Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First Key Spiritual Concept

A few weeks ago I set forth the idea that perhaps only a few key ideas are necessary for our spiritual growth. I have wanted to write more on those but I have been out of town so it has been hard to sit and have some time to write. I am back at my desk and in a place to give my theory a go.
So often we begin the spiritual journey focused on the self and what God can do for us. We wonder what can a relationship with God add to my life and how does it help me get ahead. That is natural since the American way of life is about getting ahead and gaining more. After all that is the sign of success in our culture. We come to Christ and realize that we now have “gained” forgiveness of sins and we realize that Christ has “given” us salvation; we have added an important element into our life. This isn’t a bad starting place; rather it is a natural part of our spiritual development. However, if we stay at this place of “me + God” then our Christian maturity will stall out and we will miss so much.
God longs for us to move from self focus (me + God), both focus (God + me) to God focus (God). In other words we move into learning that “it’s not about me” and our primary focus moves away from us.  Life becomes about Christ’s will instead of our will. The word for this is surrender.  The heart of all growth in Christian spirituality is an ever deepening surrender to Christ and his will. We can do all the spiritual practices and disciplines but if we don’t do them with an attitude of humility and surrender to Christ then we are simply practicing religion and missing the relationship we have been called into. Jesus is clear when he says that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34b-35 NIV)
The Apostle Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ” (Phil 1:1) and he also says that he considers everything “a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8). 
I think that most of us if we are honest with ourselves bristle at the idea of surrender. We have been taught to be strong, get more, achieve more, be in control and be the master of your own destiny.  To be asked to give up control (which is really an illusion), go where we may or may not want to go and embrace a servant’s attitude is hard.  It may mean embracing values and practices that aren’t consistent with our culture and frankly may at times be significantly at odds with it.
Practicing surrender forces us to examine if we really want God to answer our prayer “thy will be done and thy kingdom come”. Intuitively we know that sometimes God’s will and our will might not be the same thing and if push came to shove would be like Christ and yield our will to the Lord’s.
Despite the struggles we might have with learning to surrender and yes, it is something we learn little by little over time we shouldn’t fail to see the promise in Christ’s words. He says that those who give their life to Him will save it. Elsewhere he says that we should “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus shows us and teaches us that surrendering our lives to him is the way of life. When the focus of our lives becomes seeking the kingdom those things that we need will added unto us. Right after that Jesus tells us not to worry since he knows that when our lives are yielded to him and focused on the kingdom we grow in our freedom from worry. One of the fruits of surrender is a life marked with less worry, greater peace and deeper contentment.
I find that one of the first steps in surrender to Christ is to just begin to desire surrender. We need to start somewhere and our desires are a good place. We can journal and pray about the areas we feel like we are holding onto and can’t yield to Christ. It makes sense to reflect on what is holding us back and what we are afraid of. At this point meditating on the cross makes sense because there we see so clearly Christ’s love for us, his complete surrender so that we could have life. The God who gave himself so completely on the cross is a God we can trust more than we can trust ourselves or anything else. Christ wants us to live life fully and so has shown us that way through surrender and kingdom living.
Eventually praying a prayer of surrender on a regular basis makes sense, it will help connect our desire to give ourselves with the action necessary. It will shape our heart on change the focus of our spirituality from getting things from God to giving ourselves to God and wanting to follow his way.
Below is one of the classic prayers of surrender also known as a prayer of abandonment. It a beautiful description of what I have haphazardly tried to write about.
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucald

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