There used to be a common fear that if one surrendered to God, they would be “sent to Africa” or to do the very worst job they could possibly imagine – that to serve meant the most distasteful sacrifice. This was countered on the opposite extreme by “prosperity gospel” – where the opposite message was preached, that if you followed God you’d be rewarded with whatever material possessions your heart desired.
Proponents of these opposite extremes have an entire arsenal of horror stories or happily-ever-after stories that support their particular position. With little effort, they also find segmented, out of context, misinterpreted scriptures that appear to bolster their viewpoint. Yes, some have gone to Africa. Some have lost their lives. And yes, some even have all the material things they have ever wanted.
However, God is neither an ogre nor a vending machine.
However, God is neither an ogre nor a vending machine.
We are called to sacrifice and surrender, yes. And we know that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Light. But the motive for obedience, surrender and service is love - not self-flagellation or self-gratification. The motive is "not my will but Yours". The driving force of life is "Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven"; not just in my life but in the lives of all those I encounter.
“What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23 (MSG)
“Obedience” means we allow the Spirit to live through us. We, as disciples of Christ, are to model the attitude of Christ (see Philippians2) who was God but set it aside to become a servant to his own creation. We set aside our demand to “do it my way”, release that tightly clenched grasp on my demand for a specific outcome and accept the idea that “blessings” extend far beyond simple material wealth or possessions. That blessing comes in many disguises.
Our personalities and skills are not obliterated; they are elevated and directed into use as our highest and best self. Through the power and presence of the Spirit of Christ: we live, move and have our being in ways that are infused, guided and marked by "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Who wouldn’t want this? There is no drama here! Read that list again! There are no laws against any of these things. And there is no fear in this kind of life. God is perfect Love, and being in the presence of this perfect love leaves no room for fear.
Please notice that in this list of the things we are promised - as the outgrowth of having the Spirit of Christ living, empowering and energizing our life - that there is no mention at all of material possessions.
It doesn’t mean we don’t or can’t have nice things. God knows what we have need of, and has promised to meet our need out of the infinite riches of heaven’s storehouse. But dare I say it? It can also mean that God may choose to strip away anything or any person, position, possession, place, appearance, or pattern of life that gets in the way of us knowing God, anything that sets itself up as its own god, anything that becomes more important in our life than the presence of God.
Jesus said it:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” ~ Luke 9:23-25
Take up the cross daily? What does that mean? I believe the idea is that every day, I "die" to my own agenda, demands, preferences and wants and begin to learn, step by step, breath by breath to yield to the still, small voice of the Spirit that says, "This is the way, walk in it." I learn this by studying God's word, the Bible; by learning to listen to God in all the ways he speaks, by serving others, by meeting with others who are also learning to live in the Spirit of Christ, by caring properly for myself, my family, my tasks and my possessions as a good steward of what I have been given. Beyond this, I learn to see that my disappointments can become God's appointments. Wounds from others become the place where I learn to trust God. The worst circumstance of my life becomes a reservoir of wisdom that guides the remainder of my life.
What is the biggest blessing, then?
God’s presence. The Spirit of Christ. In every circumstance, good or bad. My needs are met spiritually, relationally, materially, emotionally. I don’t earn any of this – it is freely offered to anyone who chooses to receive it.
“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” ~ Romans 8:32-29 (MSG)
And this is surrender to Love. This is the blessing that comes after obedience to the call on our hearts to follow after Jesus Christ.
We are never alone, never separated from Love. No matter what.
And you can take that to the bank.
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