Monthly Archives: September 2014

Stages of Surrender, Part 10

I call Stage Five the journey outward. It is a renewed engagement with the world grounded in a renewed sense of purpose. If you’ve gone through the dark night of the soul and have been transformed with a new sense of purpose, you can go back and do the things that you were successful at before, but now with a new sense of purpose, a venture outside of self and its ambitious plans. Instead of ministering for God with the subtle goal of making yourself look good, there is now a focus for others, ministering for God without a conscious or unconscious eye toward a reward. The motivations, the passions, are more authentic. There’s a focus on people and their needs, not just on numbers and adding to the community. AT this stage we’re willing to go smaller, humbler, riskier, newer. One of the startling things I have noticed over the last ten years is a trend for significant leaders of the General Conference to simply quit and say, “I want to move to a small church in the middle of the country. That’s where God is calling me. It is OK to go smaller, humbler, riskier, and newer because it doesn’t matter how big your mission is, or how big your job is, what matters is where God wants you to be. There is nothing like being where God wants you to be and doing what God wants you to do.

There are challenges to this stage as well. You would think that a person who was emptied of self, someone who is loving and self-sacrificing, would be the most popular person in the church. Nope! Most people won’t recognize what God is doing in your life. Instead they feel as if you have gotten out of touch with reality. “He used to be really something for the Lord, but now he’s kind of weird. Whatever he had he seems to have lost it. He’s become kind of odd.” But sometimes people seem odd because they are following God to places others have never gone. And they seem odd because God is working with them in a way that hasn’t happened in others’ lives yet. And as people mature in their walk with God they may feel more and more alone, even in the church, because God has led them to a place that others don’t understand because they haven’t been there yet. In the eyes of others, people at stage five may even appear careless about the faith; they don’t seem to take it as seriously, they don’t dress right anymore, they don’t do the devotional exercises that they used to do (because their relationship with God can no longer be confined to set times). What’s wrong with them? Maybe it’s because they are tuned into God, that they are walking with Him in a different way than you could possibly walk with Him.

Surrender at this stage is one of the most difficult to deal with, the fear of what other people think. Let me illustrate. I have a minor malady which is a stress related thing. Everytime I feel an extremely high degree of stress I feel something like a golf ball in my lower intestine. Maybe nobody else feels anything like that, but the moment I feel that “golf ball” I know I’m under stress. Here’s what God revealed to me recently. I was wondering why I was under so much stress. My administrative job has been high stress for over seven years, yet I had rarely felt the golf ball until a few months ago. It dawned on me that the real problem wasn’t the specific issue or issues on the job, the real problem was that I was worried about what other people would think about my actions. I had thought that I was over that, but God helped me realize that I was still plagued with that tendency. And that can be one of the biggest means by which the power of God can be blocked from our lives.

Sometimes we are afraid to move on with God because we are afraid of what other people might think of us. Particularly in stage five, God calls us to surrender that fear to Him, it is safe with Him, because if you are right with God it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. If God approves of you, then it doesn’t matter if anyone else does or doesn’t. When did God approve of you? Already at stage one. So, if you are in stage 2, 3, 4, 5, or wherever you might be (and you can be in more than one stage at a time), God approves of you. And if God approves of you, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks.

Stages of Surrender, Part 9

Those who absorb the dark night of the soul and move forward with God enter the fourth stage of faith, the journey inward, as I call it. The goal of the journey inward is to discover God’s unique purpose for our lives, His personal direction. The concept of purpose is no longer centered primarily in the broader mission of the church or a specific profession, but in a very specific mission gifted by God. To live according to God’s purpose is to be unique, to do a work for God that maybe nobody else can do. The dark night of the soul calls us to surrender our illusions of purpose and yield ourselves to God’s ultimate purpose for our lives. That purpose will be uniquely individualized to us. If we don’t pursue it, no one else will do it for us. God’s unique purpose for us is not our profession. If being a doctor or dentist is the purpose for your life, you will be out of a job in eternity! But if your unique purpose is exercised through those professions, that purpose will continue by other means in eternity.

The life of faith is about increasingly turning away from pride and becoming more and more like Jesus. Jesus is the opposite of pride, the opposite of self-centeredness. In the dark night of the soul God is saying, “Can you let it go, your plans, your ambitions, your own sense of purpose? If you find my unique purpose for your life, it will be the greatest thing that ever happened to you.” To know that you are where God wants you to be and that you are doing what God wants you to do, is the greatest experience ever. Yet God’s unique purpose for you may be totally different than the life you would have chosen.

I remember thinking when I turned 40, “Man, I’m more than halfway there. And the best half is already behind me. It will probably be all downhill from here! I’m just about ready to totter into the grave.” Nearly 25 years later I realize God has done lots of things in my life recently that I never would have dreamed of then. When looking at the first 40-50 years of my life, I now see that all of that was preparation for the things God wanted me to do in my 50s and 60s. Plants, when they’re healthy, keep growing. When you’re 60 it doesn’t mean you have to stop growing. It may in fact be the beginning of the greatest work in your life. To be 75 doesn’t mean you stop growing either. If you free up the channel and let Him, He can do the miracle. And His miracle will usually be a surprise, even to you and me.

Stage Four is a wonderful stage in which we learn how to move from the head to the heart. This means a deepening of old relationships and the discovery of exciting new ones. As we find our purpose we become attractive to others who are finding theirs. This stage is usually accompanied by the healing of unresolved issues that have blocked our way in the past. There is a great deal of personal growth as we gain greater self-understanding and greater empathy with others who are struggling.

There are challenges at this stage as well, because people in stage four sometimes get consumed with self-assessment and negative thinking. They’re always trying to figure out who they are and where they are. “Am I doing this right? Why aren’t things going better?” Sometimes, you just have to surrender that kind of stuff. Negative thinking blocks the channel and doesn’t allow the miracle to occur. Actually, it’s a secret form of pride. The person who says, “Woe is me! I could have been great but they blocked my way. I could have really done something, but this person abused me or this person made fun of me, etc.” You visit in your mind the places where you were disadvantaged, where bad things happened to you, and waster a great deal of time moaning about it. That’s a form of pride because your attention is focused on “me, me, and me.”

If you have ever visited a mental institution you will probably have noticed the one word that appears in virtually every sentence there. That word is I, I, I. Negative thinking is just another form of pride, it’s a hidden pride, an unexpected pride. And pride blocks the channel like nothing else. God calls us at this stage to surrender that pride by his grace. Try as you will you cannot get rid of pride by your own effort. Humility would not be an option for us if it were not for God’s miracle. Whenever you meet a person who is truly humble, you know that you are witnessing a miracle of God. And that miracle is available to all who surrender.

Stages of Surrender, Part 8

Surrender is very hard at Stage 3 because human beings enjoy the perks that come with success; the praise of others, a sense of job security and often financial rewards of various kinds. Because it can be so hard to surrender at this stage, God allows suffering to help and motivate us to surrender. The dark night of the soul is a personal crisis, usually beginning somewhere in the middle stage of your life, when you are in your 30s or 40s. In the dark night of the soul, past certainties become inadequate and you often question everything you have ever believed up to that point. God uses the dark night to shatter our foolish certainty, tarnish our pride, and summon us to deeper intimacy with Him. When we refuse to give up our pride and our certainty, God allows circumstances to shatter them for us.

In this painful shattering of pride and certainty, we should hear the call to a deeper intimacy with God. As we learn the real truth about ourselves, the way is open to learn deeper truths about God. A psychiatrist once asked me, “What’s the difference between the dark night of the soul and depression?” I said that they can certainly be related, but what I mean by the dark night of the soul is something that comes from God, something that God allows into your life for a spiritual purpose. Depression can be just a chemical problem, something that needs treatment, something that needs getting out of as quickly as possible. But the dark night of the soul is a call from God. It may have a chemical component, but it is more than that.

The dark night of the soul is sometimes precipitated by a stage of life, like when you hit 30 or 40. Sometimes it kicks in as a mid-life crisis. It can involve an external event, like the loss of a loved one, an accident, or being fired at your job. It can likewise be precipitated by an internal event; like cancer, heart disease, or a psychological trauma of some kind. Sometimes it is just the sense that the presence of God in our life isn’t there anymore. Our prayers are simply bouncing off the ceiling. The dark night of the soul is a very painful thing, and it afflicts most or all of us at some point in our lives. If you’re more than 50 years old you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. You may even be in that place now.

The only remedies I know for the dark night of the soul are solitude and mentoring. But the only mentoring that really helps is the kind that comes from people who have already been through the dark night of the soul. The stage three people can’t help you now and that is a high percentage of spiritual leaders. It takes a person who has truly suffered to help the suffering. It takes a person who knows darkness to help someone else through the darkness. If you’ve lived with a bright light your whole life you can’t help someone through the darkness. So many of those to whom we looked for help before are inadequate guides for this part of the journey. Those who have been through this stage and know how to do spiritual counseling are unique people and are worth seeking out.

The good news about deep suffering is that it indicates God has a big plan for us. I am not suggesting that God sends the dark night, but that He allows it to happen at this stage because we need it in order to make the decisions that we need to make. When God has big plans for someone, He puts them in the best place so surrender all to Him. The decision is still ours to make, but God uses circumstances to reach out to us and make it as easy as possible to yield our ways to Him.

There are challenges in the dark night of the soul. People are tempted to escape it by going back to stage three. They keep on preaching, keep on teaching, and most people don’t even notice. Yet deep down inside they know in their hearts that God called them and they said no. So there is a certain emptiness and hollowness inside. Other people decide in the dark night of the soul that the whole problem is the church they belong to. It’s the doctrines and practices they were taught as disciples, so they decide to abandon ship. Granted, there are times when changing communities is a positive thing, but as a reaction to the dark night, such a decision can be tragic. The dark night of the soul is a call to go deeper with God, not a call to avoid Him.

That brings me to the surrender points of the dark night. The core point of surrender has to do with a false sense of purpose. In stage three, people have big ambitions for God. They have big plans for their ministry, a sense of purpose, but maybe it was a purpose that was given to them by their parents, or by the local church, or by the larger church. In their time of success they thought they were living God’s purpose, but in the dark night of the soul they realize, “All of that was for me!” It was all about pride! “I wanted to be all I could be for God in order to get recognition.” Related to this surrender point, the dark night of the soul completes our stage 3 surrender of our need for certainty, our need for applause, and the selfish drive for perfection. The outcome of the dark night is that our focus is less and less on ourselves and more and more on God.