Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.
~ Gail Sheehy
Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.
Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.
~ Gail Sheehy
Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.
by Andrew Murray
`So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how. The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.’ — Mark 4:26-28
`The Head, from whom the whole body increaseth with the increase of God’ — Col. 2:19
`That we may grow into Him which is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body maketh the increase.’ — Eph. 4:15,16
Death is always a standing still: life is always movement, progressiveness. Increase or growth is the law of all created life; consequently, the new life in man is destined to increase, and always by becoming stronger. As there are in the seed and in the earth a life and power of growth by which the plant is impelled to have its full height and fruit; so is there in the seed of the eternal life an impelling force by which also that life always increases and grows with a divine growth, until we come to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Eph. 4:12; 2 Thess. 1:4)
In this parable of the seed that springs up of itself, and becomes great and bears fruit, the Lord teaches us two of the most important lessons on the increase of the spiritual life. The one is that of its self-sufficiency, the other that of its gradualness.
The first lesson is for those that ask what they are to do in order to grow and advance more in grace. As the Lord said of the body: `Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto his stature? consider the lilies of the field how they grow;’ so He says to us here that we can do nothing, and need to do nothing, to make the spiritual life grow. (Hos. 14:16; Matt. 6:25,27,28) Do you not see how, while man slept, the seed sprang up and became high, he knew not how, and how the earth brought forth fruit of itself? When man has once sowed, he must reckon that God cares for the growth: he has not to care: he must trust and rest.
And must man then do nothing? He can do nothing: it is from within that the power of life must come: from the life, from the Spirit implanted in him. To the growth itself he can contribute nothing: it shall be given him to grow. (Ps. 92:14; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3)
All that he can do is to let the life grow. All that can hinder the life, he must take away and keep away. If there are thorns and thistles that take away place and power in the soil which the plant should have, he can take them away. (Jer. 4:13; Matt. 13:22,23) The plant must have its place in the earth alone and undivided. For this the husbandman can care: then it grows further of itself. So must the Christian take away what can hinder the growth of the new life: to surrender the heart entire and undivided for the new life, to hold it alone in possession and to fill it, so that it may grow free and unhindered. (Son. 2:15; Heb. 12;1)
The husbandman can also bring forward what the plant requires in the way of food or drink: he can manure or moisten the soil as it may be needful. So must the believer see to it that for the new life there is brought forward nourishment out of the word, the living water of the Spirit, by prayer. It is in Christ that the new life is planted: from Him it increases with divine increase: abide rooted in Him by the exercise of faith: the life will grow of itself. (2 John 15:4,5; Col. 2:6,7) Give it what it must have: take away what can hinder it: the life will grow and increase of itself.
Then comes in the second lesson of the parable: the gradualness of the growth: `first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.’ Do not expect everything at once. Give God time. By faith and endurance we inherit the promises: the faith that knows that it has everything in Christ: the endurance that expects everything in its time according to the rule and the order of the divine government. Give God time. Give the new life time. It is by continued abiding in the earth that the plant grows: it is by continuous standing in grace, in Christ Himself, in whom God has planted us, that the new life grows. (Heb. 3:13; 6:12,15; Jas. 5:7)
Yes: give the new life only sufficient time: time in prayer: time in intercourse with God: time in continuous exercise of faith: time in persistent separation from the world. Give it time: slow but sure, hidden but real, in apparent weakness but with heavenly power, is the divine growth with which the life of God in the soul grows up to the perfect man in Christ.
Lord God, graciously strengthen the faith of Thy children, that their growth and progress are in Thy hands. Enable them to see what a precious, powerful life was implanted in them by Thyself, a life that increases with a divine increase. Enable them by faith and patience to inherit the promises. And teach them in that faith to take away all that can hinder the new life, to bring forward all that can further it, so that Thou mayest make Thy work in them glorious. Amen.
1. For a plant, the principal thing is the son in which it stands and out of which it draws its strength. For the Christian, this also is the principal thing: he is in Christ. Christ is all: he must grow up in Him, for out of Him the body obtains its increase. To abide in Christ by faith — that is the main thing.
2. Remember that faith must set itself towards a silent restfulness, that growth is just like that of the lilies on God’s hands, and that He will see to it that we increase and grow strong.
3. By this firm and joyful faith, we become `Strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory, unto all patience and long-suffering with joy.’ (Col. 1:11)
4. This faith, that God cares for our growth, takes away all anxiety, and gives courage for doing the two things that we have to do: the taking away of what may be obstructive to the new life, the bringing forward of what may be serviceable to it.
5. Observe well the distinction betwixt planting and growing. Planting is the work of a moment: in a moment the earth receives the seed: after that comes the slow growth. Without delay — immediately must the sinner receive the word: before conversion there is no delay. Then with time follows the growth of the seed.
6. The main thing is Christ: from Him and in Him is our growth. He is the soil that of itself brings forth fruit, we know not how. Hold daily intercourse with Him.
As a pastor, as a seminary professor, as a leader in a variety of positions, I have tried to be transparent and honest about the doubts, questions and uncertainties which are part of my faith. Having spent decades living according to this philosophy of ministry, I am not sure that it is the best approach.
As I was teaching this semester there were three specific issues about which I pointed out the various positions that theologians take and admitted to being uncertain as to which was the correct position. The results were that one student accused me of being uninformed, one of being a postmodernist, and one of denying the sufficiency of Scripture. The truth of the matter is that I was much more informed than the authority quoted by the first student, that I am about as far from being a postmodernist as they come, and I am a champion of the belief in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
Those are just three examples of many that I could offer in which I have observed how honesty and transparency has resulted in diminished ability to lead. It seems that parishioners and students want leaders with answers only, NOT QUESTIONS.
In the small booklet What Is Truth, Ravi Zacharias shares the following story;
I was at an airport looking for my departure gate, and I noticed that the flight listed was to another city. So I asked a passenger if that flight was headed to Atlanta or elsewhere. She promptly answered my question and told me the notation was wrong. As I thanked her and turned to find a seat, she said, “Are you Ravi Zacharias?” I answered yes. Then came this utterly surprising response: “I listen to you on the radio regularly. I didn’t know you had questions as well.” I laughed at her compliment and assured her that I had several questions, especially if I want to get to the right destination.
There are so many answers out there and a question to every answer. To ask them is to engage with information. To ask questions about life’s ultimate questions is to be in the pursuit of God.
I would be interested in hearing some of your stories in which you, like Paul, have been honest in presenting yourself as one who has not yet arrived, yet maintained your leadership influence. Anyone?
Planning another big event at your church will probably make your people more active and bring in more people, but is it really what is best for your church? Consider the following paragraph from W. R. Greg’s Life at High Pressure.
Beyond doubt, the most salient characteristic of life in this latter portion of the 19th century is its SPEED, — what we may call its hurry, the rate at which we move, the high-pressure at which we work;– and the question to be considered is, first, whether this rapid rate is in itself a good; and, next, whether it is worth the price we pay for it–a price rarely reckoned up, and not very easy thoroughly to ascertain. Unquestionably, life seems fuller and longer for this speed–is it truly ricer and more effective? No doubt we can do more in our seventy years for the pace at which we travel; but are the extra things we can do always worth doing? No doubt, we can do more; but is “doing” everything, and “being” nothing.
That was written in the 19th century. How much more might it apply in the 21st century?
NOTE ON THE MORNING WATCH
by Andrew Murray
‘By, the observance of the morning watch is commonly meant the spending of at least the first half-hour of every day alone with God, in personal devotional Bible study and prayer.
‘There are Christians who say that they do not have time to devote a full half-hour to such a spiritual exercise. It is a striking fact that the busiest Christians constitute the class who plead this excuse the least, and most generally observe the morning watch. Any Christian who will honestly and persistently follow this plan for a month or two will become convinced that it is the best possible use of his time, that it does not interfere with his regular work, and that it promotes the wisest economy of time.…
‘In India, in China, in Japan, hundreds of students have agreed to keep the morning watch.…
‘The practical question for each of us is, Why should not I keep the morning watch? Next to receiving Christ as Savior, and claiming the baptism of the Holy Ghost, we know of no act attended with larger good to ourselves and to others than the formation of an undiscourageable resolution to keep the morning watch.’
These quotations are from an address by John R. Mott. At first sight the closing statement appears too strong. But think a moment, what such a revelation implies.
It means the deep conviction that the only way to maintain and carry out the surrender to Christ and the Holy Spirit, is by meeting God very definitely at the commencement of each day, and receiving from Himself the grace needed for a walk in holy obedience.
It means an insight into the folly of attempting to live a heavenly life without rising up into close communion with God in heaven, and receiving from Himself the fresh bestowal of spiritual blessings.
It means the confession that it is alone in personal fellowship with God, and in delight in His nearness, that proof can be given that our love responds to His, and that we count His nearness our chief joy.
It means the faith that if time enough be given for God to lay His hands on us, and renew the inflowings of His Spirit, our soul may be so closely united to Him that no trials or duties can separate us from Him.
It means a purpose to live wholly and only for God, and by the sacrifice of time and ease to prove that we are willing to pay any price to secure the first of all blessings the presence of God for all the day.
Let us now look again at that sentence—, ‘Next to receiving Christ as our Savior, and claiming the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we know of no act attended with larger good to ourselves or to others than the formation of an undiscourageable resolution to keep the morning watch.’ If our acceptance of Christ as Lord and Master was whole-hearted, if our prayer for and claiming of the Holy Spirit to guide and control was sincere, surely there can be no thought of not giving God each day sufficient time, our very best time, for receiving and increasing in us what is indispensable to a life for Christ’s glory and in His service.
You tell me there are many Christians who are content with ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. There are, but you will certainly not as a rule find them strong Christians. And the Students’ Movement is pleading with God, above everything, that He would meet to train a race of devoted, whole-hearted young men and women. Christ asked great sacrifices of His disciples; He has perhaps asked little of you as yet. But now He allows, He invites, He longs for you to make some. Sacrifices make strong men. Sacrifices help wonderfully to wrench us away from earth and self-pleasing, and lift us heavenward. Do not try to pare down the time limit of the morning watch to less than the half-hour. There can be no question about the possibility of finding the time. Ten minutes from sleep, ten from company or amusement ,ten from lessons. How easy where the heart is right, hungering to know God and His will perfectly!
If you feel that you do not feel the need of so much time, and know not how to wait, we are content you should speak of your quiet time, or your hour of prayer. God may graciously, later on, draw you out to the morning watch. But do not undertake it unless you feel your heart stirred with the determination to make a sacrifice, and have full time for intimate intercourse with God. But if you are ready to do this, we urge you to join. The very fact of setting apart such a period helps to awaken the feeling: I have a great work to do, and I need time for it. It strengthens in your heart the conviction: If I am to be kept all this day without sin I must have time to get near to God. It will give your Bible study new point, as you find time, between the reading, to be still and bow in humility for the Holy Spirit’s hidden working, and wait till you get some real apprehension of God’s will for you, through the Word. And, by the grace of God, it may help you to begin that habit of specific and definite intercession of which the Church so surely stands In need.
Students! you know not whether in your future life your time may be more limited, your circumstances more unfavorable, your Christian earnestness feebler. Now is the accepted time. Today, as the Holy Ghost saith. Listen to the invitation of your brethren in all lands, and fear not to form an undiscourageable resolution to spend at least half an hour each morning with God alone.
THE ENTRANCE TO THE LIFE OF FULL OBEDIENCE
by Andrew Murray
‘Obedient unto death.’ —Phil. 2:8.
After all that has been said on the life of obedience, I purpose speaking in this address of the entrance on that life.
You might think it a mistake to take this text, in which you have obedience in its very highest perfection, as our subject in speaking of the entrance on the course. But it is no mistake. The secret of success in a race is to have the goal clearly defined, and aimed at from the very outset.
‘He became obedient unto death.’ There is no other Christ for any of us, no other obedience that pleases God, no other example for us to copy, no other Teacher from whom to learn to obey. Christians suffer inconceivably because they do not at once and heartily accept this as the only obedience they are to aim at. The youngest Christian will find it a strength in the school of Christ to make nothing less from the commencement his prayer and his vow: Obedient unto Death. It is at once the beauty and the glory of Christ. A share in it is the highest blessing He has to give. The desire for and the surrender to it is possible to the youngest believer.
If you want to be reminded of what it means, think of the story in ancient history. A proud king, with a great army following him, demands the submission of the king of a small but brave nation. When the ambassadors have delivered their message, he calls one of his soldiers to stab himself. At once he does it. A second is called; he too obeys at once. A third is summoned; he too is obedient to death.
‘Go and tell your master that I have three thousand such men; let him come.’
The king dared count upon men who held their life not dear to them when the king’s word called for it.
It is such obedience God wants. It is such obedience Christ gave. It is such obedience He teaches. Be it such obedience and nothing less we seek to learn. From the very outset of the Christian life let this be our aim, that we may avoid the fatal mistake of calling Christ Master and yet not doing what He says.
Let all who by these addresses have in any degree been convicted of the sin of disobedience, listen as we study from God’s Word the way to escape from that and gain access to the life Christ can give—the entrance to the life of full obedience.
I. THE CONFESSION AND CLEANSING OF THE DISOBEDIENCE
It is easy to see that this must be the first step. In Jeremiah, the prophet who more than any other speaks of the disobedience of God’s people, God says,
‘Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; for I am merciful. Only acknowledge thine iniquity that you have not obeyed My voice, saith the Lord God. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord.’
As little as there can be pardon at conversion without confession can there be, after conversion, deliverance from the overcoming power of sin and the disobedience it brings, without a new and deeper conviction and confession.
The thought of our disobedience must not be a vague generality. The special things in which we actually disobey must be definitely found out, and in confession given up and placed in the hands of Christ, and by Him cleansed away. Then only can there be the hope of entering into the way of true obedience.
Let us search our life by the light of the teaching of our Lord.
1. Christ appealed to the law.
He was not come to destroy the law, but to secure its fulfillment. To the young ruler, He said, ‘Thou knowest the commandments.’ Let the law be our first test.
Let us take a single sin—such as that of lying. I had a note from a young lady once saying that she wished to obey fully, and that she felt urged to confess an untruth she had told me. It was not a matter of importance, and yet she rightly judged that the confession would help her to cast it from her.
How much there is in ordinary society, how much in school life, too, that will not stand the test of strict truthfulness!
And so, there are other commandments, up to the very last, with its condemnation of all coveting and lusting after what is not ours, in which too frequently the Christian gives way to disobedience.
All this must come to a complete end. We must confess it, and in God’s strength put it away forever, if there is to be any thought of our entering a life of full obedience.
2. Christ revealed the new law of love.
To be merciful as the Father in heaven, to forgive just as He does, to love enemies and to do good to them that hate us, and to live lives of self-sacrifice and beneficence,—this was the religion Jesus taught on earth.
Let us look upon an unforgiving spirit when we are provoked or ill-used, upon unloving thoughts and sharp or unkind words, upon the neglect of the call to show mercy and do good and bless, all as so much disobedience, which must be felt and mourned over and plucked out like a right eye, ere the power of a full obedience can be ours.
3. Christ spoke much of self-denial.
Self is the root of all lack of love and obedience. Our Lord called His disciple to deny himself and to take up his cross; to forsake all, to hate and lose his own life, to humble himself and become the servant of all. He did so, because self, self-will, self-pleasing, self-seeking, is simply the source of all sin.
When we indulge the flesh in such a simple thing as eating and drinking; when we gratify self by seeking or accepting or rejoicing in what indulges our pride; when self-will is allowed to assert itself, and we make provision for the fulfillment of its desire, we are guilty of disobedience to His command. This gradually clouds the soul and makes the full enjoyment of His light and peace an impossibility,
4. Christ claimed for God the love of the heart.
For Himself He equally claimed the sacrifice of all to come and follow Him. The Christian who has not definitely at heart made this his aim, who has not determined to seek for grace so to live, is guilty of disobedience. There may be much in his religion that appears good and earnest, but he cannot possibly have the joyful consciousness of knowing that he is doing the will of his Lord, and keeping His commandments.
When the call is heard to come and now begin anew a true life of obedience, there are many who feel the desire to do so, and try quietly to slip into it. They think that by more prayer and Bible study they will grow into it—it will gradually come. They are greatly mistaken. The word God uses in Jeremiah might teach them their mistake:
‘Turn, ye backsliding children, turn to Me.’
A soul that is in full earnest and has taken the vow of full obedience may grow out of a feeble obedience into a fuller one. But there is no growing out of disobedience into obedience. A turning back, a turning away, a decision, a crisis, is needed. And that only comes by the very definite insight into what has been wrong, and its confession with shame and penitence. Then alone will the soul seek for that divine and mighty cleansing from all its filthiness which prepares for the consciousness of the gift of the new heart, and God’s Spirit in it causing us to walk in His statues.
If you would hope to lead a different life, to become a man or a woman of a Christlike obedience unto death, do begin by beseeching God for the Holy Spirit of conviction, to show you all your disobedience and to lead you in humble confession to the cleansing God has provided. Rest not till you have received it.
II. FAITH THAT OBEDIENCE IS POSSIBLE.
This is the second step. To take that step we must try and understand clearly what obedience is.
1. To this end we must attend carefully to the difference between voluntary and involuntary sin. It is with the former alone that obedience deals.
We know that the new heart which God gives His child is placed in the midst of the flesh with its sinfulness. Out of this there often arises, even in one who is walking in true obedience, evil suggestions of pride, unlovingness, impurity, over which he has no direct control. They are in their nature utterly sinful and vile; but they are not imputed to a man as acts of transgression. They are not acts of disobedience, which he can break off and cast out, as he can the disobedience of which we have spoken. The deliverance from them comes in another way, not through the will of the regenerate man, by which obedience always comes, but through the cleansing power of the blood and the indwelling Christ. As the sinful nature rises, all he can do is to abhor it and trust in the blood that at once cleanses him and keeps him clean.
It is of great consequence to note the distinction. It keeps the Christian from thinking obedience impossible. It encourages him to seek and offer his obedience in the sphere where it can avail. And it is just in proportion as in its own sphere the power of the will for obedience is maintained, that the power of the Spirit can be trusted and obtained to do the cleansing work in what is beyond the reach of the will.
2. When this difficulty has been removed, there is often a second one arises, to make us doubt whether obedience be indeed possible.
Men connect it with the idea of absolute perfection. They put together all the commands of the Bible; they think of all the graces these commands point to, in their highest possible measure; and they think of a man with all those graces, every moment in their full perfection, as an obedient man. How different is the demand of the Father in heaven! He takes account of the different powers and attainments of each child of His. He asks of him only the obedience of each day, or rather, each hour at a time. He sees whether I have indeed chosen and given myself up to the whole-hearted performance of every known command. He sees whether I am really longing and learning to know and do all His will. And when His child does this, in simple faith and love, the obedience is acceptable. The Spirit gives us the sweet assurance that we are well-pleasing to Him, and enables us to ‘have confidence before God, because we know that we keep His commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.’
This obedience is indeed an attainable degree of grace. The faith that it is, is indispensable to the obedient walk.
You ask for the ground of that faith in God’s Word? You find it in God’s New Covenant promise,
‘I will write My law in their heart. I will put My fear in their heart, and they shall not depart from Me.’
The great defect of the Old Covenant was that it demanded, but did not provide, the power for obedience. This the New Covenant did. The heart means the love, the life. The law put into, written into the heart, means that it has taken possession of the inmost life and love of the renewed man. The new heart delights in the law of God, it is willing and able to obey it.
You doubt this; your experience does not confirm it. No wonder! A promise of God is a thing of faith; you do not believe it, and so cannot experience it.
You know what invisible writing fluid is. You, write with it on paper, and nothing can be seen by a man who is not in the secret. Tell him of it, and by faith he knows it. Hold it up to the sun, or put some chemical on it, and out comes the secret writing. So God’s law is written in your heart. If you believe this firmly, and come and say to God that His law is there in your inmost part, and hold up that heart to the light and heat of the Holy Spirit, you will find it true. The law written in the heart will mean to you the fervent love of God’s commands, with the power to obey them. [In a volume being published about the same time, The Two Covenants and the Second Blessing, I have tried to show how plain, how certain, how all sufficient the provision is that has been made in the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace, for securing our obedience.]
A story is told of one of Napoleon’s soldiers. The doctor was seeking to extract a bullet that had lodged in the region of the heart, when the soldier cried,
‘Cut deeper, you will find Napoleon graven there.’Christian! do believe that the law lives in your inmost being! Speak in faith the words of David and of Christ,
‘I delight to do Thy will O God! Yea, Thy law is written on my heart.’
The faith of this will assure you that obedience is possible. Such faith will help you into the life of true obedience.
III. THE STEP OUT OF DISOBEDIENCE TO OBEDIENCE IS BY SURRENDER TO CHRIST.
‘Turn to Me, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding,’ God said to Israel.
They were His people, but had turned from Him; the return must be immediate and entire. To turn our back upon the divided life of disobedience, and in the faith of God’s grace to say ‘I will obey,’ may be the work of a moment.
The power for it, to take the vow and to maintain it, comes from the living Christ, ‘We have said before, the power of obedience lies in the mighty influence of a living personal Presence. As long as we took our knowledge of God’s will from a book or from men, we could not but fail. If we take Jesus, in His unchanging nearness, as at once our Lord and our Strength, we can obey. The voice that commands is the voice that inspires. The eye that guides is the eye that encourages. Christ becomes all in all to us; the Master who commands the Example who teaches, the Helper who strengthens. Turn from your life of disobedience to Christ; give up yourself to Him in surrender and faith.
In surrender. Let Him have all. Give up your life to be as full of Him, of His presence, His will, His service, as He can make it. Give up yourself to Him, not to be saved from disobedience, that now you may be happy and live your own life without sinning and trouble. No; but that He may have you wholly for Himself, as a vessel, as a channel, which He can fill with Himself, with His life and love for men, and me in His blessed service.
In faith too. In a new faith. When a soul sees this new thing in Christ, the power for continual obedience, it needs a new faith to take in the special blessing of His great redemption. The faith that only understood ‘He became obedient unto death’ of His atonement, as a motive to love and obedience, now learns to take the word as Scripture speaks it, ‘Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death.’ It believes that Christ has put His own mind and Spirit into us, and in the faith of that, prepares to live and act it out.
God sent Christ into the world to restore obedience to its place in our heart and life, to restore man to His place in the obedience to God. Christ came, and becoming obedient unto death proved what the only true obedience is. He wrought it out, and perfected it in Himself, as a life that He won through death, and now communicates to us. The Christ who loves us, who leads and teaches and strengthens us, who lives in us, is the Christ who was obedient unto death. ‘Obedient unto death’ is the very essence of the life He imparts. Shall we not accept it and trust Him to manifest it in us?
Would you enter into the blessed life of obedience? See here the open gate—Christ says, ‘I am the door.’ See here the new and living way—Christ says, ‘I am the way.’
We begin to see it; all our disobedience was owing to our not knowing Christ aright. We see it; obedience is only possible in a life of unceasing fellowship with Himself. The inspiration of His voice, the light of His eyes, the grasp of His hand make it possible, make it certain.
Come and let us bow down, and yield ourselves to this Christ. Obedient unto death, in the faith that He makes us partakers with Himself of all He is and has.