Intimacy and Eternity

The Grace of Yielding

 

Part Two, Chapter Twelve

I can love you more than you can love yourself,
and I watch over you a thousand times more carefully
than you can watch over yourself.
The more trustfully you give yourself up to Me,
the more I shall be watching over you;
you will gain a clearer knowledge of Me
and experience My love more and more joyfully.
(Catherine of Sienna)1

The Grace of Yielding

THE PRINCIPAL TEMPTATION WE FACED on our long climb uphill to the fell tops was to give up and retrace our steps. The feeling continued to plague us until we had almost reached the Broad Open Spaces. There will be many temptations to quit in the course of our pilgrimage – but who knows what the Lord will bring about if we will only keep going?

We saw in ‘The Principle of Suffer-Reign’ that those who seek to follow the Lord sometimes have to go through extraordinary tests of faith. The nonconformist preacher, John Bunyan, imprisoned in Bedford Jail for his faith, was informed that he could be released immediately if he agreed not to hold any more public meetings.

Bunyan was tormented by the love he felt for his family, and in particular for his young blind daughter. He found the pleas of so-called friends, who told him that the stand he was taking amounted to nothing less than dereliction of his duty towards his family, infinitely harder to bear than the poison-tipped offers of the authorities. At a time when he was under the influence of what he later came to characterize as Giant Despair, John Bunyan wrote, ‘I felt as though I was pulling the roof down over my own head, but I must do it, I must.’

Most of us instinctively hope that we will never be put to such a test. When we read that it was God’s will to crush and bruise His only Son (Isaiah 53:10), do we not subconsciously fear that complete submission may lead us too to some sort of a cross? After all, God nowhere promises that it will not. But God honours those who yield to his purposes and follow Him courageously.

There are few more important keys to overcoming striving and coping with the Ascent of Toil than this willingness to yield to the Lord. How grateful we can be that John Bunyan did not compromise! It was during his time in Bedford prison that he penned Pilgrim’s Progress, perhaps the best known of all Christian classics.2

Beyond Mount Moriah

The more willing we are to yield all that we are and all that we do to the Lord, the easier He will find it to show us His favour. If we hold on too tightly to our activities or position, however, we may find our work for God (rather than God Himself) subtly becoming the all-consuming focus of our life.

We rarely recognize this process happening, because our tongue has learned to parrot the proper language, that ‘God comes first in our lives.’ Our actions, and above all our longings, reveal what is really in our hearts. If some vision comes to assume too great a prominence in our lives, the Lord may have to take away the means of fulfilling it in order to draw our soul back to its first love.

Nearly twenty years ago, while working for a church in Oxford, I was leading a prayer and praise group for students. We met late on Saturday evenings and enjoyed a steady flow of blessing. Unfortunately, these meetings did not receive official sanction from the rather cautious Christian Union, who were uncomfortable with our charismatic emphasis. While praying one evening, the Lord spoke to me clearly: ‘If you will have the courage to close this meeting down, I will make something incomparably better come out of it.’

It takes as much faith to close something down that God is clearly using as it does to start it in the first place. It is a sign of mistrust, however, if we insist on trying to wring every last ounce of blessing out of it, especially if the Lord is urging us to change direction. As Corrie Ten Boom put it ‘We must not grasp things too tightly, lest our fingers get hurt when He prises them from us.’

Six months later, the Lord gave me freedom to restart the meetings on an alternative day and in our own venue. The grace and power that flowed were of an entirely different order. God had restored the vision – and with increased anointing! Some time later came a call which I shall describe in ‘The Paths of Guidance’ to resign my post with the church in Oxford and to move in faith to Chester.

My early days there proved to be a particularly narrow and difficult Ascent of Toil. Two years prior to leaving Oxford, a student nurse called Rosalind turned up in a meeting I was leading. Over the months our friendship became a close prayer partnership. By the time we left Oxford it had blossomed into love.

In contrast to earlier whirlwind romances, the Lord reined back our emotions in the early stages, in order to develop a strong bond of friendship between us. The Lord had restrained us both so effectively in previous relationships, that we dared not rush ahead without being quite certain of His will for us. One evening, about a week before I was due to move to Chester, the Lord spoke to us simultaneously, telling us not to see, write or even ring each other again unless or until He specifically permitted us to.

The Lord’s edict was like a mini Mount Moriah. Offering up our ‘Isaac’ on the altar, we had to die to the hope that God might be giving us to each other. Faithful to the Lord’s commission, Rosalind drove me to Chester, attended a service in the church I was to be based in and then set off to Nottingham where she was to train as a midwife. As far as we could tell, God had brought our relationship to an untimely end. He gave us no assurance that He would bring us together again, but He did encourage us to keep a journal during our separation.

The Lord chose Chester carefully to be His ‘desert’ for me. In stark contrast to the active ministry I had exercised in Oxford, I knew virtually nobody when I arrived, and nobody knew me. The Lord knew that I was not ready to sustain a more withdrawn lifestyle for very long, and in the meanwhile He had other purposes in mind anyway. The ministry expanded, both to the churches in Chester and around the nation, until life became so busy that we found ourselves longing to be in a quieter place where I could devote myself more fully to praying and writing, as well as to the wider ministry.

First, however, the Lord had some important things to do in my heart. It was there, in my top-floor flat, overlooking the River Dee, that I had my first real taste of the contemplative life. Through the pain of being separated from Rosalind, my emotions were softened to the point where I could feel more sensitively for people in need. Although I often chafed against the sense of loss, God was forging a new calling in my heart.

The outcome was one of abundant mercy. Having genuinely handed over our feelings for each other, and lived through the turmoil that this brought, the Lord released us some three months later to see each other again. We discovered through our journals how closely our prayers had been ‘tracking’, as we had prayed for people and countries around the world.

The Lord is an eminent psychologist. If something precious is taken from us, we are much less likely to take it for granted if it is subsequently restored to us. We can never be too grateful that He has given us back to each other. We are also thankful that the Lord grounded our relationship in the first instance on the rock of friendship and prayer. It made the transition to marriage an easy one.

During our time apart, the Lord spoke but one word of illumination concerning this apparently incomprehensible separation: ‘I am making a pair of intercessors.’ As Dad joked later, ‘Like antiques: more valuable as a pair!’ We developed the ability to stay close to each other through prayer, something which has stood us in good stead during the many times when one or other of us has been away from home.

Life out of Death

Trials of faith are never easy to bear, but the more willing we are to believe that God is with us, the less pain we will experience. Paul teaches us an unexpected truth: What you sow does not come to life unless it dies (1 Corinthians 15:36).

Jesus had already illustrated this principle in His teaching:

Unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25)

To a large extent, these verses remain hidden until such time as they become relevant in our experience. When God causes a seed that has ‘died’ to sprout again, it can proceed to multiply more or less indefinitely. Take, for example, a minister who developed an exceptionally strong burden to help young people. The time came when this calling led him to the conclusion that he needed to devote his whole life to this work. As he and his wife were driving back from a difficult meeting at his denominational headquarters, at which he had tendered his resignation, they had an appalling accident. His wife was flung from the car and lay lifeless on the side of the road.

Within the space of a few hours this man had lost the two most precious things in his life: his wife and his ministry. It was at this moment of utter desolation that he heard the voice of the Lord more clearly than he had ever known before. ‘Will you still follow Me?’3 It was almost identical to the question the Lord Jesus asked Peter at a time when many were turning back because of the cost of following Him. Like Peter, who knew that there was nowhere else for him to turn to, so this man reaffirmed his willingness to follow the Lord, no matter what the cost.

The Lord then spoke to him a second time: ‘Pray for your wife.’ A desperate battle ensued, before life began to return into his wife’s body. Eventually she was fully restored. The man’s name? Loren Cunningham. Together with his wife, Darlene, they went on to found Youth With A Mission: an organization that has reached millions of young people around the world.4

Letting Go

We were down in Cornwall some years ago when we heard about a seven year old girl who was desperately ill. A kidney transplant had failed, septicaemia had set in, together with very high blood pressure and heart failure. Her plight was actually serving as a rallying point for the village. Even those with no previous church connection made a point of attending special services, uniting in prayer for her recovery. The parents themselves had been recently converted, and were clinging on in faith that she would be healed.

Over the next year, the girl’s condition worsened. She was transferred to an intensive care unit over a hundred miles away. Her father had to give up his job to help care for her, which brought the additional strain of acute financial shortage. The following year was unremittingly grim.

We visited them again when we were next in the area. We discovered that none of the Christians we spoke to in the church believed any longer that she would be healed. We gently suggested that the time might have come to offer their daughter back to the Lord. As it turned out, events took a dramatic turn and forced the issue. The doctors expected the girl to die that night, and recommended that they made no effort to resuscitate her. The moment of decision had come.

After years of struggle, the parents recognized that their daughter had suffered enough. For the first time, they were ready to release her fully to the Lord.

There is a startling sequel to this story. The following day, the girl’s condition made a remarkable improvement. The doctor said, ‘We don’t know how, but she is much better now – it’s returned to normal size again!’ She is still fit and well now, many years later. I believe it was the parents’ act of yielding, together with the prayers of many, which brought about this wonderful transformation.

I wonder if you can sense the nuance that I am trying to communicate? God always responds when He detects an attitude of faith in us, but if we were to see our ‘faith’ vindicated every time we prayed, might we not subconsciously conclude it was ‘our’ faith that brought about the miracles? The Lord brings us to the point where we have to acknowledge that even our faith is not enough. Then it is His grace and mercy alone that we are left to celebrate – and all the glory goes to Him.

Beyond Mount Moriah

Learning to receive the unconditional love of the Lord is the antidote to the sort of striving we wrote of in the last chapter. It frees us from always having to try to please others. The more we are able to receive His grace, the more fully we can communicate its wonderful freedom to others. Because we have received what we could not earn (and most certainly did not deserve) we need never fear that we will lose it. This is the confidence which fosters intimacy, and which is characteristic of those who have discovered the Broad Open Spaces.

To the person or church who have gone through a Mount Moriah experience, God can safely fulfil visions and bestow much greater anointing. The testing of our faith has separated us from the risk of allowing the blessings themselves to occupy centre stage in our lives. Moreover, people who have been touched by God in such ways (and there are more of them than one might at first suppose) carry with them the imprint of their heavenly encounter. There is a humility, as well as an authority in their lives that is quite at variance with the brashness of those who are still driven by more carnal ambitions. Touched by eternity, they in turn influence many others.

Every day we must yield ourselves, and the decisions we make, back to the Lord. Shortly before he was martyred on the mission field, Jim Elliot wrote these powerful words: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot lose.’

Surrendering our desires to the Lord is entirely different from the false assumption that we ought to suppress all our own desires and emotions. The Lord will take and use many of the skills and abilities we offer Him – but not necessarily all of them, and certainly not all the time. When the time is right, the Lord may restore the original vision, and supply all that is needed for it to be fulfilled. Or He may lead us into something comparable, using the ground that has been gained through His dealings with us. In the meantime, the extent to which we are yielded and grateful will determine how content we are.

Towards the Broad Open Spaces

It is the ultimate mystery of humility that He who was from the beginning should have been willing to come to earth and live a life of such complete dependency.5 He laid down His life so that we could enter eternal life. As I have already hinted, Rosalind and I have found that the Lord frequently appears to take away something that has meant a great deal to us, only to restore it subsequently in such a way as to bring us to a far deeper appreciation of His purposes. Out of the discipline of disappointment (and the death of our hopes and strivings) flows resurrection power.

It was in 1987 that we first felt the Lord telling us that we would one day have a house in the countryside. Friends endorsed this as a calling, and we were eager to see the vision fulfilled. An opportunity arose and we went all out to acquire just such a property. We felt we had many promises that ‘this was it’ – but we ended up getting nowhere. We were puzzled and confused. Had God really been in the vision?

A sharp Ascent of Toil followed, which, as we have previously described, brought us to Ludlow, a seven year interim period which in many ways served as the transition point in our ministry. Reaching the place the Lord had in mind for us when He first showed us the vision, however, would incur a yet more arduous Ascent of Toil.

It was early in 1996 that the Lord brought the vision of ‘the house in the country’ to the fore. Once again we thought we might have found the house the Lord had been speaking about, and set out to acquire it. We had merely to sell our own and the transaction was complete. Late on Good Friday the Lord spoke a clear and sobering word: ‘It will not work out as you expect.’ Gloom and doom! Three days later we heard that the house we were pursuing had been sold to someone else.

Barely a month later we came across a much more promising property, a large house that required a great deal of attention, but whose potential as a quiet house for the Lord was clear to us. The Lord spoke clearly as we looked around it: ‘The finding phase is over; but the buying phase will be extremely difficult!’ It was gracious of the Lord to warn us. We encountered many snags and delays before finally, in early 1997, we, together with my parents, were able to move in to the place the Lord had promised so many years before. The renovation is now more or less complete and it is breathtaking. The house, grounds and locality (on the edge of the Long Mynd hills) far surpass our wildest expectations.

Looking back from the far side of our valley of loss we can see how each setback was like a submerged stepping stone that helped us to reach the Broad Open Spaces. We cannot thank Him enough for blocking all our earlier plans – but we do wish we hadn’t wasted so much mental energy ‘doing a doubting Thomas!’

For Reflection

The path of faith is the way of complete embrace. We dare not allow any ‘no-go’ areas to remain in our heart. In order that Jesus stays with us, for His glory and our own well-being, we must yield ourselves completely to Him, and finish the work He has given us to do.

I am anxious, however, that this teaching on yielding should not be used as an excuse to quit some project or position when the going gets tough. There are many times when we are called not to yield, no matter how strong the temptation may be. To offer up our Isaacs to the knife if the Lord is not calling us to do so would be little short of an act of murder! Those who decide on the spur of the moment (and without proper consultation) to abandon their work, families, or ministry leave a trail of havoc in their wake.

Maturity consists of learning to recognize the appropriate response: when to battle against our unseen foes and the endless difficulties and distractions they send our way, and when it is the Lord Himself who is calling us to yield something to Him. Much depends on the choices that we make. We are wise if we seek the prayerful counsel of trusted Christians.

Selah

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my reluctance to yield to You.

I have been trying to preserve my independence and to achieve my goals by my own efforts.

I willingly offer You now my most cherished hopes and desires, as well as all my gifts and abilities. They are of no lasting worth unless You own and empower them.

Still my heart from its own preoccupations so that I can abide more fully in You.

All that I am, and all that I have I give to You, joyfully, unreservedly.

Deliver me from my fears and lead me in the ways of eternity.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

References
1. Quoted in The Wisdom of the Saints Jill Haak Adels (O.U.P.).
I have taken the title for this chapter from an excellent publication of that name by Derek Prince.
2. It is worth reflecting how recently such persecution was on our shores, directed in turn against the Lollards, Non-conformists, Quakers and Catholics. Pray there may be continuing freedom for the gospel in our nation.
3. John 6:66-68.
4. Loren Cunningham, Winning God’s Way (Front Line Publications) and quoted by permission.
5. Luke 8:3. God made his Son dependent on others, as can be seen by the group of women who financed His ministry – a radical innovation at a time when women were not expected to play any significant part in a ministry team.