There are many things in life that are hard to let go. It may be our plans, our family, our possessions or even our life. As I write this chapter it is during the season of Lent; a time when many people let of certain practices in order to focus on spiritual issues in their life. Notice how hard it is to give some things up. Imagine going for an entire day without use of your cell phone or checking your email. Some are going into withdrawal just thinking about such an idea.
Try this simple exercise. Take a coin and hold it in your hand and clench your fist. Hold it tight until your knuckles are white. Have you ever noticed how often people actually live this way? We make statements such as “I am trying to hold on.” “I am struggling to get a grip.” We perceive life as a struggle and we are desperately trying to cope as best we can.
Now slowly open your clenched fist and feel the feelings of relief as you allow the blood to rush back into your fingers. In our life of faith when we learn to let go, when we are no longer struggling, we discover that a sense of peace and calmness comes over us.
In the bible there are many examples of people who had to learn to let go. Jacob on of the two sons of Isaac was known not the most upright individual. He had plans to get ahead no matter what it cost him. He deceived his elderly, blind father into giving him the blessing that should have gone to the elder brother Esau. Consequently he had to run for his life for Esau sought to kill him for what he had done. Jacob eventually settled in Haran married, had a family and prospered. However his father inlaw Laban, did not like Jacob. He believed Jacob was stealing from him and Laban’s sons stated “ Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” (Genesis 31: 1) Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him had changed.
It was time to leave and go home. Forty years had passed since Jacob had last seen his brother Esau. On the journey home Jacob rested one night by the river Jabbok. A through the night Jacob wrestled with God. During the struggle God touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that he was incapacitated. It was at this pint in the struggle Jacob cried out to God to bless him. The blessing of God was the most important thing to him. It was more important than possessions or fame or power or prestige. But Jacob had to let go of all his previous plans if he was to receive the blessing of God.
Mary was a young woman who had plans that were radically changed. She was a young teenage woman engaged to Joseph a carpenter. I am sure she had plans of life together. They would have a home, raise children and live an ordinary life. All that changed when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel told her that God had found special favour with her and she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Further more the child she would bear had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary thought about this. Her life would radically change. What would Joseph think? What would her parents say? How would the small community to which she belonged react? She would have to trust God in all of this. It would be an incredible challenge for a young woman to face. Yet as Mary contemplated all that had been spoken into her life she made this amazing statement “ I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary was willing, no matter the personal cost to let go of her plans and surrender her life into the will of God.
The most profound example of letting go was seen in the life of Jesus. It began with his incarnation when he left the glory of heaven, came to earth as a baby, grew up as a young man, became a servant and died on a cross. The apostle Paul expressed it in this manner “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 6-8)
At the end of his life Jesus would let go. Prior to his arrest, judgment and crucifixion, Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Knowing what was ahead he fervently prayed that the Father would find some other way for him. His prayer that night is really a prayer that we need to learn as we surrender our life into the hands of God. Translator J.B.Phillips brings the prayer into focus “Dear Father …all things are possible to You. Let me not have to drink this cup! Yet it is not what I want, but what You want.” The prayer was not answered in the way Jesus wanted
Author Richard Foster writes: “here we have the incarnate Son praying through his tears and not receiving what he asks. Jesus knew the burden of unanswered prayer. He really did want the cup to pass, and he asked that it would pass. “If you are willing” was hiss questioning, his wondering. The Father’s will was not absolutely clear to him. “Is there some other Way?” “Can people be redeemed by some different means?” The answer- no!” (1)
This prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is a pattern for us. He could have avoided the cross. He could have compromised with the priests, bargained with the High Priest. Pilate wanted to release him and tried to get Jesus to say the correct words so that this ‘innocent’ man could go free. In the Garden on the night of his betrayal, Jesus had enough time to flee from the Roman soldiers. However he used his free will to turn the decision over to His Father.
As we think about these three different stories we discover some insight into letting go. Richard Foster in his book ‘Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home’ describes the prayer of Jesus as the Prayer of Relinquishment, which he says is a “grace filled releasing or our will and a flowing into the will of the Father.” (2)
This act of relinquishment, this letting go, is not easy. There is struggle. Look at the three biblical examples. Jacob wrestled for an entire night before he would receive the blessing of God. Mary wondered about the saying of the angel and was somewhat puzzled . How could she a virgin bear the son of God? As she ‘pondered’ all these things she came to the resolute decision to do as God asked of her. And Jesus in the garden repeatedly asked the Father to remove the cup. This was an issue he struggled with for the entire night of prayer. In learning to let go and to pray the prayer of Relinquishment, struggle is a significant element.
The late Catherine Marshall wrote that this prayer is not one of resigning ourselves to fate but rather it is an act of acceptance. “There is a crucial difference between acceptance and resignation. There is no resignation in the prayer of relinquishment. Resignation says, “This is my situation, and I must resign myself and settle down to it.” Resignation lies down in the dust of a godless universe and steels itself for the worst. Acceptance says “ True, this is my situation at the moment. I’ll look unblinkingly at it. But I’ll also open up my hands to accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends.” Thus acceptance never slams the door of hope. (3)
So hope is always present in the prayer of Relinquishment. We learnt to trust in the character of God. Foster writes “ Even when all we see are the tangled threads on the backside of life’s tapestry, we know that God is good and is out to do us good always. That gives us hope to believe that we are the winners, regardless of what we are being called to relinquish. God is inviting us deeper in and higher up. There is training in righteousness, transforming power, new joys, deeper intimacy.” (4)
So the apostle Paul would write about Jesus
In the 13th century Richard of Chichester wrote a prayer that was popularized in the song “Day by Day”. It was a prayer that expressed three factors to help us grow closer to God.
“ Thanks be to you , O Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us;
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May we know you more CLEARLY
Love you more DEARLY
And follow you more NEARLY
For your own sake.”
The first aspect of the prayer is to know Christ more clearly. This is much more than propositional truth. The apostle Paul’s prayer to the church in Ephesus expresses this truth. “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you , the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparable power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
The second aspect of the prayer is love God more dearly. The more we understand what God has done for us the more our hearts will overflow with love toward Him. John wrote “We love because he first loved us.’ (1John 4:19) As we know God more we love him more.
The final aspect of the prayer is that we would follow him more nearly. Following God is based upon trusting him completely. Even if he asks us to follow him through challenging and difficult situations we know that he only has our greater good in mind. Ken Boa stated “Obedience to Christ is the way we test and express our abiding relationship with him.”
Have you ever felt disillusioned with life? The writer of Ecclesiastes sometimes referred to as the philosopher felt disillusioned. He wrote,
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2: 10-11)
It is obvious that the writer was frustrated. He did not find satisfaction through intellectual pursuits, pleasures or projects he undertook and completed. No matter what we do there remains a deep longing within each person to know God intimately and without this there will be a deep dissatisfaction and disconnect.
Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons and the younger asked his father to give him the portion of the family estate that belonged to him. Without hesitation the father granted his request and the young man went away and eventually spent everything that he had on things that he thought would give him enjoyment. Suddenly he discovered that he had nothing. No friends, no money, no dignity, all was gone. It was at this point that he came to his senses and wanted to return home. When he did he discovered that his father welcomed him with open arms.
The father showed him extravagant love. That is what we need. We don’t thrive on ‘stuff’ we have accumulated rather we are meant for deep relationships. Without this everything else will disappoint us.
Oswald Chamber once said that a life of intimacy with God is characterized by joy.
When God created the first person, what distinguished him from the rest of creation was that he was created in the image of God. In other words he had the capacity to connect with God and to reflect God’s presence in the world.
This reality is revealed in the story of Adam and Eve. When God created them to live in the Garden of Eden, they had a wonderful relationship with God, with each other and with the created order around them. God told them that everything was there for their use and enjoyment, but the tree in the center of the garden they were not to touch of its fruit. Daily they enjoyed communion with God until that fateful day when they took of the forbidden fruit and ate it.
That evening the couple heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden and they hid from his presence. God called out, “Where are you?” It was not a question about their physical location but about their relationship with God. They were designed for intimacy with God, but now they were hiding from God.
Hiding from God has been the stance of humanity from that time until the present. God desires to be in a relationship with us, but we are living apart from God, and when that happens we discover how lonely and meaningless life can be.
Many do not seem to realize the power of their words. Some of our words may crush a person’s spirit, or step on a dream, or fill people with resentment, or make people afraid. On the other hand when we say the right words someone may realize they are loved, or they may receive guidance, or they may discover hope when they are about to give up.
The writer of Proverbs has some interesting things to say about our words.
The first thing to notice is that we should not be hasty when we speak. “Do you see a person who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than that person.” (Proverbs 29:20) In other words wise people do not speak too quickly, they think before they speak because they realize that a lot of misunderstanding can occur in our communication. So when the subject is sensitive or you are in conflict or you want to express deep concern for another, take time to think before you speak. The writer of Proverbs states “Even fools are thought to be wise if they keep silent.” (Proverbs 17:28)
But we need to be aware that our words can be very powerful. The writer states “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) Gold and silver a very precious elements. This proverb reveals how valuable our words are if they are spoken at the right time, to the right person, in the right spirit.
This week think about the words you speak, are they helpful or hurtful? Remember this, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)
Alice in the book Alice in Wonderland asked the Cheshire cat, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” says the cat. “I don’t much care where,” says Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” says the Cat.
So what is your journey like? Have you ever thought about your final destination? The journey is not always easy, in fact the Apostle Paul tells us there will be many challenges, obstacles and difficulties but we are urged to press on and not be discouraged. He pictured life as a race that needs to be completed and as he came to the end of his life he would be able to declare “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous Judge will award to me on that day and not only to me but to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:7-8
As you run the race of life do you keep your focus on the destination? Will you stay the course? Will you arrive safely? Every day is an opportunity to stay focused and to keep the end of the journey in mind as you take the next step.
Its summer time and many people are making plans for a “Road Trip”. This is an opportunity to explore the countryside and meet new people. Have you ever though about life as a “Road Trip”? In fact life is often spoken of as a ‘Journey’. There is a famous Irish blessing that states:
“May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rains fall softly upon your fields.
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
The road trip of life has many twists and turns and one never knows what to expect when you go around the corner. One thing we need to realize is that this journey is not as long as we might expect it to be. The Psalmist wrote “Show me, O Lord my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreath; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath…man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now Lord what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39: 4-7)
The prophet Isaiah contrasted the temporal with the eternal using a different metaphor. He said” All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)
These two writers are telling us that life is shorter than most of us realize. So as we are on the ‘Journey’ it is important to appreciate each day and to live it to the full being focused on that which will last forever rather than being preoccupied with things that are temporal. Life is shorter than most of us realize.
As people who follow Jesus it is expected that his life will be reflected in our life. How we live, the values we hold, the decisions we make, how we treat others, will give testimony to our relationship with God.
In the Old Testament there is the story of Daniel one of the Jews living in exile who had risen to a position of prominence in the government of the day. However people watched him closely to see if he “walked the talk”.
The biblical account tells several things. He had an excellent attitude. We read “There could be no grounds for complaints or any corruption because he was faithful and no negligence or corruption could be found in him.” Daniel 6:4. Here was a man who was doing a great job with an excellent attitude toward his daily work.
He was also faithful in his work. How difficult that is to find in the workplace. The writer of Proverbs states “Many proclaim themselves to be loyal, but who can find one worthy of trust? The righteous walk in integrity.” Proverbs 20:6-7. As we think about our own life are we faithful in what we say and do? The motto of the Marine Corps is “Semper Fi” (Always Faithful). Hopefully that can be true of us as follower of Jesus.
What do you want to be said of you as you live each day? Can you at the end of each day declare “I have walked with integrity and have trusted in the Lord without wavering”?
Think about this today.
Many people have misconceptions about the church. Some see it as a place to get married or buried, or a place to send your kids for some religious instruction or possibly a place to meet new people. Actually the church is does not refer to a building or organization but to people. They are those who are called out into a relationship with God and called together into a relationship with one another.
The story of the early church as described in the book of Acts tells us four things about their life together.
The first thing we learn is that they were a learning church. We read that “they devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching”. (Acts 2: 42) In other words they wanted to grow in their understanding of God. This was not a hit and miss affair, in actuality they were very intentional in this learning experience. The text tells us they were devoted to learning.
The second factor we note is that it was a loving church. “They devoted themselves to the fellowship”. (Acts 2: 42) They shared life together and we note that this had very practical implications. If someone needed something, those who could shared what they had. No one was in need because they wanted to be able to help each other.
The third factor about this church was that they were a worshipping community. They regularly met to ‘break bread and to pray” The breaking of bread was the act of celebrating the Lord’s Supper and the prayers were times of formal worship. Their worship was a time of celebration of the great acts of God…his gift of salvation, his forgiveness of sin, his kindness experienced day by day and his empowering of daily life.
Finally it was an attractive church. Luke writes “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) These Christians were not so preoccupied with teaching, sharing life together or worshipping that they forgot about reaching out to others. When people saw what God was doing in the lives of these Christians they wanted to be a part of that community of faith. And so that was the basis of their growth.
When we recover the life of the early church and care for others the church will grow and grow as God intended.
If you knew that you only had a short while to live, how would you invest your time? Many fail to realize how brief life is. The Psalmist wrote “Lord let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreaths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.” (Psalm 39:4-5) In other words life is fleeting and very brief.
This might seem to be somewhat pessimistic, but it is hopeful because it tells us there is more to life than what we presently see. Thus we have two choices; live as if this world is all there is, or view life here as a brief preparation for eternity.
John wrote to the early church these words. “Do not love the world or the things of the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world-the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches-comes but from the world. And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” (1Jn. 2:15-17)
These are strong words for all of us to consider. Possibly we need to think about how much we are enmeshed in the cultural environment in order to keep all things in perspective. St. Augustine wrote “We must care for our bodies as though we are going to live forever, but we must care for our souls as if we are going to die tomorrow.”
So think about your life and heed the words of Paul “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise making the most of the time.’ (Eph. 5; 15-17)