today:
God, I feel like I have all these desires that i don’t fulfill. I want to order my finances, work out and eat healthy, order my spiritual life, journal often, write creatively and academically, and read many, many books. Not to mention find a second job, have a healthy social life, and treat my girlfriend well.
Then I asked God to comment on my desires and inability to fulfill them. His response:

Seek ME FIRST and all these things shall be added unto you.

Oh. I thought that was just referring to all the bad things on earth that we can seek. I didn’t think you meant to seek you before even all the good disciplines and practices that are a part of the healthy Christian walk? But of course I had bought into the lie. The lie that it was up to me to get my ducks in a row. The lie that God could not do through me the things that most people would argue come from putting your “shoulder to the grindstone.” JUST STOP. and talk to Jesus. He wants you to live the disciplined, fulfilled life, but He wants that life to develop out of a humble intimacy with Him. How does this work? When you wake up, ask Him what He has for you today. Spend time with Him and in His word. Just exist in His presence for a little while. It might feel awkward at first… but He is there and will meet you. Soon these disciplines will become the desire of your heart from a place of knowledge and identity in Christ, instead of an attempt to create the life you think you should live. God, and His kingdom, first.