In Spite of Ourselves
The Essence of True Christianity
“Lord, help yourself to us in spite of ourselves.”
One of the most sincere and refreshing prayers I have ever heard rolled sweetly off the tongue of a seasoned saint in Alabama like molasses off a just-out-of-the-oven southern buttermilk biscuit. With childlike humility and an intimacy with God that angels adore and demons dread, he prayed, "Lord, help yourself to us in spite of ourselves." There was no hint of pious pretense or self-righteous religiosity there, just the raw acknowledgment of our sin and God’s grace.
Finding a hot and holy passion for Jesus in the western church today is like looking for a needle in a haystack. We can be fundamental, evangelical, culturally relevant, seeker friendly, technologically slick, environmentally conscious, holistically inclusive, politically correct, and internationally known, but without passion for Jesus we are busily building little more than a rickety house of religious matchsticks. On the last day Jesus will not applaud and reward our prestige, popularity, programs, position, preaching or plethora of religious presumptions. He will find gold only in passion for Himself which, ironically, is a gift given by Him to those who hunger for it (John 3:27; Matthew 5:6).
The greatest need in the Church of Jesus Christ today is not bigger bucks, beefed up membership rolls, polished preachers, slicker strategies, political clout, crystal cathedrals, or more of anything else that Christians can make, manage, manipulate, or muster up. Like tools hanging on a carpenter’s belt, they have their purpose. But, they are not paramount needs in the church today. The greatest need in the church today is for Christians to grasp the supernatural, life-changing reality of Christ in them and His passion to manifest Himself through them in the person and power of the Holy Spirit. That is the greatest need in the Church today.
Christians desperately need to understand who they are in Christ, who Christ is in them and what it means to live an abundant life of unquenchable joy in spite of trouble and pain, power through weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and blessing in a broken world. Then, and only then, will this hardened, humanistic, and cynically skeptical world recognize the reality of God in Christians and Christians genuinely experience the awesome reality of this God who spoke into existence all that is, and yet who also tenderly invites us to call Him “daddy” (Romans 8:15). Some Christians refer to this as the "deeper life". A.W. Tozer, not known for mincing words, aptly said, "What some people refer to as the deeper life is actually normal Christianity. It is only called the deeper life because normal Christianity is so tragically shallow that anything normal looks deep." No matter what label we plaster on it—the deeper life, the life of faith, the exchanged life, the victorious Christian life, the practice of the presence of God, or whatever—it all boils down to the same thing. The normal Christian life, true Christianity, the Real Deal is Jesus Christ living inside the body of and through the life of the Christian moment-by-moment. It is Christ in the Christian doing only what Christ can do and living a life that only Christ can live both in and through the believer. That is biblical Christianity.
Oswald Chambers, the author of the classic devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, was once so frustrated in his Christian life that the bolted up from his seat in a prayer meeting and boldly exclaimed, "Either I've got hold of the wrong end of the stick or Christianity is a fraud." Blessed honesty! God only knows the number of Christians hiding behind masks of pseudo-spirituality who would echo Oswald Chamber's cry if they were not so scared to admit it to others as well as to themselves. Too many Christians are closet agnostics who are worn down, fed up, tired out and ready to cash in what amounts to a little more than pennies of faith. Instead of drawing from the riches of God's grace, they barely survive on spiritual loose change they might stumble on now and then. The painful dichotomy between their understanding of what they should be as Christians and their practical daily spiritual experience is as wide as the east is from the west. Their spiritual gas tank is empty, and they are exhausted from pushing the ride they thought would carry them to Heaven. Like Oswald Chambers, many Christians secretly fear that Christianity is a fraud because their lives are so spiritually bankrupt. How, then, is true Christianity to be lived today, if in fact it is possible? Have many Christians "got hold of the wrong end of the stick" and, if so, how does one get hold of the right end of it?
Although truth cannot be bottled in three easy steps, following are some points that may prove helpful in understanding and fleshing out true Christianity.
1) Relinquish all to Jesus by faith - The Abandoned Life
2) Receive all from Jesus by faith - The Abiding Life
3) Rejoice in all through Jesus by faith - The Abundant Life
RELINQUISH ALL TO JESUS BY FAITH - The Abandoned Life
Madame Jean Guyon wrote a little book in France in 1685 entitled, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. In this book she says:
"Abandonment is the key to the inward spiritual life. You must utterly believe that the circumstancesof your whole life, that is, every minute of your life, as well as the whole course of your life—anything, yes, everything that happens—have all come to you by his will and by his permission. Such an outlook towards your circumstances and such a look of faith towards your Lord will make you content with everything. Once you believe this, you will then begin to take everything that comes into your life as being from the hand of God, not from the hand of man. Abandonment is casting off all your cares. Become abandoned by simply resigning yourself to what the Lord wants, in all things, no matter what they are, where they come from, or how they affect your life. Always receive from him with a thankful heart, no matter what it is he chooses to bestow. The Christian who has learned to be abandoned to Jesus Christ and who walks in a life of abandonment to him, practices godliness in the highest degree. The Lord is very jealous over any saint who is utterly abandoned to him."
A little 17th Century monk, known simply as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, wrote in The Practice of the Presence of God, "We must trust God once for all and abandon ourselves to him alone. Abandonment to God is the sure way to experience peace in this life." Brother Lawrence went on to say that if he were a preacher, he would preach nothing else but the practice of the presence of God and the need for Christians to abandon themselves totally to God moment-by-moment.
Madam Guyon and Brother Lawrence simply echoed the scriptures. First Peter 5:7 says "Cast (abandon) all your cares upon him because he cares for you." Jesus both cares for (about) us and cares for (instead of) us. One of the ways He displays His care about us is to take our cares upon Himself and bear our burdens for us. He can only do that as we abandon those cares upon Him. Abandonment simply means relinquishing (surrendering, giving up) ALL to Jesus by faith. It is saying, "Here I am, God. I give you all that I have as well as all that I am. I give you everything—past, present and future."
Abandonment to God means that we give Him our dreams, our disappointments, our faith and our fears. We relinquish to Him our victories and our defeats, our relationships and our reputation, our friends and our family, our life and our death. Everything, even down to the TV, the dog, and the pickles in the refrigerator. Abandoning and relinquishing everything to God means we say to Him, "Here it is, Lord, it is all yours—the good, the bad, and the ugly.” An abandoned heart says to God, "If you want me to live, fine. If you want me to die, fine. All that I have, all that I am, all that I ever will or will not be, I give to you. I abandon it to you. I relinquish all the rights of my life to you. I and all I have are yours to do with as you choose. I lay my life as a living sacrifice on your altar."
One significant problem with living sacrifices, however, is that they keep crawling off the altar. Saying that we abandon all to God is one thing, but actually fleshing that out moment-by-moment is a whole different kettle of fish. Walking the walk is indescribably tougher than talking the talk. Real life gets terribly confusing and gut-wrenchingly painful at times. So how, then, do we live an abandoned life relinquishing everything to God in the midst of all that life throws at us?
We live it 1) moment-by-moment and 2) by faith. Life must be lived moment-by-moment. There is no other way to live life. We cannot live tomorrow today or 12 noon at 11:55 a.m. Worrying about tomorrow does absolutely no good and it will not change a thing except our own anxiety level. We can only live each moment as it comes, one breath at a time.
The Christian life can only be lived moment-by-moment as well. The Bible teaches Christians to live moment-by-moment by faith. God calls Christians to believe, moment-by-moment, breath-by-breath; that He, who never leaves us or forsakes us, will provide all that we need for each successive moment in our lives. His job is to provide. Our job is to trust. True Christianity, then, is lived by trusting God moment-by-moment for all that we need in life, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. There is no other way to live the Christian life. We, moment-by-moment, second-by-second, by an act of our will, confess our abandonment of all things to God and then trust Him to supply all of our needs in each consecutive moment in time. In essence, we keep crawling back onto the altar each time we realize that we have crawled off.
RECEIVE ALL FROM JESUS BY FAITH - The Abiding Life
As well as abandoning and relinquishing our lives to Jesus, we must also receive everything that comes to us as coming through Him. How did we receive Jesus as our Savior? By accepting him as an act of our faith. How are we now supposed to live? We live just as we received him, by faith. Colossians 2:6 says, "Just as your received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him." We accepted Jesus through a conscious decision by faith. The Bible teaches that, once we become Christians, we are to continue living moment-by-moment by faith. Just as we received Jesus by a decision and an act of faith, we are now to live trusting Jesus to provide and care for us moment-by-moment. And just as we relinquish all to Jesus by faith, we are also to receive all from Jesus by faith.
Whereas the abandoned life is a process of moment-by-moment abandonment by faith, of all things in our lives—past, present, and future—to God ("casting all our cares upon Him because He cares for you" –1 Peter 5:7), the abiding life includes receiving all things from God as they come moment-by-moment. The abiding life is practicing the presence of God. It is exchanging our burdens for His rest. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come unto me all you that are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
The obedient Christian life is receiving all things that come into our lives as first having passed through Christ before they reach us. Simply put, abiding in Christ, or practicing the presence of God, is acknowledging moment-by-moment that we are aware of His presence in us and living accordingly. Practicing the presence of God is acknowledging the constant presence of our unseen guest, Jesus, who not only walks with us, but also lives in us and through us in the person of the Holy Spirit. And unlike a spouse or best friend who cheers us on, the Holy Spirit actually empowers us according to our faith. Acts 1:8 says, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The abiding life is knowing our position in Christ (we are hidden in Him—Colossians 3:1-4), knowing our identity in Christ (we are a part of His body—John 15:5, II Corinthians 6:16), and then moment-by-moment trusting the Holy Spirit who lives in us to do His work both in and through us. Philippians 2:13 says "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure." Jesus also says in John 14:10, "It is the Father living in me who is doing his work."
When the believer realizes that the Holy Spirit God, the third person of the Trinity, actually and personally dwells within his or her body, that truth can revolutionize his or her life. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters during the creation of the world, the same Spirit who fell upon Samson and King David, who worked within Peter and Paul, and who descended on Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River, this very same Holy Spirit now literally lives inside each believer. If you are a Christian, this same Holy Spirit LIVES INSIDE YOU!!
What difference should it make in our lives that God the Holy Spirit dwells in us when we are awake and when we are asleep, when we walk and when we drive, when we work and when we play. He is the invisible guest who is not only with the Christian but also IN the Christian. Just as surely as I have a liver and lungs inside my body, I also have the Holy Spirit inside my body. And not only does the Holy Spirit live inside my body, Jesus said that the Church, the worldwide body of believers, is also His body and we as individual Christians are members of His body. Hannah Whitehall Smith was once speaking on this subject of the believer's identity with Christ when someone came up to her after the meeting and said, "I just hope that Jesus does not let you slip through His fingers." She responded, "But oh, dear sir, I am one of his fingers." Mrs. Smith understood her identity and position in Christ.
How unnecessary and futile it is to pray, "Dear Jesus, please be with us today." Or, "Dear God, please go with us as we travel." Or to begin our services with, "Lord we invite you into our presence today." No, no, no, no, no! That is such stinking thinking. Christians never have to ask Jesus to be with them or go with them as they travel or to come and be a part of their worship service. He has already said, "I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5) and "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). To ask Him, therefore, to be with us or go with us reflects our inadequate understanding of our identity with and in Christ. We do not have to invite someone who never left! And although the "Jesus be with us" praying is no cause for burning at the stake, it does smack of poor theology and just plain wrong thinking which can lead to a serious case of hardening of the attitudes. Instead of endlessly begging Jesus to be with us, bless us, and help us, we should moment-by-moment praise Him because He never leaves us and has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3-23).
A.W. Tozer said,
"In our private prayers and in our public services we are forever asking God to do things that He either has already done or cannot do because of our unbelief. We plead for Him to speak when he has already spoken and is at that very minute speaking. We ask him to come when he is already present and waiting for us to recognize him. We beg the Holy Spirit to fill us while all the time we are preventing him by our doubting."
Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit, lives inside the body of believers, both corporately and individually. So, what then should that mean to Christians when the drains are clogged, work is a hassle, the car will not start, or we are treated unjustly? In spite of what the silver-tongued health and wealth teachers are hawking, some sincere Christians do suffer and struggle. Devout Christians face depression, heartaches, indiscernible suffering, and deep valleys as well as mountain top joys and victories. Anyone who says differently is either deceived, lying or both. Jesus never said that he would deliver us from all trouble, but He did say He would be with us through it all and give us the grace to bear it all. Again, life is lived moment-by-moment. There is no other way to live life. True Christianity, as well, can only be lived moment-by-moment.
The Bible says that the righteous will live by faith (Galatians 3:11). We can live this next moment in our lives in our own strength or we can live it acknowledging that Jesus is with us and in us. And then, by faith, we can trust him to carry us through that moment and give us the strength, wisdom, and grace to live that moment and the next and the next in obedience, peace, and joy. This type of moment-by-moment trusting in Him also allows us to lay our cares, anxieties and stresses on Him, because "He cares for me."
REJOICE IN ALL THROUGH JESUS - The Abundant Life
I love to listen to old saints tell their stories and to pan for gold in their rivers of life. Years ago, when I was pastoring, an old visiting preacher and I were talking in my study as we waited for the next service to start. Digging for nuggets in his experiences, I asked, "Brother, in your fruitful life serving the Lord and ministering to His people, is there anything you have learned above all else that might help me?" Without batting an eye, that old saint replied, "Yes there is. I have gone through some very difficult times in my life. In fact, there have been many times when I did not know what to do, how to pray, and I even felt like the heavens were silent. But I learned during those times a little secret." With that, this dear old saint looked me straight in the eye and declared with a conviction rooted in the depths of his soul, "During those dark times when I could not even pray, I learned the secret of praise. I learned how to praise my way through what I couldn’t pray my way through. And if you can learn the secret of praise, it will revolutionize your life."
I do not remember a single word this man preached from the pulpit that week, but his words to me in my study were branded on my heart. "If you can learn the secret of praise, it will revolutionize your life." Praise is one of the most powerful weapons in the Christian's spiritual arsenal (II Chronicles 20:1-30). It is, in fact, the language of Heaven (Revelation 4:8). One cannot genuinely praise and worship God and be miserable and defeated at the same time. Rejoicing in the Lord does several things. First, it takes our minds off ourselves and focuses it on Jesus. Rejoicing in Jesus and worshipping Him sets our priorities straight. Praising God also changes our attitudes. Praise can transport us from sad to glad, from worry to worship, and from fear to faith.
In all of my life experiences I have never, ever been happier, more fulfilled, freer, or full of joy than when I am genuinely praising and worshipping God. Nothing else even comes close. Too many Christians look like they feed on a steady diet of lemons. Granted, life on planet earth is no picnic and becoming a Christian does not move us to Easy Street. Sometimes, in fact, becoming a Christian can actually make life harder in various ways.
I recently heard a well-meaning pastor tell his congregation that God would keep them all safe if they lived a life of complete obedience. Jesus on the cross blows that theory. What God will do, however, is give His children the needed grace to securely face life in a terribly insecure and sin-drunk world.
Is it possible to rejoice in all things? The more accurate question may be—will we rejoice in all things? The Bible does not teach that Christians are to rejoice BECAUSE of all things, but IN all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). There is quite a difference between the two. Brock, a dear friend of mine, heard these bone chilling words not long ago, "The tests confirm that you have cancer." He was a faithful Christian with a deep love for God and a heart for evangelism. He had a wonderful marriage, two lovely children, a fruitful ministry and so much of life before him. And then came that crashing blow that hit him blindside—cancer. Not a skin cancer or cancer that could be easily be cut out, but terminal cancer. Dying cancer.
Christians can warm their hearts by the glowing fire of super sermons, wise words and fantastic fellowship, and rightly so, but when the Titanic slams into the iceberg, camp fire songs will not steady the ship. Staring death square in the eye has a unique way of revealing where one's life is actually anchored. When death's icy finger taps us on the shoulder, is it realistic to think that we can really relinquish all to Jesus? Health, family, ministry, future? Even life? Is it rational to think we can peacefully receive all things as coming through the hands of Jesus? Pain, wasted body, violent vomiting, tubes? Even death with cancer? And can we rejoice in all through Jesus? Worship, praise, glorify Him? With cancer? Is not this just too much to ask? Or is it?
In his battle with cancer, Brock clung firmly to his faith in Jesus and God's love and care for him and his family. Brock did relinquish all to Jesus. Not in some theoretical way, but as a dignified ambassador preparing to leave behind and return home from his temporary assignment in a foreign land. He abandoned all his hopes, future, ministry, family and friends into the hands of his Lord. Actually, he had already relinquished them over to Christ. So, when he found out he had cancer he merely continued that commitment. Brock also received his cancer without a trace of anger towards God. One day I asked, "Brock, are you angry at God for allowing you to have cancer?" He seemed surprised that I would even ask such a question. Angry at God? Brock reminded me of all the wonderful things God had done for him and affirmed his rock solid assurance that his Heavenly Father was sovereignly in charge of his life. He was convinced that God would not allow anything to happen to him that was not in His will. Although he prayed for healing, Brock received and accepted his abbreviated life as the will of God.
Until he saw Jesus face-to-face, Brock lived his life moment-by-moment, abiding by faith in the goodness of God in his life. Also, to his last conscious breath, Brock rejoiced in and worshipped God. Every time I visited him, he wanted me to read Psalm 23 to him. Even when he could barely raise his head from the pillow he asked me to read Psalm 23.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
I sometimes thought as I read, "This dear man is dying. What do you mean he shall not want?"
"He makes me lie down in green pastures."
And I would grumble, "Green pastures? He's wasting away in a death bed."
Had it been me, I think I would have asked the reader to turn back a page to Psalm 22 where the psalmist cries, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But not Brock. He steadfastly worshipped God day and night through it all.
During one of Brock's last days on earth I visited him, read Psalm 23 and prayed. As I sat by his bed, he was drifting in and out of consciousness when I heard him whisper something. I could not understand him, so I knelt over him closely and listened carefully. He whispered again, but I still could not understand him. Listening more carefully, however, I heard Brock very faintly whisper, "I love you, Jesus." And as he repeated that over and over, I felt like I should take off my shoes because I was on holy ground. Then he began to ever so softly sing, "My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou are mine.... if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus tis now."
Never in all my life had I witnessed such an intimate love relationship between a man and his Savior. I do believe Brock had one foot in heaven already. My wife said Brock reminded her of a kid who was so excited to be arriving at a fun place that he unbuckles his seat belt even before the car stops so he can get out of the car quicker.
Brock had his seat belt unbuckled for a long time. And by faith, he rejoiced in and worshipped Jesus and lived an abundant life until his last breath.
"Lord, help yourself to us in spite of ourselves."
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3) The Greek word that Jesus used for "poor" means "pitiful, poor, blind, bankrupt, wretched and naked." In other words, the sooner we realize our spiritually bankrupt condition, the more blessed we will be. Because then, and only then, will we realize that the Christian life is all Him and not us.
True Christianity is a life that is absorbed by and with Jesus Christ. It is a Divine obsession. Biblical Christianity can only be lived by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and desires to live through us. And he can only live through us as we moment-by-moment relinquish everything over to Jesus, receive everything from Jesus, and rejoice in all things through Jesus.
It is also absolutely crucial to realize that only the Holy Spirit, through our faith, can even give us the power and grace to relinquish, receive and rejoice. This is not something we can work for, earn or muster up ourselves. It is a gift of grace that we receive moment-by-moment saying "thank you" to Jesus. And the sooner we realize that only Jesus Himself can do this through us, or even give us the hunger for it, the sooner we will be released from another form of "works" bondage. He will do it, according to our faith, in spite of ourselves.
Not Us, But Him
The Christian life is not what we do,
but who we are.
It is not working for God,
but God working through us
in the person of His Holy Spirit.
Not clinging on to Jesus,
but knowing that He holds us securely.
Not hoping we do not slip through His fingers,
but realizing that we are one of His fingers.
Not begging God to bless us,
but realizing that we have already been blessed
with every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly realms.
Not asking Jesus to be with us or go with us,
but knowing that He has said,
"Never will I leave you
or forsake you."
Not straining to please Him,
but learning to trust Him.
Not our works,
but our faith.
© Chip Kirk