Recently, I was reading several books on prayer that were written during the Middle Ages – Madame Guyon, some German mystics – and more modern works, like Calvin and Hannah Whitall Smith (both 19th century) and Watchman Nee (early 20th century). And then I ran across a 21st century work – When God Walked The Earth, by Rick Joiner (amazing book!)
Interestingly, they all had in common the same concept, expressed in different ways: that without Him, we can do nothing. That the essence of the Christian life is becoming totally dependent on God!
I shouldn’t be surprised to read the same idea from many centuries. God’s nature doesn’t change, no matter how much His methods do. And Scripture tells us that His ways are above our ways; that He chose the foolish things to confound the wise; that the Gospel is foolishness to those who don’t believe.
But I have been a believer for almost 45 years, and I am just now getting to the point where I trust Him enough to be this foolish – to rest in and on Him instead of myself.
Much of that time, I was bound in lies, struggling to even believe God loved me. His revelation of Himself to me as loving Father, Creator, beloved bridegroom, has been a gradual one, based on my ability and willingness to see His truth.
Being raised in church didn’t help. Even though I was taught that we are ‘saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves’, I was just as clearly taught that the rest of my life was up to me; that it was my job to become holy, to do good works for Him, to stop sinning, to pray and read the Bible.
Nowhere in the doctrines of my youth was there anything about the indwelling power of Holy Spirit, about becoming a new creation, about abiding in the Vine. It was all about our responsibility to meet His standards (as expressed in the denomination’s doctrines, of course).
Sadly, I am not alone in this experience. Even in churches that teach truth, I have often encountered a buried thread of thought that says, “I have a responsibility to do . . . “.
Yet, what I read in the writings of His children down thru the ages concurs with Scripture: the essence of the Christian life is being, not doing. It is abiding in Him (John15:4. which certainly cannot be described as work, although it can be difficult to do), being one in Him (John 17:21, 22).
In his book, Joiner points out that “Self-righteousness is what caused Satan to fall from grace.” “When Lucifer began to think that the light and power that he had came from himself, he turned from God to serve himself. Men who follow in his ways feel the same. This was the first transgression – the first turning away from God.”
Self-righteousness – believing that they had the ability in themselves to do good – is what Jesus repeatedly condemned in the Pharisees! Yet how many of us, His children, still live in it?
Oh, maybe not consciously – I don’t know many people who will admit that they believe they are working their way to heaven, or to big rewards there. Few of us will admit that we really, at heart, believe that what we do for God is crucially important to Him and His plan for this world. No, we’re too busy portraying humility. And most of us probably really believe we are being humble; believe that we are doing God’s will. (The paradox of this is that what we do really is important to His plan. But only if we do it in Him. If we do it in our own strength or wisdom, it’s wasted.)
Yet, if He asked me (or you) to stay at home – never witness to anyone, teach no more classes or Bible studies, do no more volunteering at church or our favorite charity – to be with Him alone, would we do it? In other words, if He called us away to live only in Him, spending all our time in His Presence, ignoring the demands and needs of others, could we be satisfied with that, or would some part of us chafe at the lack of work to do? Would we be indignant that we were being asked to do something so unimportant?
And yet, this is the heart of the Gospel – being with Him, not working for Him.
How will anyone get saved, then? How will children be fed, the unborn saved from annihilation, the sick healed or at least tended to? How will we fulfill our part, if we just sit around praising Him? (And yet, that’s what heaven was portrayed as when I was a child!)
Please, understand that I am NOT advocating that we stop doing things to reach and help the world! NO!!! Never!!! While God clearly calls us to abide in Him, He also clearly tells us to go.
BUT . . . when we do it by ourselves, we have done nothing (John 15:5). If we are in Him, though, His life flows in us and then through us to others. (That’s the nature of life – it moves. Jesus spoke of a river of life in our bellies/hearts, not a lake.) We need to be in Him, though, so that it’s His life that is flowing, not our own. Then what we do bears fruit that lasts, and we don’t get burned out.
So this is the foolishness I am learning to live in – not doing anything in my own strength or wisdom or anything else.
Yes, God gave me a really good mind, capable of learning and analyzing and organizing things well. What I have been through in my life has developed great internal strength. I’ve lived long enough, and benefited from other’s words enough, to be fairly wise. And, being a first-born, I’m a natural leader.
Those are traits He can use greatly! And I’m thankful for them. But He must be the one to employ my gifts and abilities, not me. When I do it by myself, I make a mess! And how subtle, how fine the line is, between doing things in Him, and doing them in myself! It’s not okay to get direction from Father God, then head off in my own strength to do what He’s asked. ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.’ We need to take each step in Him, not just the first one.
Actually, what I’m learning is not so much that He does it, but that we do it. He and I together. To say that ‘He does it’ can imply passivity on my part. Been there, done that, and nothing was accomplished like that, either.
What He is teaching me now is complete dependence on Him, which seems like a return to spiritual babyhood. Yet . . . it is more than that. It’s not blind dependence: it’s a partnership, a union, where we do things together. We agree on the goal (His, not mine), make a plan (also His), and do our individual parts. Yet I am not doing my part alone. He is with me, in me – teaching, helping, encouraging.
Some might find the thought of this extremely repugnant, as if God thought they had no strength or intelligence or wisdom. I don’t know what to say to that. Maybe you need to seek Father God’s face about this. Indeed, you should be seeking Him about everything you read here (or anywhere else).
This foolishness – this being in Him and Him working through me – feels, oddly enough, like what I was born to do. To be with Him. Not under Him, as a servant or slave, but beside Him, like husband and wife. Each with different roles, but moving together toward their goal. Each using their mind, strength, wisdom to fulfill the plan, because each one’s individual talents are needed to make it happen. And doing it all together, not independently.
Is that foolishness?
May you draw close enough to our Father and His Son to know His heart and mind for you and your relationship with Him.
May Holy Spirit teach you what is needed to abide in Him, to be and do in Him.
May you know the true joy of living in intimate communion with Him, and having His life flow out from you to others.
“In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, we act all. For that is what produces, viz. our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active.”