Habits of Surrender

“Christian spiritual formation is about learning in advance the language of God’s new world.” - NT Wright

Spiritual formation is about developing, in the present age, the character which anticipates the life of the age to come. This often involves doing what does not come naturally. Certain behaviors must be “put to death” in order to make way for our new “habits of life.”

Spiritual transformation does not occur by accident or without intention and effort.

This is what the apostle Paul means when he encourages Timothy to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:8) and what Peter means when he instructs us to “grow in grace” (1 Peter 3:18). If you want to learn a new language or play a musical instrument or run a business you must practice. Spiritual formation requires this same intentionality and practice. Spiritual disciplines such as solitude and silence, fasting and prayer, or study and service are the means to living out God’s vision for our lives.

Spiritual disciplines are all training us to do one thing; surrender.

Our willpower is easily fatigued. We can use our will to override old habits for a time, but habits will always beat our willpower in the long run.This is the brilliance of twelve step programs like AA. None of the steps say, “Try really, really hard not to drink.” Instead of mobilizing the will its followers learn to surrender their will. If you try to overcome addiction by willpower alone it will beat you. But if you surrender your will to a higher power then sobriety becomes possible.

Spiritual disciplines are about replacing my self-centered habits with habits of surrender.

  • Solitude is about surrendering my need for attention
  • Prayer is about surrendering my will for His will to be done
  • Generosity is about surrendering my need for money or security
  • Simplicity is about surrendering my need for the latest gadget or device
  • Fasting is about surrendering my need for food

These habits train us to be people who are able to surrender to God.

“I submit my tongue as an instrument of righteousness when I make it bless them that curse me and pray for them who persecute me, even though it “automatically” tends to strike and wound those who have wounded me. I submit my legs to God as instruments of righteousness when I engage them in physical labor as service, perhaps carrying a burden the “second mile” for someone whom I would rather let my legs kick. I submit my body to righteousness when I do my good deeds without letting them be known, though my whole frame cries out to strut and crow. And when I do, I offer up my body as the place of God’s action.” - Dallas Willard

The only way to glory is through humility.
The only way to freedom is through submission.
The only way to victory is through surrender.

The Battle for Hope

1 Peter 5:5-8
And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

In his final address in this letter, Peter tells us three important things to avoid: pride (v.6), anxiety (v.7) and the devil (v.8). Is it possible that Peter is changing subjects every sentence? No. In fact, Peter doing exactly what Paul does in Ephesians 4 when he says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let the devil have that kind of foothold.”

In other words, there is a battle for our hope. There is an enemy. A personal, supernatural force for evil called the devil. 

In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis argues there are two equal and opposite mistakes people fall into when it comes to the devil: over-belief or under-belief.

It’s either an unhealthy, superstitious fear where people see the Devil behind everything. Or else they just laugh the idea of a devil off as part of a premodern, unscientific, ignorant view of the world. We’re either deathly afraid of the devil, or laugh him off as fiction.

But you never see the Bible really dealing with the devil in that way. Scripture teaches that the devil is not the primary thing you need to be concerned with, however the devil is wrapped up in almost everything wrong with you and the world.

The Bible says the devil has a foothold in our lives through sin. Satan and your sin are bound up together. Therefore, the way to deal with the devil is to deal with your sin. 

There is always more to your sin and your problems than meets the eye. Paul says, “We battle not only with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities” (Eph 6). There is always a demonological dimension to our problems. However, the primary way you deal with the devil is not through exorcisms, prayer rituals or formulas, but by getting rid of his footholds. 

Scripture says, deal with your pride, anxiety and resentment and that’s how you resist the devil.

Peter says in order to hold onto your hope and resist the forces of darkness in your life you must clothe yourself with humility (v.5) and cast all your cares onto God (v.7). In other words pride and anxiety make us vulnerable to the enemy. 

First of all, pride. Peter says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (v.5). Peter is defining pride as resistance to the grace of God. Pride, by its nature, is anti-grace. Pride thinks it is above the grace of God and therefore grace can not flow to the proud because pride blocks it.

The antidote is to clothe yourself with humility. Clothing yourself means you actively put it on. You don’t just wait around and say, “Man, I just hope I’ll be a good enough Christian that I’ll become humble someday.” You regularly remind yourself of the grace of Christ and act in accordance with it. 

A truly humble person is so satisfied with the grace of Christ and their identity in Christ that they are not thinking about themselves. They are not always so wrapped up in their own worries or their own problems and therefore they are free to think of others. To love others and serve others. Not looking for anything in return.

Clothe yourself with humility. It’s a daily discipline.

Secondly Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (v.7). Anxiety is a refusal to see how much God loves and cares for you. Worry always stems from an overconfidence in your own opinion. You think you know how things in your life should be going. Therefore it is impossible for you to trust God when things aren’t turning out the way you think they should. 

That’s the reason why, the antidote to anxiety, is also humility. You learn to say, “God, I don’t know why this is happening, but I know you care for me and I know you are working all things together for good.” You learn to humble yourself under his mighty hand.

Hope is a battle and there is an adversary prowling around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him; resist fear and pride and resentment; resist his footholds; and he will flee from you. (James 4:7).

A Reason for Hope

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Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. - 1 Peter 3:15-16

Peter is writing to a group of churches who are suffering as a result of their faith. The question these Christians face is how to hold on to the promise of God’s blessing and at the same time act appropriately toward those who are hostile to the faith. How do we remain faithful in a hostile, unbelieving world?

We are called to be holy and pure. How do we do that in a world so filled with seduction and temptation?

We are called to simplicity. How do we do that in a culture infected with consumerism and materialism and greed?

We are called to humility. How do we do that in a world that only rewards fame and celebrity?

We are called to evangelize, to share our faith. How do we do that in a world where that is not only politically incorrect, but can be considered intolerant, or bigoted? How do we respond when we are mocked or ridiculed for our faith? When we are disregarded or ignored by the cultural elites? When we are misunderstood by friends or family members?

Peter’s answer is, it won’t be easy.

We are called to be set-apart and distinctive from the world and at the same time visible and engaged within the world.

That is not an easy balance. There will be tension. Pain. Rejection. Just as Christ suffered, those who follow him will suffer. 

So Peter’s purpose in writing this letter is to talk about how the dynamic of Christ’s life can be reenacted in ours. It is a call to “keep the faith” in the midst of persecution. It is a call to non-retaliation in the face of evil. It is a call to endure suffering rather than to return it in kind. This is radical stuff, but Peter says we can do all of this because of our hope.

The Christian hope is not just doctrine or an abstract idea, it is a life-transforming, life-shaping, living hope. If you understand and receive this hope it enables you to face things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to face.

Hope not only explains how the early Christians endured persecution
Hope also explains the reason why they were persecuted.

Our vision for the future is rooted in the New Heavens & New Earth. A radical reordering of power and resources and relationships A restoration of peace, wholeness, shalom. But when one looks forward to a new day it implies that the present is not as rosy as some would have us think. And the powers that be don’t like that.

Our hope for tomorrow is also the radical questioning of today.

It is no coincidence that immediately after Constantine's conversion, there were many who felt the book of Revelation should not be included in the canon. Not only did it speak of Rome as the harlot sitting on seven hills, drunk with the blood of martyrs, it also spoke of a completely “new order of things” coming down from heaven to earth (Rev. 21). Which, of course, implies that the “benevolent” reign of the Roman emperor was far distant from the rule and reign of God.

Christians were the targets of persecution because they refused to worship the Roman gods or to acknowledge the emperor as divine. In the Roman empire, refusing to sacrifice to the emperor or the empire’s gods was tantamount to refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to one's country.

As a result hey had their homes taken away and plundered. They were sent into the arenas to be torn to pieces by wild beasts as the crowds cheered. They were impaled on stakes, covered with kerosene and used as human torches for the emperors garden parties. They were crucified by the dozens along the highways in and out of Rome.

In the face of all of that Peter says remember your hope. Hold on to your faith. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again!

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” - Tertullian, 2nd century church father

The most astounding thing is that it worked. The early Christians endured their suffering with such poise and peace they were known to sing hymns as the beasts were tearing them apart. They forgave the people that were killing them. They responded to persecution and suffering with such gentleness and peace that the more the Romans killed them, the more the church grew.

Their hope not only helped them to endure.
Their hope showed them how to endure.

Because when people saw them endure this kind of treatment with such peace, such gentleness they knew they had something. They were fearless but gentle, courageous yet humble, confident in their faith, but not cocky about it. It was their hope that gave them this gentle, fearlessness.

The promise of Christ’s second coming gives us strength to endure.
The pattern of Christ’s cross shows us how to endure.

Our hope is not only derived from the future, but from the past. At the cross we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies. 

At the cross the forces of darkness assail him with all of their violence. Religious forces, political forces and spiritual forces all conspire to have Christ tortured and crucified. But they cannot change his compassion into hatred. 

The work of the cross is about God’s power disarming and dethroning the cruel, illegitimate, power of Satan with genuine, self-sacrificial love.

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. - Colossians 2v15

Christ’s death is the victory of suffering love. The victory of love over hatred. The victory of compassion over vengeance.

Jesus said, now is the time for judgment on the world. Now is when I disarm the powers and authorities once and for all. Because the greatest force in the universe is not hate, not violence, not fear and retribution. No. The greatest force in the universe is love. God is love.

In the end, the power of God is shown, not so much in the power of His creation or his miracles, but rather in his love and gentleness. On the cross He “emptied himself”, poured himself out in generous, self-sacrificial love and it was that display of power that completely disarmed the principalities and the authorities of this world once and for all.

“At some thoughts a man stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and he wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love... Always decide: “I will combat it by humble love.” If you resolve that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.” -  Fyodor Dostoevsky “The Brothers Karamazov”