All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
(Judson W. Van De Venter, 1896)
Growing up, I heard this song many times. It was a favorite, sung at the close of revival services, camp meetings, and college chapel services, so I knew it well and sang it loudly. Following that bold declaration, however, was another matter. Exactly how does one surrender everything to Jesus? How does someone learn to give things to Him freely, without fear? How can a person live in His presence, daily? Sometime in college, I began asking these questions.
I had grown up in a Nazarene pastor's home, had been involved in every possible church activity, and was attending a Nazarene college. Yet when I sang this familiar song, I felt a gnawing sense that there was more; that I had missed something along the way.
I don't think my experience is unique. I have spoken with many Christians, old and young. Some have been in the church for decades, and some for months. A common thread runs through many of our stories. When we are honest, we share a subtle discontent or even despair at not being who we want to be. Worse still, most of us don't even know how to become that person.
We often fall into the trap of thinking that becoming like Christ should happen easily and naturally. Many times I've heard it described as if Christians matured by osmosis - just showing up in church makes us holy by association. If we put this common misconception into an equation it might look like this:
Going to church twice a week
+ Reading the Bible
+ Attending Sunday School
+ Volunteering as a nursery worker
= Christlike disciple
Of course no one would argue that these are bad things. They are all good and all important.
Yet when Jesus talked about what it took for people to become His disciples, He made no allusions to ease.
He talked about a narrow road, about getting through the eye of a needle, about picking up one's cross, and about selling everything to afford the pearl of great price.
We cannot find the narrow road without looking for it, nor can we get through the eye of a needle or pick up our cross by accident. The act of selling everything we have in order to buy that beautiful pearl requires a decision and intentional action. This intentionality is not to be confused with "earning" one's salvation, however.
We receive grace freely, as God's gift to us.
Yet if we are to continue to "grow in grace," as John Wesley often said, we must choose to do so.
This is what Paul was telling the Philippians when he admonished them to continue in their obedience by working out "your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you" (Philippians 2:12 NASB).
To the Romans he wrote, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2 NASB). He did not tell anyone to transform themselves, but only to make sure they were allowing God to transform them.
Spiritual formation is about positioning ourselves to be transformed by God into the image of Christ.
Since the Israelites first worshiped God at Mount Sinai, the people of God have engaged in practices designed to help them remember and participate in God's work in their lives. Observing Sabbath, praying, reading and memorizing Scripture, fasting, being accountable in community, and practicing compassion are actions that better position us to be aware of and active in the work of God within us.
When we engage in formative practices, we are giving God space to work. Only God can change the human heart. Yet we know He does not force this change upon us, and so we must present ourselves to be changed. If we want to be God's workmanship, we need to spend time in His workshop, which can be in our living room, in our church, or across the ocean. We just need to show up on a regular basis, ready to be sanded and polished.
Sometimes visits into the workshop help us admit that we need to be transformed. As we practice fasting, for example, we notice the things that we crave more than we crave God. Or in the practice of resting on Sabbath, we are challenged to ask if we truly trust that God can provide for us even when we take a break from providing for ourselves. Thus, we give God room to tell us what needs work.
Other times, we show up in the workshop doing something only because we're supposed to, yet fighting it on the inside. I've seen this happen most often in the formative practice of compassionate ministry. Talking with, and serving individuals who are different from us can at first be difficult and uncomfortable. Yet somehow this time spent in God's workshop soon transforms us into people who actually love their neighbors; even ones who don't look like us.
Better still, as I have seen in my own life, the time and space given God for His work in my life results in an ever-deeper love and appreciation for Him. I grow more familiar with His work, and so am able to see His hand everywhere.
Suddenly, one day when we are singing that old familiar hymn, we realize we really do know what it's like to live in surrender, freely giving God access to our lives, and daily enjoying His presence while in His workshop.
Michaele LaVigne is equipping pastor at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma.
Think about your spiritual walk.
- Are you maturing in faith?
- Where do you turn when you need spiritual guidance and mentoring?
- Are you allowing Christ to form you into a useful vessel?
- What are areas of your life that need surrendering? What's keeping you from doing that?
Holiness Today, July/August 2011