Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender
Without losing all control?
Fearless warriors in a picket fence
Reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep-water faith in the shallow end
And we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences
The God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for his
Or are we caught in the middle?
–Casting Crowns, “Somewhere in the Middle”
Yesterday the sermon was on Jesus’ call to his followers to “take up your cross.” The pastor told the story of Arthur Blessitt, who on Christmas Day, 1969, began carrying a 12-foot cross he had made across the United States, from his home in Los Angeles to New York and finally to DC. In 1971, he embarked on a journey across the world, beginning in Northern Ireland, where he shared his faith with soldiers in the IRA. Four years ago, he completed his mission, having walked almost 40,000 miles through every country on the planet, dragging his cross. Because God told him to. He met people from all walks of life, saw for himself the conditions that people were living in, prayed for peace as he walked through dozens of war-torn countries. He said that in all of those experiences, sometimes the cross on his shoulder seemed like the lightest burden he was carrying.
Now, God’s probably not going to ask most of us to literally carry a cross the equivalent of one and a half times around the circumference of the equator. (Probably not – but who knows? If he does, will you?) But Jesus made it very clear that being his disciple would be comparable to having to drag an instrument of torture and execution through the streets of Jerusalem and up a hill, where you would be nailed to it and left till dead. Are you living out your faith in a way that reflects that? I can’t say I am.
This sermon struck a chord with me. Because it was not an isolated incident of God speaking to me about this subject. If I had to pick the single biggest theme that God has been putting on my heart this school year – starting over the summer, really – it would be surrender. He is coming back to this again and again, calling me to let go of everything in complete abandonment to him. And I feel like my efforts to do so are pretty well summed up in the lyrics I opened with. How close can I get to surrender, without losing all control?
And this semester, God’s stepped it up a notch. Over Christmas break, the books I read were pointing to surrender. But in a different way. It seemed not so much like a general call, but more like preparing me for something specific. I got the sense that this semester, at some point, I would be faced with a very specific decision about a very specific matter. One road would be to continue in the status quo, comfortable in the way things are. The other: to give up all control. And carry my cross. And since then God has kept bringing me back to it. I still don’t know how that will manifest itself, or when. Given the whole taking up my cross thing, I suspect it will not be a pleasant choice to make. In the meantime I need to be listening and watching for it. And preparing myself. So that when it comes, I will recognize it, and have the courage to take the leap of faith.
I mentioned preparing. How am I supposed to prepare for something like that? I get the sense that a major part of it is abiding. Which, now that I think about it, is the other major theme that God has been talking to me about. And it just now clicked, that these are not isolated from each other. I’ve learned all too well that we cannot do this life thing on sheer will. All of us who have accepted Jesus know that no one is capable of living a life without sin, and that we are dependent on his grace. But sometimes we get the idea that once we become Christians, our sins are accounted for, but now we start trying to clean up our lives on our own power. And that just doesn’t work. In John 15, Jesus says to abide in him. He’s the vine, we’re the branches, all that. Apart from him, we don’t stand a chance of producing fruit. But if we’re connected to him, through us he produces fruit. Think about that analogy. What does a branch do? All it does is hang off the trunk. And the fruit comes. When we try to fix up our own lives, and try to live out the fruit of the Spirit and all, it’s still us trying to exercise our control. Just in a different way. But that’s missing the point. We’re supposed to lose control, remember? That means we have no control over the good things, either. If we stay plugged into Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit work in our lives, the good things come.
To bring it back to my impending fork in the road – maybe the key is just to make sure, above all, I am plugged into Jesus. And let him transform my life. And when I am faced with that choice, the Holy Spirit, who has been working in me, will lead me down the road less traveled. The road to Calvary. And I will follow. And looking back, it will be totally worth it.
What about you? What control do you need to let go of? What is holding you back from reckless abandonment to God? What is he asking you to do about it?
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
–Jesus (Mark 8:34-36, NLT)