Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret

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From a letter written by Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, to his sister.

“…I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was – how to get it out. He was rich truly, but I was poor; He was strong, but I weak. I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness, but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question. As gradually light dawned, I saw that faith was the only requisite – was the hand to lay hold on His fulness and make it mine. But I had not this faith.

hudsontaylorI strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fulness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was I felt the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do? When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter…was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before. (I quote from memory):

“But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.”

“Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me – never to leave me, never to fail me?” And…He never will.

Nor was this all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fulness out of Him! I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all-root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone – He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding too may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.

…it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Saviour, to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and your left poor? or your head be well fed while your body starves? Again, think of its bearing on prayer. Could a bank clerk say to a customer, “It was only your hand, not you that wrote that check”; or “I cannot pay this some to your hand, but only to yourself”? No more can your prayers or mine be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e., not for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the limits of Christ’s credit – a tolerably wide limit!

The sweetest part…is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me, for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in places of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that HIs resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


54 Comments

  1. Sarah

    A wonderful book to read would be Andrew Murrey’s “The True Vine” published by the same, Moody Classics. One of my favorite quotes is:
    “Let Christ be first. Let Christ be all. Do not be occupied with abiding – be occupied with Christ. He will hold you, He will keep you abiding in Him. He will abide in you.” – Andrew Murray

  2. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    P.S. ‘Wanted to clarify the tone of that question. I wasn’t challenging the truth of this piece, just curious. I’m aching to see a life this saturated, but I can’t say that I ever have. I’m wondering what it’s like to be around someone so full instead of just reading about it.

  3. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    You mean have I ever seen anyone who is perfect, never struggles, always makes exactly the right choices? No.

    Have I seen the fruit of reliance on Christ in the lives of others? Yes. In mine? Yes. Have I seen Christ-reliance bring maturity, break chains of bondage, bring a level of seeing people and situations from God’s perspective? Yes.

    We still have our soul and body. We are still tempted, and will remain so in these earthen temples. At 46 sometimes I still kick and scream at what God dishes out to me. But when I realize that the Spirit answer is the only answer – that Christ is in me, that God works all things (not some) after the counsel of His own will – a different quality of life is manifested. Recently I struggled with a situation that hit at a core issue in my soul. This struggle came and went for months. I would see the light, then fall back, see it, fall back. It was a pendulum swinging between Heaven – love, joy, peace, etc – and Hell – fear, anger, disappointment, etc. Finally light came in a more final way, and I really saw (not just intellectually believed) that Christ is in me, and God meant the situation to be what it is – on purpose. When I saw that, I rested. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” God has purposes far beyond my natural sight, and it is a wellspring of mental and spiritual and bodily health just to relax into His long-range vision for my life and the lives of those around me.

    So – I believe where we find God’s people who are fully surrendered to God’s will, they will kick and scream a lot less when presented with a situation contrary to what their soul/body wants. But there will still be something of a struggle in some cases.

    Why?

    We mistake “perfection.” We think it is some static event whereby we will no longer suffer or struggle. But a conscious being, given a certain small amount of free will, must be free to choose to trust God, or trust something else. That means we must have situations set up in our lives that bring us alternatives, bringing struggle and discomfort and temptation. Jesus had to deal with it. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” “If there’s any other way, let this cup pass from Me.” “Jesus wept.” He had to sleep – that means He was tired. He had to eat and drink; that means He had hunger and thirst. Each contrary circumstance, each trial, each seeming lack, was to Jesus an opportunity to show off God’s provision, God’s strength, God’s love.

    Norman Grubb said that life is not in what happens to us – it’s in how we take it.

    There is a sense of oneness with Christ that is available to us. But we have to begin to recognize that we want it; we have to become soured on all the thousands of other ways we try to feel sufficient, able. I have found this oneness in certain areas of my life, and yet have struggled in other areas. As time goes on, more areas of my soul-life are conquered by Christ; more and more I hit a wall in that area as I continue to exert my own effort, my own seeing, and finally realize I’m bloody with trying to break through. I quit – I put my faith in God’s working in me, and then epiphany happens in that area.

    Ultimately every battle comes down to “Lord, I can’t. But You can. I am unable; You are able.” We see our total weakness and inability; we hit the wall for the last time, or close to it. But it is then and there we must leap from “I can’t” and “You can” to “You are doing it in me” and “I no longer live in this area, but Christ lives in me.” It is a total abjuration of human ability and effort, and a complete resting in the faith-full ness of Christ to live in me, through me, as if it were me living.

    Maturity, completion, yes. That’s possible in this life. It is possible to live above the daily grind of constantly besetting sins. Perfection, in the sense of never failing again, always making the right choices, no. But as time goes on, even the wrong choices matter less than seeing Jesus in me, in others, and in everything that happens in my life.

    I also think our relatively affluent society, with its instant gratification and quick fixes, can produce in us a sort of impatience about spiritual things. God, being eternal, really doesn’t give a rip if it takes fifty or seventy years to produce a godlike being that will choose to trust Him and love others come Hell or high water.

    I do know that the trying, striving, human-effort type holiness is a complete dead end. It seems right to a man, but it leads to death.

  4. kelli

    I read these 2 quotes today by George MacDonald. They seem to tie in well with the discussion here…

    “We are like to Him with whom there is no past or future, with whom a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, when we do our work in the great present, leaving both past and future to Him to whom they are ever present, and fearing nothing, because He is in our future as much as He is in our past, as much as, and far more than we can feel Him to be in our present. Partakers thus of the divine nature, resting in that perfect All-in-all in whom our nature is eternal too, we walk without fear, full of hope and courage and strength to do His will, waiting for the endless good which He is always giving as fast as He can get us able to take it in.”

    “More and more I see and feel that what the Father is thinking is my whole treasure and well being. To be one with him seems the only common sense, as well as the only peace. Let him do with you, my beloved son, as he wills. Be hearty with his will. Submission is not the right feeling when we say, ‘Thy will be done.’ This will is the only good…”

  5. Mark Timmons

    Reading this paragraph brought Joy unspeakable and full of glory to my formally discouraged soul:

    “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.”

    Thanks Ron.

  6. Daniel

    Thanks Ron, first for posting the article, and second for relating it to your own life and sharing that with us. How many times the Spirit has used the revelations of Taylor, Ian Thomas, and Andrew Murray to “pour light” into my own soul! Oh yet I strive to conjure up within myself the faith to believe, and in so doing remove myself from my rest in the true Vine. A needed reminder for today and nearly every other.

  7. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Thank you, Ron. What you wrote is so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to explain more.

    I think what caught me in the article was this statement:

    “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine.”

    There is such a finality in that. Like the struggle is over.

    I can identify with the continual process of needing to say, “I can’t, Lord. I need you comprehensively.” But what I don’t think I’ve ever seen embodied is a final completion of this plea, something so solid that it permanently overtakes a life with no stumblings.

    Most of the Christians I know… maybe all of them… still have to rehearse the truth of the gospel to themselves regularly. It’s like we are all speaking in a foreign language that is known but not native. We are certainly not anxious when we are centered on the truth — but sometimes our center wanders.

    So I’m wondering, have I been under-exposed to what mature faith really looks like lived out… or do faithful folks finally get to the point where the gospel is so second nature, our hearts are fixed permanently in peace.

    Does that make sense?

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I know older saints who are centered that way. But I don’t think anyone ever gets to a place where there is absolutely no negative or struggle – Paul did not give that indication. His was a militant faith, seeing cast-downness, perplexity, etc, but not in despair. He was a real man with real feelings, and thank God for his honesty.

    We look at our temptability as a liability. But it isn’t; it’s an asset. Our temptable natures are our response-ability; it is simply our ability to respond to people, circumstances, etc, and become engaged. Think of it; if we were always comfortable and sitting in easy chairs, it’d be hard to move out. Objects at rest tend to remain at rest.

    So I look at temptations as a sort of slingshot. They are useful when taken in the right spirit. I can be sucked back into the negative in a situation like the pullback on the slingshot, and have often found myself being released into the positive (through the Cross) just exactly when I’ll be speaking or playing somewhere, or seeing family I’ve not seen in awhile, or going to Hutchmoot, for instance. The bitter negative becomes the engine that makes Christ all the sweeter, my love deeper, and then my words have power. In that way temptation, when taken in the right spirit, can be a form of intercession – standing in the gap for others, laying our lives down so that others can find Christ. And of course it isn’t something we do – it is something that God allows the devil to do for His own perfect reasons.

    One of the most outstanding features of some older saints I know is their ability or predilection to praise in trials. “My son was taken to jail tonight. Praise God! Thank you Jesus! This is just what he needs. You are going to use him mightily in that jail.” (I have heard something akin to those very words).

    I see this Christ-in-you thread in many of the older books. A.B. Simpson, the spiritual ancestor of A.W. Tozer, was all about that. Simpson was like Paul, and Tozer was more like James in his writing. Tozer took the whole Christ-in-you underlay for granted, and spoke to behavior. Simpson, like Paul, was very often talking about Christ, who He is, what He has done on our behalf, how He lives in us. But people like Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, George Mueller, Rees Howells, C.T. Studd – these were people on the front lines, who knew that their life mission would fail without relying on Christ as the indwelling Power. C.S. Lewis also gives big hints to this sort of thought in Mere Christianity, esp at the end. And George MacDonald was all about Christ as the root and flower of a man.

  9. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    One more thought on the seeming finality of Hudson Taylor’s declaration:

    On the front lines it is likely easier to come to the end of oneself, to the “I can do nothing of myself.” Here in our individualistic, independent, do-it-yourself, life-is-short-play-hard America, we are surrounded by continual “evidence” to the contrary (even, alas, often filling the shelves of Christian bookstores). It is much harder to lay down our life when the entire world is screaming at us to try harder. We have a country that worships self-belief, self-confidence, self-esteem. To lay down our self-sins, including self-belief, is like aiming a shotgun at the culture, at the people around us. For them it’s almost like watching someone give up to lay down and die; they don’t realize we’re laying down to live (thank you, AP). People often do weird things to try to convince you otherwise.

    What most people want is for Christianity to be a way out of suffering (there are whole religions built on that premise). But really Christianity is way into suffering, at a very deep level, and so we go on through it; we lose our life in order to gain it. As we go on we see our suffering producing perseverance, then character, and hope. Our losing is really gaining – not just for our own selves, but for others. That hope in us explodes more and more upon the world around us and they begin to catch it.

  10. Goodgame

    Ron, thanks for this great post and all the following thoughts. This stuff is so timeless. It never goes bad. It reminds me of a conversation I had with The Proprietor the other day about honey, and how it never spoils.

    And hey BuckBuck, (classy handle, btw) – I love your analogy about a foreign language. I think that’s right on. Or maybe we’re like ex-pats raised in a foreign land. We were raised without the mother tongue, so we need to learn it like a foreigner.

    And I absolutely remember feeling just like you do the first time I was exposed to guys like Ron who are truly striving to put every second of life under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. (I thought, are there more people like this?). That means taking the Gospel totally seriously in it’s radically life-changing nature, and its just not the goal of most Christians.

    And even when Christ’s life is someone’s goal and they wear Him well, it may be hard to notice them, because they aren’t looking to be noticed. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve got your own blind spots and distractions that keep you from recognizing the Holy Spirit when he’s standing right in front of you.

  11. Nick and Susan

    I’ve read this through twice now and coupled with reading Major W. Ian Thomas’ book ‘The Indwelling Life of Christ’, it leaves me wondering how many Christians truly don’t ‘get it’? More than that, how long have I walked this Walk and not truly understood what it means to be a Christian?

    It seems the majoriy of people are either trying to (unknowingly I assume!) enslave others by encouraging them to ‘strive’ to ‘do’, or they are Christians who (like myself for so long) walk almost continually confused by what they read in the Bible and what they actually see in their life.

    Recently I read the following in Major’s book, ‘The flesh within you then (50 years from now) will be as wicked as the flesh within you today, and there is absolutely no salveagable content within in it’.

    But, it seems so many people are seeking to reform their flesh, to salvaege it and make it ‘Christ-like’ and encourage others to do the same, whilst being dismayed at their lack of progress.

    A while back, Ron, on *that* Halloween post you said the following, ‘I’ve got one rule: trust Christ within me. Everything else flows from that”. My husband and I (as we often do) talked and talked a few days ago about how simple and true that statement is and how it is such a far cry from what most Christians actually do. Yes, they proclaim, ‘It’s all Jesus, Amen,’ and then almost do an about turn and beat themself up in their effort to ‘try’ harder and then beat themself up some more for not measuring up.

    It is truly amazing how God has been orchestrating books/cds/sermons into a grand piece of music to get the message across, because the music is loud and clear in my heart and it is beautiful to listen to.

    I got saved nearly 20 years ago, but I’m feeling like a ‘child’ again.

    Susan

  12. Maggie

    Thank you for sharing this. It is an incredible encouragement to me and speaks to precisely what the Savior has gently but firmly been teaching me over the past few months / my whole life. It also reminds me of a small excerpt from Isaiah 30 (verse 15) that has become my verse for the year:

    “In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

  13. Joy C

    Thank you Ron. To talk and think on this level is a God-send. And may this site always nourish souls on this level.

  14. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    One more thought I had on this:

    To live and walk in our union with Christ is the last thing the enemy wants. He would rather have us bumble along believing that Jesus merely “paid our sin debt” and that we’ve got to try to be Christ-like by our own effort. The closer we get to walking in our real identity, the more opposition we get; as we go deeper, he gets trickier. As we pray, “Lord, I want a continual awareness of your indwelling presence and my union with you,” the enemy sets out to generate the opposite. What can be shaken must be shaken (the false self), so that which cannot be shaken (the real “I” in Christ) will remain. The opposition at times can be fierce, especially in our own minds as thought after thought is thrown at us. But God, of course, is way ahead of the enemy; “the devil is God’s devil” and is only in the end an errand boy who is used to drive us deeper. He is our resistance training. That’s where perseverance in faith comes in.

  15. Sam

    Wow! Thank you! There is so much here that is both wonderfully comforting and frustratingly mysterious. In particular, I feel that I am going in circles trying to grasp this line: “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” Does it not take faith to rest on the Faithful One? Far from disagreeing, I want to understand more – I do believe, help my unbelief.

  16. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sam,

    What many of these old saints are getting at is that Christ is the source of all Virtue. The eternal Son of God shares Himself with us so that we become partakers of the divine nature. Thus, His unconditional love becomes ours – not only so that we know we’re loved, but we use this same unconditional love to love others – even those who intentionally harm us. The source of patience? Christ’s perfect Patience in us, available to us at any time. And faith? “Even if we do not believe, He abideth faithful.” He is Faith in us. Paul says in Gal 2:20 that he lives “by the faith of Christ…” He doesn’t even operate by his own human faith.

    What has to happen is an internal crash whereby we completely abjure our own effort-based righteousness – including striving to have faith. I know in my own life that my only hope is to pray, “Lord, I want to be aware of your indwelling Presence on a 24/7 basis.” Otherwise the seen realm completely obscures my vision, and pretty soon I am reacting to situations like a flesh-person who has nothing but his own effort to “make his own way in life.” It is only such prayers, and the subsequent (often unpleasant) answers, that continue to drive me deeper.

    The New Covenant is a unilateral covenant. We get everything from Christ, and “of mine own self I can do nothing.” We have been given limitless resources; it is our job, our gift, our destiny, to unpack and utilize the powerful gift of Christ within us.

    So – how do we get this Christ-faith? I tend to think we have to wear out all other avenues first; as a friend puts it, “We have to play in every other yard before we finally come home inside ourselves.” We’ve got to go through all the trying and striving to have faith, the trying and striving to have virtue, to get to the place where we really, as C.S. Lewis once put it, “throw up the sponge” or as we would say, “throw in the towel.”

    I used to think of myself as a “faith person.” Meaning that I thought I trusted God in nearly everything. But I have come to see that I had trusted God back then in very few areas. Salvation (by which I meant, “I won’t go to Hell”). Finances. But I never trusted Christ within me as a Source. As I have learned to do that in various areas of my life, I have seen life change. But there are still areas to come; the Christian life is an unfolding, personal revelation of the total sufficiency and willingness of Jesus Christ to be “everything we need for life and godliness.” (That includes the need to trust – He is our Source for faith itself).

    I pray, “Work Your will, no matter what the cost.” I pray, “Cause me to walk in Your ways,” and “I want an awareness of Your presence 24/7.” The way God answers prayers is often (even usually) by shoving us into the opposite. When I pray for patience (oh stupid stupid move if I am in a hurry!), God consistently puts me in situations where I am impatient. He’s giving us opportunity to see, and so trust, His perfect patience within us. So when I pray for an awareness of His presence, what should happen but the opposite? When I pray for faith, what should happen but that my life be assailed by thoughts of unbelief, fear, and the consequent desire to control things by my own effort?

    So when I pray, “Work Your will in my life, no matter what the cost,” it means of necessity that He will plunge me into situations in which my will equals Hellish, inner struggle. Since He works all things, not some, after the counsel of His own will, the only sense of peace or freedom will then come from resting in His will, recognizing that Father knows best, even if I don’t like what is happening. When we pray, “Make me a light to draw others to Christ” we can be fairly certain that the response of God will be to have us walk in darkness for a time. How can we know how others feel if we’ve never felt it? How can I impart to others what I haven’t got? The greatest Light in human history was plunged into more darkness than we can ever imagine – for the redemption of the world. How, then, if we want to manifest that Light, can we escape our own Cross?

    None of this is pleasant to the soul/body. The soul/body (the flesh) wants to get pleasure and avoid suffering. That is how it is designed. But we are more than flesh – we are spirit, joined with Holy Spirit, and as such we are sons of God, partakers of the divine nature, brought into the very family of the Trinity. Our destiny is so much higher than “I get to go to Heaven because Jesus paid my sin-debt.” It is to be Christ-bearers – manifestations of the same Life that Jesus had. “If any man love me, my Father and I will come to him, and make our abode with him.” That’s the source of true Power, true Love, true Virtue, true Faith.

  17. Sam

    Thanks so much, Ron. This is going to be food for thought for quite a while. I love the part about “wearing out all other avenues…playing in every other yard” before coming home to Christ – the source of our Virtue.

    Your words caused me to rethink a passage that I’ve been meditating on – Hebrews 12:1-3. I’ve been focussing on the words “laying aside the sin” and missed the incredibly freeing words about looking to Christ who is the “founder and perfecter of our faith”.

  18. Eric (not EP)

    My aoplogy for not finding the exact quote in the track-by-track commentary on the new Ricky Skaggs record, “Mosaic” but there is an exchange that states we need to go from “wrestling with to resting in…” The devil wants us to occupy the battleground of our minds and wrestle with what is going on in our lives. I have found that I need more than daily renewal because my mind shifts from the goodness and the blessings of this life to the why me lord moments?

    Thanks for this spirtual food.

    Eric (not EP)

  19. Sondorik

    Hudson Taylor is one of my front line heroes. Thanks for sharing, Ron et al.! So many of your questions, battles, and aha! moments parallel my own.

    A recurring theme I’ve found in all of this is surrender. A surrender that is often reluctant, always raw, sometimes foolishly spiteful. But Christ’s severe mercy can still win out. “I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want, than to take what You give that I need.” I love how Rich Mullins captures this with desperate simplicity in Hold Me Jesus:

    Well, sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all
    When the mountains look so big
    And my faith just seems so small

    So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
    You have been King of my glory
    Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

    And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
    It’s so hot inside my soul
    I swear there must be blisters on my heart

    So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
    You have been King of my glory
    Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

    Surrender don’t come natural to me
    I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want
    Than to take what You give that I need
    And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
    Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

    And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
    And Your grace rings out so deep
    It makes my resistance seem so thin

    I’m singing hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
    You have been King of my glory
    Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

  20. Nick and Susan

    “Otherwise the seen realm completely obscures my vision, and pretty soon I am reacting to situations like a flesh-person who has nothing but his own effort to “make his own way in life.”

    I can really relate to that statement. I’m doing some Scripture memorization and 2 Cor. 4:18 was the a verse I thought I could do with remembering. I still marvel at how I can find myself not ‘believing’ it, for if I believed it, how different I would act in situations.

    I also particularly liked the last two paragraphs of C.S. Lewis’ writings of what Christian life starts out like. I’m reminded of that lovely line in Prince Caspian where Lucy remarks that Aslan has grown and he replies by saying the more she grows the bigger he will become (or something like that!), it certainly seems that way, but so many seem stuck at the starting line of ‘duty, rules and regulations’, and I find myself in a constant battle of trying to untangle myself from it too! Self effort is very ‘tricksy’, sneaking in and tying me up, little by little till I can hardly move.

    Really enjoyed this thread, very timely.

    Susan

  21. Nick and Susan

    I must also say, I’ve read so much good ‘stuff’ (RR posts included) recently that it can almost feel like there is a lot of ‘junk I’ve ‘unconciously’ collected over the years and written with ‘invisible ink’ if you will, on the pages of my Bible. The good ‘stuff’ is doing for me what Eph 5:26 says …and as it washes it is removing that ‘junk’ ink, and also at the same time, taking another layer off of a verse/chapter that I ‘thought’ I knew. Like Sam said, focusing on certain words but missing the ‘freeing ones’.

    “But I never trusted Christ within me as a Source.” Yes! It seems we have this outline of Jesus in front of our eyes and we try and draw over it using tracing paper to get our life to match, but we slip, or it smudges or our hands are too shaky, but like my husband, Nick, said, “There is no outline ‘outside’ of us, in front of our eyes that we need to trace around, the real thing is inside”

    Oh, dear I could talk about this forever! 😀

    Susan

  22. Loren

    So I haven’t had time to read through all the comments (which I hope to, because they’re as good as the post!), but as to the post, my heart cried, “Yes, yes, and YES!” It’s a truth I’ve been seeing more and more in the past few years, and one I pray I will fully learn to live out: resting in Him is the path to living fully for Him. It’s a beautiful antinomy.

  23. D'Anna

    “As we pray, “Lord, I want a continual awareness of your indwelling presence and my union with you,” the enemy sets out to generate the opposite.”

    Thank you, Brother, for this . . . I’m there and it is so encouraging to know it is Real and Normal! Thank you!

  24. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Ron,

    I finally got the chance today to really soak in what you have written here. I have to admit, I’m on the brink of tears.

    In particular, what you wrote in your last comment has stunned me completely. You talk about how God often answers prayers with what seems to be the inverse of our desires. That rhythm has played out so many times in my life, but until tonight, I have never recognized the Divine love in it.

    In fact, for several years I struggled with feeling abandoned by God, unloved, and unchosen. Spiritual friends of mine would boast about how God had blessed them with one pleasant opportunity after another to thrive and flourish. They would sort of giggle and speak about God almost like an extravagant lover at Valentine’s day, a sweetheart who granted their every whim. In contrast, I felt almost ashamed, because it seemed like I was being given one breaking after another. One death after another.

    I wasn’t ashamed because of the suffering so much as I was about what the suffering seemed to indicate. According to the “rules” my friends were using, it seemed God must not love me.

    I felt like I was being cast aside by Him because of the intensity of the pain, and because it kept resurfacing in different ways. The spiritual doubts that tormented my heart during that season were indescribable. I’m not sure I can find words for how frightened I was.

    Years later, I can see how that time forced me to know His love more intimately (though I’m still learning). But while it was happening, I thought I had been orphaned. Was it the opposite instead? Did He love me enough to let me be wounded?

    Such an interesting thought…

  25. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Rebecca,

    We mistake God’s blessings, often as wealth. Wealth can be a curse. Opportunities can be a curse. If something other than God is the source of my worth in a certain area – wealth, success, opportunities – then those things are actually bad for me in the long run.

    When we pray for God’s blessings, we want the pleasant stuff.

    Jesus, “for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross…” The blessing came through what looked like being cursed.

    Joseph was conspired against, thrown in a hole, sold as a slave, accused of attempted rape. The eventual blessing, years later, was that his entire family was saved from perishing in the famine.

    Moses was stripped of everything and spent forty years as a nobody in the desert.

    Childless Abraham had to go for decades with the name “Father of many.” How many times was he asked, “Where are your kids?”

    These hopeless situations are the very means by which God shows Himself powerful on our behalf. He shows us who we are – dependent, weak, helpless vessels – and then shows us who He is in us: Strength. Love. Joy. Peace, etc.

    I have said before to friends that if I am not right where God wants me, maturity-wise, then He isn’t doing a very good job. I have prayed, “Work Your will in my life” and “I want to know in the core of my being that You are always with me” and “Make me into the man You want me to be” and many other prayers of that sort – and I have meant them. These kinds of prayers are always in accordance with His will, and we can be certain He will answer. We just don’t often like how He answers. We think God is going to zap us and we aren’t going to feel unbelief, or fear, or impatience, or unforgiveness. But He doesn’t work that way.

    He puts us in situations that call out the opposite feeling. Pray for patience, get situations that make you impatient. Pray for love, and get shoved in the middle of opportunities where you have to choose to love. Pray to know God better, deeper, and you will likely come to feel like you haven’t known Him at all.

    What He is doing is forcing us to see what we have already been given. Patience? You already have it – Christ is perfect patience. Love? God is love. Where is God? In Christ. Where is Christ? In you.

    Knowing these things in the deeps frees us from pride, because we know we operate on Another’s life. It frees us from besetting sins, because we know Christ in us is the power of God unto salvation.

    But we’ve got to be shoved into the opposite to get there. In most cases. Personally, I hate that. I want different answers. I want to be zapped. But there would be little value that way. I wouldn’t see, to its fullest extent, my helplessness to live the Christian life. I wouldn’t see that apart from Christ I can do nothing. That lesson has to be firmly and finally implanted deep in our consciousness – and all resulting self-condemnation has to go as well. I have to recognize that I was never created to be like God; I was created to contain and manifest God through Christ by the Holy Spirit.

    Preaching to myself, really. God has been answering prayer in really weird ways lately, and it is decidedly less than enjoyable. But – He’s God, and Father, and knows best. Sometimes it is a struggle to believe it – but “even if we do not believe, He abides faithful.” So I bet all my chips on God’s ability to Father me.

    A good book is Intimacy with God by Jeanne Guyon if you haven’t read that one already. Also the Streams in the Desert devotional, and Springs in the Valley as well, both by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman.

  26. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Thank you, Ron.

    Man, I wish I’d heard this four years ago. I failed so miserably when I was in the depths of that pressure cooker. I compounded sin, upon sin, upon sin — all in a desperate attempt to avoid that core-deep fear that my difficulties meant God didn’t love me. If I could have seen my pain in the context of His love (discipleship) instead of as a sign of rejection, I think it might have made a big difference.

    Which version of _Streams in the Desert_ do you use? I saw a revised version online as well as an older one.

    P.S. I really wish you’d write a book so I could tote your reflections around everywhere. That’s not flattery. I really think God has gifted you uniquely. We need a Port-A-Ron.

  27. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Also thinking of babies, children, preteens, teens, 20s.

    When a baby cries, it has a need. It is communicating by the only means it has: “WAHHH!” So we see if she is wet or sleepy or hungry or afraid or has some other need. Then we meet it as immediately as possible.

    As children get older, needs are distinguished from wants. They learn to wait. They learn to not interrupt, to wait for dinner, etc. They also begin to learn to help, do chores, etc. Often the chores take longer when the children are helping (hence the temptation of many parents to let them play). But they are learning that life is not just about their own selves. They’re also learning that suffering (not having what we want, and having things happen that we don’t want) is a part of life.

    If the Dad has a family business, the children take part, especially as they get older. They learn the ropes of the business. They are entrusted with responsibility and work. Eventually they’re not working for Dad; they’re working with him.

    That’s God. He’s training us in the family business. He’s in the business of making dead things come to life. That’s God’s work, through us; we make dead things alive. We help Him turn Pinocchio into a real boy, and we do it by laying down our lives and picking them up again. We do it by dying to “What I want, what I think I need” and rising again in the life of “God, who works all things after the counsel of His own will.” We die and rise, die and rise, again and again. We’re hurt. We forgive with His forgiveness. We’re hurt, crushed; we love with His love.

    That’s what we’re in training for; that’s what we signed up for. It isn’t pleasant, but war is never pleasant, and we have an enemy who has declared war. The way of the Cross, laying down “my wants and my needs” and loving others with the resurrected life of Christ within us, is taking a rifle butt to the enemy’s front teeth. It hurts him, embarrasses and shames him, scares him, angers him.

    All this “dying” is really “light and momentary troubles” from the eternal perspective; it achieves “an eternal weight of glory.”

  28. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I like the original version of Streams. I’m rarely a fan of “Revised for the Modern Reader” things. But I’m sure the revised version of it still has a lot of the punch. The language in the original is just so poetic. I’m wondering when they’ll come out with the “Revised, Like, Sooo Tooootally for, Like, the Modern Reader and Stuff.”

  29. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Rebecca: Here’s a good bit from Jeanne Guyon. This has proven true in my own life. When we are turning fully to Christ within, sometimes others react.
    _________

    The greatest experience of the grace of God will produce in you a deeper knowledge of what you are. Such grace would not come from Him if it did not give you a clear view of your miserable state apart from God…Outward weakness appears in you, but your intention is pure within.You are now entering into a place of faith that will hide the sense of God’s presence that makes it so easy for you to do good. No longer will you easily be able to perform “good works” because God is requiring something else of you. To others it seems that you have fallen back to your old nature.

    So appears the evidence to the eyes of those who do not see as God does. Although you outwardly appear black, you beg your companions to see beyond that to what God is doing within you. Your outward faults, real or apparent, do not exist because you lack love and courage. Your flaws are seen because the divine Light has looked upon you with His burning face, and this has changed your color: He has taken away your natural way in order to have only what His fiery strength wants to give you. Here is violent love that dries up and tans the skin! Love has not left you, but grown more fierce.

    This blackness is progress, not failure…Outward beauty can blind others to your true state. You may even be greatly admired by others and still the Bridegroom’s glory not be fully revealed in you because others are too taken up with your outward appearance and acts…You may find that others will be angry with you for turning to find your Lord. Others may see your inner life causing you to neglect outer things. Do not forget to seek your Lord within. You need not be concerned with correcting your outer faults. The Bridegroom is well aware of your flaws and will heal them in His own wise way.

  30. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    No, that was from Song of Songs. Intimacy with Christ is taken from letters she wrote. Here’s one from that book:
    ___________

    Abandon Yourself

    The activity of the self-nature is the greatest obstacle to your spiritual progress. Refuse to allow anything to strengthen this old life.Watch out for applause; do not congratulate yourself when you have done well. Keep from thinking about any good that you may have done, so that pride does not grow and nourish an attitude of self-satisfaction.

    Retire to your spirit as much as possible. This is done not by your own effort, but by giving up your effort and letting go of everything that worries you. Be quiet, so that you may settle down deep within, just as you leave water to settle down when it has been stirred up.

    As you discover your faults and sins, make no effort in your own strength to overcome them. This is a waste of time! Rather, abandon yourself immediately to God. Only He is able to destroy in you all that displeases Him. I am absolutely positive that you, in your own strength, cannot correct the smallest fault you may have. Your only hope is abandonment to God. Remain still in His hands. If you ever saw how deeply corrupt you really were, all your courage to reform yourself would run away in terror! Because of this, God hides your completely fallen condition from you and only reveals your sins to you as He is ready to deal with them.

    Rest assured that God loves you. He will take care of you. Have faith in His great love and mercy. You will see more as He unfolds it before you. Take courage in Him and all will be well.

  31. Becca

    One thought. God doesn’t always answer in inverse though, right. Sometimes we are simply given bread or sight or wisdom…

  32. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Becca, yes, definitely. The one thing we can’t do is say that God only works one way; he will not be put into a box. Usually when I have tried to predict his course of action he has gone a different route.

    Think of the father-child analogy. As my children gets older they get more responsibilities, more work. More is expected of them. But I still come home from trips and give them a book, a bracelet, a whistle, etc. They still have plenty of time for play, for doing what they want. When they talk to me about things, I do my best to make them think for themselves, but I still give them wisdom.

    What God is getting at in our seemingly negative answers to prayer is that Christ is the wisdom of God, the love of God, the patience of God, the peace of God, the strength of God – and Christ is in us. How to get at that? By relying on him as already there, present, immanent – and also by relying on God as transcendent, outside of time, seeing the end from the beginning, working all things (not “some”) after the counsel of his own will. We don’t use this Power to gain success, health, wealth, like The Secret or other books. This Power uses us as we surrender to him. He’s the Captain, the Head of the Body.

    The question really is this: What is going to matter when all is said and done, when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and look into those eyes? What will we want to hear?

    Catching a vision of that is, I think, very important to prompt us to pray for God to make us into what he wants us to be, to work his will in our lives, to make us pliable and willing toward his will. That said, I still kick and scream, depending on the overestimated value I have put on the thing he is taking away for a time.

  33. Leanore

    Ron,

    I really can’t thank you enough for all you’ve written here. Your thoughts echo a lot of my own experiences in deep trials of recent years. It’s hard to see what they are producing, or what God’s particular purpose may be. I’m in the same age bracket, more or less, with you; I trust there’s a maturity and God-settledness that is being worked into and out through my life. But there is certainly not perfection of any sort. Those close to me could readily list more faults than virtues.

    It’s just good to follow the thoughtlines. It’s good to read of the challenges, and the ground that has been taken by others who are in the battle and stay in the battle. It’s good to have a long look through that lens. Honestly, I find it to be rare even among lifelong committed Christian believers. I hear a lot of “God is so good, He’s doing amazing things…” but it often sounds nebulous, ethereal, vague. We all want to know, is this battle worth it? Or is everybody else floating to glory on pink clouds? No, no, of course not. But it’s harder to tell the stories of trials and perseverance.

    BuckBuck (are you the Rebecca that Ron keeps addressing?), yes, I know exactly what you mean: to go through years of wounding and bruising and scorching in a crucible while most people around you are just enjoying Jesus. Yes, He is good to the ones He loves. And so they’re mystified about why God doesn’t answer their trusting heartfelt prayers to bring the trial to an end so you can just enjoy Jesus along with them. But your path is so different, they can only stay with you for so long…And you wonder (along with them) what corner of your soul still needs to be transformed. It’s the question of Job. You meet with God’s silence. If you know of AP’s album Love and Thunder, his song The Silence of God tells that story. It’s one of those songs I couldn’t bear to listen to because it was my story. But we dare not despise God’s chastening – which is not necessarily correlated with direct, willful, flagrant disobedience – or be faint and turn aside to worthless things. We have to pursue Him all the more because compared to all else, He is ALL there is.

    There are good insights from others as well, but I especially like what Randall said: “And even when Christ’s life is someone’s goal and they wear Him well, it may be hard to notice them, because they aren’t looking to be noticed.” So true, I think, of those who endure a lot of affliction, and especially of the oldest believers who have run the course and simply wish to finish well. They just seem “different,” maybe a lot quieter, than the rest. In our rush of busyness we may not notice, yet God always has his saints on display before the whole universe of unseen created beings. And for some, maybe that’s the larger part of the story.

  34. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Ron, is it OK if I hit you with one more question?

    It seems like everywhere I turn this past year, I’m hearing more and more about the power of the gospel to accomplish what the flesh cannot. (I just finished a great study on Galatians, rereading Milton Vincent’s _The Gospel Primer_, finding lots of good resources on the Rabbit Room, etc.) It is almost like the Lord is working to saturate my life with this theme.

    However there are also some verses like Genesis 4:7 that seem to call for a certain amount of self-will. Do you have any thoughts on the mechanics of that verse? Was this a pre-Christ call for Cain to recognize his need? Or did God really want him to master his sin?

    (I can send additional verses to explain my question, if that would be helpful. But in case there is a basic theological perspective that applies to all of these situations, I thought I’d start here.)

  35. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Becca,

    I always think in terms of “Context is king.”

    Abel was a shepherd, and Cain grew produce. But in Gen 4 the issue wasn’t that they offered the fruit of their respective jobs. Abel offered a blood sacrifice of the best of his flock, predating the Mosaic Law by quite a few years. But God had sacrificed animals to use their skins to cover Adam and Eve. That was a major point.

    So when Abel offered a sacrifice of faith, doing what God had told them to do (blood sacrifice), Cain came along and said, “Well, why have I got to give sheep? I grew all this stuff; isn’t that good enough for God?” Abel had a faith-attitude, and God respected that. Cain had a works-attitude, and God had (and has) no respect for that. Cain was angry because the works of his hands weren’t good enough for God.

    It is in this context that God says, “Look, why are you angry? Why the long face? If you give a sacrifice of faith (blood sacrifice), you’ll be accepted too. And if you don’t, sin is waiting for this opportunity. Sin desires you, but you must master it.” How was he to master it? How had Abel mastered it? By faith – the sacrifice that cleansed them and gave them gratefulness.

    Cain didn’t listen.

    So many verses like that have to do with our seeing. It is easy to find to-do lists all over the Bible. But in Christ all those to-do lists are nailed to the Cross. That was the Old Covenant. Do and be blessed, Fail and be cursed. The New Covenant says, The old you is dead in Christ. The new you is alive now, a slave of righteousness. You no longer live, but Christ lives in you. You were once darkness; now you are light in the Lord. Live, then, as children of light.”

    But we try to live by mixing the two. An independent “I” that is “helped” by God to be good, rather than a completely dependent vessel saying, “I can do nothing of myself” and “Christ in me does the works.”

    When it comes down to a verse like this, look at the context of where it is. Then switch your seeing. Ask yourself, “If we are saved from our sins (not just from the penalty, but from the sins themselves) by grace through faith, and I am now indwelt by Christ, how does that change this verse?”

    This may sound “tricksy.” But really that is what we are doing, except the reverse. We so often read the Bible with this mindset: “I am an independent self who has to be good with God’s help.” When the “do this” verses come up (Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it….wives submit to your husbands…etc) we think in the deeps, “What a heavy weight. I can’t do that.” And we’re right. We can’t. Not from that mindset.

    The Word is death to us if taken that way. It is discouragement and frustration. Read in the dependent vessel mindset, the grace mindset, the “Christ is all” consciousness, it is life and peace.

  36. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    One more thing:

    Cain killed Abel. Ishmael hated Isaac. Saul hated David. The Pharisees hated Jesus, and Paul.

    Those who are under works persecute those who are walking according to the Spirit – that is, those who aren’t afraid to let go of the independent-self mindset – because to believe in an independent-I is to hold to an illusion of control over one’s life. The Pharisees were afraid that Jesus was going to cause the Romans to come in and take away their traditions and their nation. They wanted to keep the status quo, because they liked the way things were. They were at the top.

    The religious spirit will always hate those who are free, and like the Queen of Underland it will work to keep its enchantment going through the thrum thrum thrum of “try, try, try,” “there is no power for daily living, except your own, and forgiveness,” and the sweet smelling incense of the approval of the group. Every once in awhile a Puddleglum comes along who is willing to stamp on the enchanting fire, burning his foot, and filling the room with the smell of burnt Marshwiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell.

  37. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Oh, and “You are most under the power of an enchantment when you don’t believe you are enchanted at all.” Those who are most under the power of religion don’t know it and think they believe in Grace. But the telling factor is what they run to when they are tempted. Jesus Christ, the ever-present Savior from sin, the indwelling Way of escape – or someone else?

    Grace is more than forgiveness.

    That we question these things shows we are not fully under the enchantment.

  38. Nick and Susan

    Rebecca, it seems like you and I are have been having a similar sort of year. Oh yes indeed, an absolute saturation of a theme, a spotlight on self, flesh, law and grace. It does my heart good to hear another voice speak the ‘rumblings’ of their heart, for they echo my own. I enjoy your honest questions (and don’t feel so bad about my own!)

    Interesting, Ron, that you mention Cain, as Nick and I were discussing that exact same story in light of self-effort just a few days ago, he’ll love reading this as it is a constant topic in our house of late. I love how all this ties together and smooths out the ruckles in my own heart.

    Susan

  39. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Thanks for the kinship, Susan. And it’s good to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

    Ron, thank you for the insights. I don’t think what you are suggesting is a “tricksy” manipulation of the text, especially if the gospel is truly what the whole Bible is actually teaching. This doesn’t seem like eisegesis, but instead a more expansive exegesis. I’m fascinated with the idea of rereading the Scriptures in light of your thoughts. I don’t know what I will see yet, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

    ‘Just yesterday a tired mommy friend of mine posted something on FB about being exasperated by Proverbs 31. She was so discouraged, feeling like that passage was impossible. ‘Think this applies there as well?

  40. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Becca: Yes, it applies. Also to “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for her.” Husbands, good luck on shoehorning that into your life via self-effort. If you do manage to seem like you come close, you’ll be insufferable. Wives, respect your husbands/submit to your husbands, etc. Same story. Self-effort there is a recipe for frustration and seething resentment. The whole thing ends up in a short-circuit: “He’s not loving me, so I won’t respect him.” “She’s not respecting me, so I will be harsh.”

    Any of those “commands” we can take one of the two ways – human effort, or reliance on Christ, stepping out in faith that the power and virtue to accomplish is already present within us; in us, but not from our human self. When we trust that way, we can love where we don’t feel respected. We can respect where we don’t feel loved.

    Saved from pride when we succeed; saved from self-condemnation when we fail.

  41. mike

    It just hit me that surrender is not something I do, its something I stop doing!,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, and all this time I’ve been TRYING to surrender.

  42. mike

    “Tozer took the whole Christ-in-you underlay for granted, and spoke to behavior. Simpson, like Paul, was very often talking about Christ, who He is, what He has done on our behalf, how He lives in us.”

    I told a friend last week that we hear to many “verb” sermons and not enough “noun” sermons.

    Too many about what we are supposed to do and not enough about who He is and who we are in Him.

  43. mike

    Paul Anderson Walsh says that we need to stop resting from work and start working out of the rest we have in Him. …….as He is so are we in this world.

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