The trouble with surrendering is that you have to come to the conclusion that it is the only option left. Seldom do people surrender to situations while there remains a conceivable way out. Inside us, hope of a better outcome, drives us on to think out possible scenarios in which the inevitable can be avoided.
What we have learned about this desire to keep on fighting is that often, it is only God whom we fight. If you purpose to do God’s will, it ultimately will mean that you will have to give up your own will. Sure, there are plenty of preachers out there selling a prosperity ideal in which they tell you that God wants you to have everything you want. Of course, they are lying. If God was to give us all we wanted – the things of the fleshy part of us, we would be further from His salvation than when we first believed.
It is in that moment, when you purpose to do only His will, and cast aside all selfish ambition or vain conceit, does God begin a work in you that will continue until your time here is ended. The big question, of course, is how does He achieve this? How does He bring about breaking the ‘me’ part of me so that His Holy Spirit can do the real work, which is to conform me to the likeness of His Son?
Well, I can’t speak for everyone (thankfully), but I can tell you how He has brought us to a place where surrendering to His will is the only option. You might be thinking that it sounds a little unfair of God to force us into surrender. It isn’t. It is completely the opposite of being unfair. It is, in fact, merciful. And, after all, in our prayers we have both sought Him and determined, with His help, to be true disciples. Imagine if you decided that you were going to run a marathon for a cause to which you owed your life. Would you enter into it believing that there wouldn’t be any pain or sacrifice? No. Why? Because that is accepted as being part of the process. The pain and sacrifice that running a marathon requires is offset by the outcome in the sense of achievement and your ability to give something back to a cause that saved your life. True discipleship is just like that, except that the pain and sacrifice are felt in the will, and the rewards are felt in the soul.
Our choice to be disciples of the Living God is reflected entirely in our response to His salvation. Both myself and Caz were in a bad way when we called out to Him. A Psalm 40 kind of place. Once we understood His salvation, our repentance, which was in direct response to His mercy, led to the desire to do things His way. Of course, the modern church believes it has a monopoly upon what God wants, and like many new believers, we got drawn into thinking that what God wants is what He is already doing in today’s Pentecostal and charismatic churches. I can tell you that what you see going on there, with some exceptions, is not what God wants from us. What He wants is for us to be in relationship with Him and not part of a Sunday entertainment club. When you truly commit to that relationship with your heart (not all of it as you might expect – it takes time to commit all of your heart to God), you have to choose to do what He says, not what everyone around you says you should do. We made many mistakes because of trying to copy other churches or listening to the advice of others. We simply should have listened to God to start with.
In order to help us surrender God will take us to places and into situations that leave us no choice. It is a real battle sometimes. Often, we have both cried out to God for relief from some very testing situations. We would demand for Him to act. We would bind this and loose that. We would shout and scream. It’s funny, but when you see the situations; the trials and tribulations as just a tool that God is using to show that surrendering to His will is the best way if you want to be a disciple, then life becomes a great deal more straight forward.
To explain (using God’s word) what I am talking about, should help you to understand something of how God works with us when we determine to do His will. We tend to have preconceived ideas of how God will deliver us from certain situations. That is just human nature. The pages of scripture, however, paint a very different picture when it comes to the people of Isra’el crying out for God’s help. You only have to look to the stories of Gideon or Joseph to see that God rarely works in the way we expect. He has to take us to a place in which we surrender before He can do the work for us, otherwise we just tend to get in His way.
I was looking back through my journals recently and the pages are littered which statements like ‘I know there is something wrong, but I just can’t put my finger on it‘. These comments started around two years ago, when we first purchased Cornerstone. They didn’t stop until fairly recently. The reason that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong was because I was spiritually blinded to the issues. I am convinced that God allowed this blindness to come and stay in place until I reached a place of surrender in which He could heal my sight to see. The trouble is, when you are doing a work for God and it isn’t going the way you envisaged it, the church, as a whole, has a tendency to label whatever friction you are experiencing as ‘opposition‘. They tend to try to get all up in Satan’s face about it. Trust me, what was going on with us had nothing to do with Satan. The reality about Satan is that he can only be in one place at a time, and I’m pretty certain for the past couple of years he has been in Damascus and the surrounding area. The sooner the church realise that almost every time, the problem we are experiencing is related to us, the sooner they will be able to move truly in the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit. God uses situations to show us what is wrong. If we see those situations as anything other than opportunities in which to learn how to be more Christ-like, then we are just wandering around in a wilderness of our own making. The problem will keep returning, periodically, until we turn to face God and He shows us His way of dealing with it.
We, the church, are very privileged. God chose the Hebrews to reveal Himself to. He gave them His word, the scriptures, to look after. The scriptures contain everything we need to know about God and how He deals with people. Of course, we must understand that what was very real experiences for the nation of Isra’el, are, for us, to be used for spiritual purposes. When we read an account of some king of Judah, which for him was a very real and literal account, for us we learn spiritual lessons from it. This is one way in which God speaks today – through the pages of scripture. Our job is to apply what we are reading to ourselves in a spiritual way.
For us, it has taken two years to understand what God was trying to teach us through scripture. As I write this, I feel a little foolish in confessing that I failed to see what is so glaringly obvious now. There is a good reason why we didn’t see what He was trying to show us. To put it simply, we didn’t want to. We wanted to do everything our way and never His.
It all started with chapter nine of the book of Joshua. God gave me this scripture on several occasions and in several different ways. In fact, it was very like a scene from the film Evan Almighty when the main character, Evan, keeps seeing references to Genesis 6:14. Now, I am not belittling God by comparing the two; I am using hindsight to show you something of how God spoke to me.
Joshua chapter nine gives us the account of the Gibeonite people tricking their way into a pact with Joshua and the Israelites. I will let you read it for yourself rather than doing an in-depth explanation here. The basic issue that God had with the whole situation was that Joshua entered into an agreement with a third party without first seeking God. It may be that had Joshua first sought God, that it would have been fine to do so. But the issue is his failure to consult God. Joshua, like the two of us, presupposed to know the will of God without consulting Him first. Let me tell you right now, that this is a very dangerous thing to do. It leads to all kinds of trouble, as you will see.
Because we had ignored His warnings to us and ploughed on ahead with Cornerstone, making agreements with builders and electricians and energy suppliers and, well just about any one we could, all in the name of God, but without any real and meaningful consultation, God let us get on with it. Pretty soon the money ran out, the gas was cut off and the builder decided to sue us. The site is currently closed. As regular readers will know, we ploughed on for some time, believing it to be opposition. I can tell you with some confidence, if it is opposition you are facing in your life, the blessing of God always trumps it. If you are doing God’s work, in His way, then expect the wheels to be nicely greased, even when there is opposition. What we had was the spiritual equivalent of an Old Testament drought or famine or siege. It may be that God allowed opposition to be His agents in this. Certainly the opening chapters of the book of Job suggest that this is the case. Whatever it was, at every turn, our path was blocked; the money dried up; people stopped coming to whatever we were doing at Cornerstone. It was like flogging the proverbial dead horse.
By last Christmas, after constant self-examination God showed us that we had done something fundamentally wrong. He didn’t show us what, just that we had not been obedient to Him in the way we did certain things. As soon as we realised, we shut Cornerstone. He gave us a word which basically said ‘wait, and be patient‘. I can tell you, those words are hard. If you think that things with God take a long time when you are doing it His way, then you won’t believe what a message like that does to you when you realise that you haven’t been doing it His way. And so, we waited. You learn when waiting that doing it patiently is the most difficult part. You will find that there is a temptation to try and do things that you think might swing God into action. These things are all just manipulations. If God says wait, then wait, and do it patiently.
Since the new year I have purposed to seek God; to go back over what we did looking for clues to specific issues that we needed to repent of. Here’s something I learned along the way: God will only reveal what you need to repent of when you are in a place to see the error in what you did. He took me on a journey through scripture showing me many wonderful things, some of which I have written about on this blog. All the while He was drawing me to the point of surrender. When it came, it was as if nothing mattered any longer. I finally had to admit defeat and acknowledge before God (and others too) that we had got it wrong, even though at that stage we had no idea of what exactly had been the problem. Then, with some more waiting, a surrendered me patiently waited. I knew He would show me. Don’t ask me how, I just knew He would.
I had been re-reading George Muller’s autobiography and had been struck with several points that I had failed to see the first time I had read it. The first one was the humility he showed before God. He absolutely knew that God would provide, even when all the evidence in front of him said He wasn’t going to. That might not sound like humility, but it is. When you only look to God to provide, you acknowledge that no one else can do what you need to happen. It was the same humility which I saw in Elijah as mentioned in Part One of this little series. The second thing I noticed was that George always waited for God to answer him. He never set time limits upon God or constraints to how God would answer him, particularly if he was asking God for guidance on how he should do a particular thing. He simply prayed and waited for God to answer in both the time frame of His choosing and of the method of His doing so.
By this time I felt surrendered enough to be patient, despite time trundling along every day. I sought God in a new way – with humility and not demands, and I waited. As it goes, I didn’t have to wait very long for the first part of the answer. The question I had asked God was to show me if there was anything which we had done or said or failed to do which was preventing Him from answering our prayers for provision. We had had from God early on a very clear word that He would provide for all of our needs, but the provision had stopped completely. The answer came in my Bible reading for that day. I don’t follow a reading plan – I am just working my way through the Bible cover to cover. When I get to the end, I will just start again. I was about to read Judges chapter three and I suddenly sensed that God would answer me there. As I read the first few verses it hit me. Here’s the verses in question:
“Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Isra’el by them…”
“And they were left, that He might test Isra’el by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” [Judges 3:1a & 4 NKJV]
For those of you not familiar with the history of the nation of Isra’el and the book of Judges, I will explain what this text is all about. Isra’el, under the leadership of Joshua, had crossed the river Jordan into the land that God had promised to them as their inheritance. They fought many battles, all with a very clear instructions that they were to drive out of the land all of the nations which they encountered. Of course, men being men, thought they knew best, and didn’t drive all of them out of the land. This verses show us that God decided to use these nations which they failed to drive out, as tools by which to test the resolve of Isra’el and their obedience to God.
As I read the words, I sensed the Holy Spirit making them speak to me. On the wall of my office there is a sheet of wallpaper pinned up. On the wallpaper are the names of all the people we owe money to. Most of these are from our past – friends and family from whom we have borrowed; credit card debts etc. But some are money that is owed by Cornerstone to utilities companies etc. Then I suddenly saw it.
I mentioned earlier that scripture, for the church, has a spiritual connotation in many cases rather than the literal one in which it was written. God was telling me that we had failed to drive out from the promised land the things by which He was now testing us with, namely our creditors. The truth is, when we first moved here, we had the money in the bank to clear all of our historical debts and failed to do so. And, because of that, God allowed those things to test us. And still is.
So, that gave me a place to start. God is merciful and forgives us when we repent. We started going through it and repenting of the debts which we had brought with us into our own ‘promised land’, which we had failed to clear up completely when we had the money to do so. We were still heavily using drugs when we first moved here. I am not saying this to make excuses – we knew we should pay them off, I am telling you this so you don’t think we were just not listening to God. At that time we weren’t even on speaking terms with Him. This meant that some of the opposition that we had been facing was entirely as a consequence of our own selfish behaviour. God just used the situation to test us.
But, what I also saw on that list was that since we had been on speaking terms with God, we had borrowed more money and entered into credit agreements with utilities companies, not to mention employing various tradesmen, all without God’s approval. This is what He had been trying to warn us not to do when showing us the lessons to be found in Joshua chapter nine! How sweet revelation is when it hits you, even if it shows you what a fool you have been.
Slowly, one by one, I went through all of what we had entered into and started to repent of forming these ‘alliances‘ without consulting God. It may be that some of them might have been His choice, but the sin was not consulting Him first. When I was sure that I had covered every foolish agreement that we had entered into, I started to seek God again, just to make sure. If you are going to be able to surrender to God, completely and utterly, and let Him show you His way, then you have to spend a great deal of time going through these kind of things.
I felt as if that was everything but I knew that there was something that still wasn’t quite right. I have been taught somewhere along the way that God will act the moment you repent, so I was kind of expecting the floodgates to open. But they didn’t. So, I went back to God and asked Him what we were missing. I had to wait for a little while for the answer. You know when God answers one of your questions, especially if He answers you through a section of scripture, because there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever. Whatever you read that brings an answer for you is totally straight forward and completely compelling. It seems to resonate within your spirit. You just know in your knower.
My reading for this particular day was the second book of Samuel and chapter 21. The chapter in many Bibles is entitled ‘David Avenges the Gibeonites‘. Naturally, because God had already spoken to me about the Gibeonites I felt my senses enliven. Here’s what the first verse says:
“Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.” ” [2nd Samuel 21:1 NKJV]
As I read the verse my whole mind seemed to be alive with connections to other scriptures. To paraphrase the verse, we understand that the famine which had lasted for three years before David thought about asking God what the problem was, was because Saul had killed the people whom Joshua had formed a pact with to protect, despite not being approved by God. I saw, very suddenly, that what we had been experiencing for the past two years, this drought or famine, was directly because we hadn’t done what we should have done. We hadn’t consulted God.
For Isra’el, Joshua’s pact with the Gibeonites was binding and, at times, proved to be tiresome to them. Even Joshua had to fight a battle on their behalf because of his alliance with them (Joshua 10). When Saul decided to start killing them, it caused a famine to come upon the land that David had to put right. Thankfully, the putting right that we had to do didn’t involve the same kind of vengeance as David had to perform. Ours was a spiritual righting.
Now, I mentioned that when reading that verse I saw the connections to others scriptures. Two in particular were Solomon’s dedication of the temple, which you can find in 1st Kings 8 and 2nd Chronicles 6, that both make mention of what the Hebrews should do in the event of droughts and famines, amongst other things. Here’s the text that came to mind:
“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, when they pray towards this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Isra’el, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance.
When there is famine in the land, pestilence or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers; when their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague or whatever sickness there is: whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Isra’el, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands towards this temple:
Then hear in heaven in Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men).” [1st Kings 8:35-39 NKJV]
What is clear from these verses alone, is that when we have the spiritual equivalent of what Solomon calls famine or drought, there must be a corresponding spiritual reason. For the Hebrews, it was clear – their sins caused these famines, droughts, attacks, and besiegement. Of course, the temple is no longer there in Jerusalem; it is here in the heart of each of us, where God now dwells with His Holy Spirit. Which means that when we find that our lives are blighted with spiritual drought or famines, we need to come before God with humility so that He may show us what the real problem is (we will often see the symptom, such as drought, as the problem, but it rarely is the real problem). And when, in His rich mercy, He shows us the plague in our own heart, we know that we can repent and ask for Him to act on our behalf.
Take it from me, if your prayers are not being answered, if the project God has assigned to you is stuck, then take a step back and seek God. If there is something that needs repenting, He will show you, providing you approach Him with humility. It took David three years to ask God why there was a famine in the land. It took us two years to ask Him why the money had dried up. I can tell you that He does answer when we ask with humility. It takes time. When we are ready to face the truth, when we surrender, He will show us.
In Part Three of this mini-series, I will continue with what happened next.