Tag Archives: surrender

Stages of Surrender, Part 14

Do the stages of faith and surrender imply some subtle or sophisticated system of righteousness by works? I have never thought so. In a real sense the stages of surrender are simply learning how to exercise faith, trust in God, at each stage of one’s life experience.

A recent re-reading of the book Steps to Christ, by Ellen G. White, confirmed my impression. Steps to Christ is one of the clearest places in all literature (along with C. S. Lewis, Dante and Milton) where the human struggle to understand God is set in the larger context of a cosmic conflict regarding the character of God (the first two or three chapters in particular). Suffering and misapprehension of God’s character are the result of rebellion against God, not any flaw in God’s character or actions. God graciously limits Himself so His creatures can be free to live and to love. That freedom also opens up the possibility of rebellion with all its consequences. Any solution to the problem of sin must include a change of attitude and an exercise of will within human hearts. This change on our part is not the cause of the atonement, but the outcome of it. We are won back to God on account of the revelation of His character in the person of Jesus Christ.

While there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, we are invited to trust in the gracious, loving God that we have come to know in Christ. That trust is not works-righteousness, it is a whole-bodied response to who God is, including our thoughts, our choices, our will and our actions. We see this delicate balance in Scriptures like James 2:14-26 and Matthew 18:21-35.

So I was delighted to see the stages of surrender reflected in other words in Steps to Christ, pages 95-99. The author writes: “There are certain conditions upon which we may expect that God will hear and answer our prayers.” (SC 95) These conditions are described as: 1) Feeling our need of help from God, 2) Turning away from any known sin, 3) The exercise of faith as trusting that God will fulfill what He has promised, 4) Coming to God helpless and dependent, in humble, trusting faith, rather than paying attention to our doubts and fears or trying to solve our problems apart from faith, 5) Having a spirit of love and forgiveness in our hearts, 6) Persevering in prayer, being found in places where prayer tends to happen, 7) Above all, not neglecting secret prayer, and 8) Taking God’s presence with us throughout the day and the life. These eight “conditions” for answered prayer are all found in pages 95-99 of the book Steps to Christ. So in this book Ellen White does not see human effort as necessarily acting in contradiction to a focus on the gracious character of God as manifested in the context of the cosmic conflict.

Hopefully these thoughts will be helpful to those seeking to apply the stages of faith and surrender to their own walk with God.

Stages of Surrender, Part 13

I have been challenged in regard to stages of faith and surrender, and that challenge is worthy of some attention at the close here. It is suggested that the stages of faith and surrender leave God out of the picture and may even imply some sort of sophisticated system of righteousness by works. That thought never occurred to me as I had always seen these stages as stages in relationship with God. Rather than focusing more and more on ourselves, we come to focus more and more on God and His unique purpose for our lives. As we focus on God we become more and more like Him. But since the stages of surrender can be heard in a legalistic way, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on the relationship between the stages of surrender and both a gracious God and the righteousness which can be obtained only by faith. Are these stages of surrender an alternative to faith or do they simply describe practical ways in which we can exercise our faith (which I define as our trust in God)? Can we truly surrender to God if we do not trust in Him?

Let me begin with the first concern. Do the stages of faith and surrender leave God out of the picture or do they actually tell us some important things about God? I am convinced they have a lot to do with God. First of all, the stages of faith and surrender are grounded in a God who is not static, but relates to us in a developmental way. That is why He created the universe and the human race. He is a relational being and desires relationship with other free beings. That is why the concept of a trinity is important. If God were “one” in the isolated sense, love would not be essential to His character, but something He came to exercise only after creation. But if God is not only one but three, it tells us that love is inherent in God’s nature. From eternity God was love in a relationship of three. Creation then became a way to extend God’s love in ever-expanding circles. Relationships are never static, there is always growth and development. The very possibility of relationship within the godhead, therefore, must arise from a God who is not static. Instead, through creation He desires the further growth in experience that expanded relationships provide.

Furthermore, if God is affected by relationship, then the way that human beings respond to God matters to Him. Human beings make a difference, not only in relation to each other, but also in relation to God. The choices we make affect God; our trusting responses please Him, our rebellion brings Him pain. God will never be static in the way He relates to us. Eternity will not be boring. Their will always be new heights to surmount, new challenges to overcome, new delights to sample. A God who relates to His creation in a developmental way is a God we will delight to know and who will find delight in us throughout eternity. So the stages of faith and surrender echo a beautiful picture of God.

A related picture of God that I see in the stages of faith and surrender is of Someone who at the core of His being is self-sacrifice. The stages of faith and surrender take us on a path to becoming more and more like God in our renunciation of pride and our willingness to sacrifice for others. Surrendered husbands will love their wives the way Christ loves the church. The wives of such husbands will glimpse a picture of God in the self-sacrificing love of their husbands. It is the picture of a self-sacrificing God that evokes our trust in Him and motivates us to surrender. It is safe to put God in control of our lives because of who we have come to know Him to be.

Finally, the stages of faith and surrender highlight a God who graciously gives His creatures freedom. We can surrender to God or we can choose not to. While the freedom is a gift from Him, it is very real. In that very gift of freedom we catch a glimpse of a God who loves His creatures so much that He gives up some of His own freedom to act in order that we might be free. While we see the self-sacrificing love of God clearly portrayed in the cross, it was very much there also at creation. Creation itself was an act of self-sacrifice in which God yielded up His own freedom of action so that His creatures could be truly free and free to love.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the stages of faith and surrender offer up a beautiful picture of God.

Stages of Surrender, Part 12

As we near the end of this series on the eight stages of surrender, let me offer a quick summary of the various stages. Stage One is where we need to surrender our pride, the idea that “I can do it myself.” We may also need to surrender the tendency to hide our unworthiness (by justifying ourselves rather than confessing the truth about ourselves). In Stage Two we need to surrender either feelings of unworthiness or the comfort zone, both of which hold us back from spiritual progress. If you’re going to grow, you’re going to change. If a plant doesn’t change it will die. People often don’t want to change because they are comfortable where they are. But comfort zones are not conducive to spiritual growth.

The third stage confronts us with the need to surrender having to be right all the time, the need to be certain and to be better than others. Stage Four also calls us to give up the need for certainty, the need for applause, and a tendency toward perfectionism that can plague people in the “success stage” of faith. Stage Five, which comes during the dark night of the soul, calls us to surrender a false sense of purpose. Up until that point we had thought our purpose was solely from God, but we come to realize that it has been riddled with pride and a desire to please others. To the degree that we surrender our own sense of purpose, God can fill us with His.

Stage Six is the call to surrender negative thinking and hidden pride, things that can slow us down on our journey toward a true sense of God’s purpose in our lives. In Stage Five we discover we have not fully rid ourselves of the fear related to what other people are thinking about us. And finally, in Stage Six, we may need to surrender the other-centeredness that causes us to neglect ourselves and those we love.

I’m not here to tell you what you need to surrender today. I don’t even need to tell my wife what to surrender today. I know that she wrestles with things I don’t fully understand. But I believe that somewhere in these eight stages of surrender is God’s call to you. I invite the Holy Spirit to touch your heart with just that area of your life that needs to be surrendered today. And I suspect in most cases surrender is not a one-time action, it may need to be repeated over and over again until it sticks.

Surrender may turn out to be the hardest thing that you have ever done. Why? Because surrender feels like you are losing everything. You are giving up you identity, giving up that which gives you joy, giving up everything that you’re comfortable with and used to. It’s the loss of everything. However, the surrender of everything just happens to be the biblical path to your true self, which you will never discover until you surrender. Your true self appears when you let God grow you there. And that comes close to the meaning of this strange text: “For whoever would save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, will save it.” That’s what surrender is all about.

Will continue with my review of Annual Council actions shortly

Stages of Surrender, Part 11

Surrender is not a work, in the negative way that Paul uses that terms. We get both the will and the strength to surrender as a gift from God. But sometimes we need a little encouragement to align our wills with God’s will. In stage five we sometimes return to the one thing we least wanted or even expected. I sometimes call it The Dark Night of the Soul II: The Sequel. You see, one would think that the closer you come to God, the more you would be appreciated by other people of faith. But it doesn’t work that way. People at earlier stages are often perplexed or even enraged by the things God does in us at the later stages. The deeper one goes into the stages of faith the more isolated one may feel in the church. So it is natural at later stages to worry about what other people think. It is a sign that pride is not totally eradicated. Hence another experience of the Dark Night.

I think of Abraham’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah. That was his second dark night of the soul, the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham seems to have had many dark nights, but the first major one would have occurred in the context of leaving his comfortable situation in Mesopotamia to strike out toward a strange land that God would show Him. Job’s afflictions began in the context of his family, and then in conversation with his friends and in the end he experienced the direct presence of God, and that was a pretty tough experience too. Job had multiple dark nights of the soul. Jesus in Gethsemane experienced his second dark night of the soul. God often allows us to re-enter the path of suffering, so that we may lay aside everything that is in the way of our relationship with Him.

Those who endure the second dark night have the opportunity to enter Stage Six, which is the stage of unconditional love. And one would think that the person who loves unconditionally would be the most popular person in the church. Who wouldn’t love to be around someone who loves everybody? But that is not the case. The reason is that the person who loves everyone unconditionally also loves my enemy. And the one thing I will not allow you to do is to love my enemy. You might say that real Christians don’t have enemies. In one sense we don’t, and in another we do. When somebody shows love and kindness to a person who has abused us, or has made life difficult for us, that can be a very big challenge.

Ruled by unconditional love, people are compassionate, even under extreme hardship. God’s love flows through them to others, and the channel is clear: it is a life of forgiveness. My wife and I have learned in our marriage that it’s not enough to forgive now and then. In any  marriage you need to forgive every day, probably every hour, because we’re human beings and we rub each other the wrong way from time to time. But to make forgiveness a habit is just a wonderful way to live.

People at this stage also need less material things, so people may say things like, “Why aren’t they doing anything to the car, or to the house?” People who live a life of love don’t pay attention to things anymore. And there is considerable benefit in that style of life. There is a freedom from anxiety and inner peace. These cannot happen when we spend our lives in fear of what other people think. When we surrender that fear to God we experience true freedom, true peace.

Are there any challenges to the life of love? Above all people, those at Stage Six seem out of touch with reality. They act as if there are no enemies in this world. But you can’t love Osama Bin Laden, you just can’t! You can’t love Adolf Hitler, you can’t! Some people would even say you can’t love Obama or John Boehner. You can’t love such people and be my friend. So, the person who loves everyone seems completely out of touch with reality. The biggest issue, perhaps, is a tendency to neglect their own physical needs, and those of the people closest to them, in service of a wider mission of love to the world. So I will suggest a rather strange surrender point for people in Stage Six. They at times need to surrender their other-centeredness. Their tendency to put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own and the spiritual needs of others ahead of the physical needs of the family.

Have you ever met someone who was so concerned for others that they didn’t take care of themselves? Not many people reach this stage in life, but should you ever be there, remember that there comes a time where God asks you to surrender your other-centeredness, and go out and take a vacation. Or repair that dripping sink. Or make sure that your spouse has something decent to wear at the church potluck. You may need to surrender your other-centeredness at times to actually take care of your health and your family. I suspect that as long as life lasts in this world, there will be something to surrender.

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.

Stages of Surrender, Part 7

Stage three is the success stage, the doing stage. This is the stage of faith where people become pastors, Sabbath school teachers, and church elders. They become leaders, not just disciples. They help other people learn what they have learned. At this stage people usually develop a high-level reputation in the community, they win awards and other forms of recognition. At this stage people praise you and you get lots of nice letters, and similar acknowledgements. Most people would think it great if the stages of faith reached the top right there. “I made it now. I’m teaching Sabbath school, I’m good. I’m the pastor, so I’m good. I’m the conference president, so that’s good, nothing to worry about now.” However, that’s not what the New Testament teaches.

With every success comes spiritual challenges. As we have seen already, every stage of faith has its challenges and its points of surrender. Those who stand up front are often motivated by applause, by what other people think of them, and by how others respond to their ministry. They can be stuck in perfectionism. That’s the idea where you don’t just want to be better, but instead you have to be the best. People in Stage Three are often motivated by perfectionism. Like with Stage Two, this is a stage that likes to be right. Being right is one of the motivations that makes people at this stage go. I think you can already see a number of points of surrender related to this stage.

The first point of surrender is the need for applause. Ellen White said of Jesus, “He was never elated by applause nor dejected by censure.” (DA 330) Does that apply to you? Not me. This is a surrender point that I recognize in myself, to surrender the need for applause, the need for perfection. Because when you focus on perfection, the miracle of perfection (whatever that means) can’t happen. You’re trying to grow the blade of grass. You cannot be perfect without a miracle from God in your life. It’s that simple. You can’t make a blade of grass. That is something only God can do. The more you focus on the perfection the less likely that it will happen. When it happens, it is a miracle.

But what about the need for certainty? Isn’t that an important piece of the Christian experience? It is important to be certain of some things. You want to be certain of the cross and that Jesus loves you and the kinds of things where obedience is very important. The problem is that conservative Christians are often certain about everything. If you’re certain about your politics, dietary habits, exercise routine, religion, and how to do your job right; that kind of certainty tells more about you than about God. It’s all about you. And that kind of certainty can get in the way of letting God work. But here is where the issue comes to a head. People in stage three, successful spiritual leaders, don’t take mentoring very well. They have arrived, they’ve made it, and everything is all good. But it isn’t. The reality is that there are still issues there. There is still pride and selfishness. So much of what we do for God in the success stage is subtly driven by our own ambitions and goals, by our desire to please. And because surrender is especially difficult at this stage, God often does the last thing we expected and probably the last thing that we wanted. I call it the dark night of the soul. More on that next time.

Stages of Surrender, Part 6

The second stage of faith is the discipleship stage, when you’re learning about the faith, growing in faith, and discovering what it means to follow Jesus. It is a time to get involved in a faith community, to learn what the community is all about, how to fit in. You explore the community’s belief system, you learn how to practice the community rules. In the discipleship stage, you develop a strong sense of community identity. People at this stage not only join a community, they know that they found the right community. They are confident that “This is where God wants me to be!”

At this stage there is usually a strong sense of being right. That provides assurance of knowing God and confidence in moving forward with God. But the strengths and challenges of each stage are like two sides of a coin. In this stage the self-confidence of being right can lead to being pretty legalistic and judgmental. “If I am right then you must be wrong,” comes easily at this stage. To get stuck in this stage, then, is to get stuck in a very dark place. You can become really rigid in your approach to the faith. There is a lack of flexibility, everything has to be just right. “We have to sing the hymn in just this way, and use only this instrument.” This leads to a black and white, “us versus them” mentality.

These challenges at the level of Stage Two help us identify the surrender points that will help people move forward in faith. One of the things you need to surrender in order to grow at this stage is the need to be right. This may seem at first a dangerous thing to surrender. But think about it: who is the smartest person in the room? Are they closer in smartness to God or to a 2 year old? I would say the smartest person on earth is a lot closer in intelligence to a 2 year old than they are to God. But if human intelligence is much closer to the level of 2 year olds than to God, what was God doing in the Bible? He was writing essentially to 2 year olds. Can you talk to a 2 year old? Of course. Can you tell them about the 7 trumpets of Revelation? I don’t think so. Can you tell them about quantum physics? I don’t think so. You have to get down on your knees, cup their face in your hands, and talk baby talk, right? That’s what God was doing in the scriptures.

The moment we are absolutely certain that we are right about everything, we’re in trouble, because in reality we’re a lot more like 2 year olds than we are like God. And any 2 year old that thinks they’re right about everything is in trouble! I remember when my oldest daughter was 7, the one that just had the baby. She came up to me one day and said, “Daddy, I know everything!” and I said, “Really? That’s interesting. Then tell me something, why is the sky blue?” She thought about it for a bit and said, “Well, I know everything but that!” She was pretty confident. There are times when we need to surrender the need to be right. Because if I am right and everyone else is wrong, there is no need for me to learn. And if I stop learning I stop growing. Even helpful ideas can become a problem if they prevent us from growing, from moving forward spiritually.

There are times when you need to surrender the need to be right, the need to be better than others. As Seventh-Day Adventists, we often have a word of critique for the wider Christian church, recognizing that Christian history is not as pretty as Jesus’ teaching encouraged it to be. When we read Jesus’ teaching we see a beautiful teaching, yet we look at history and wonder how many Christians actually practiced Jesus’ teachings, His self-sacrificing love. Often it’s been inquisitions, crusades, Holocausts, Bosnias, and Rwandas. So it’s not a pretty history. Sometimes you have no choice but to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. However, there is spiritual danger in thinking you’re better than others. It can feed the original and most deadly of sins, pride. There comes a time in our lives to surrender the need to be better than everybody else.

As I write it occurs to me that I struggle with that. I don’t like to make mistakes because that means that somebody else can do what I was doing better. Sounds like the need to be better than others. But if we want to grow spiritually that is something we may need to surrender. The need to be right and to be better than others can block the way to God’s power in our lives.