Last week I stopped at the thought that love means ‘giving up ‘self’ much the way Jesus did for us. Yet what we tend to do is to guard ‘self’ the most and constrain love to the safe-zone outside the carefully erected walls we’ve built around ourselves. As a result, if loving others inconveniences us to a point where it’s no longer pleasurable, it comes to a screeching halt!
If you’ve tried to walk this out in any measure ( that is to go beyond your natural inclinations when ‘self’ hurts), you would’ve run headlong into the truth expressed in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church –
“For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want ” (Galatians 5:17). That is, our desire to get past the hurt, anger, bitterness, indifference, disconnectedness, or even just our innate fondness for ease in order to love others is met with some serious push back from within!
In this regard, I want to share something written by C.S. Lewis. This is an excerpt from his book, “Mere Christianity” – ” Christ says, ” Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment the natural self but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent and the ones you think wicked- the whole outfit, I will give you a new self instead. In fact I will give you Myself, my own will shall become yours”
I believe there is great liberty in Christ’s invitation to give up the whole self!
I am discovering that my choice to go God’s way in a particular situation is greatly empowered if I get up in the morning with the notion of giving all of the ‘natural me’ up. Otherwise every act of love (of other-centered thought and action) will be reluctantly squeezed out of my selfish being drop by drop! But if I set my mind to thinking that I’ve junked all of it, the specific choices of the day are so much easier to engage with!
It is surrender that finally ends the war within! For it is in doing this that we encounter His Spirit within us – what the Bible calls the “new creation’ which is full of lively impulses, thoughts and desires! The liberty we experience is not so much from letting go of the old as from encountering the new! – the power of His spirit working in us as we surrender to the goodness of His plans and His ways!
I’m going to end with another excerpt on the same subject from “Mere Christianity” – “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves”, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good”. We are trying to let our mind and heart go their own way- centered on money or pleasure or ambition- and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly.
And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short, but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and resown.”
The Gospel is good news indeed! – and it involves surrender and life. Both go hand in hand! More on that next week, but for now would you imagine with me what impact living out this kind of love could have – on your marriage, on your children, on your neighbours, on your friends, on society ..and on the future direction of your life? And then consider one more thing – this is actually doable! God wont set us up to climb a wall that’s impossible to scale!