One book that has left a mark on me is The Making of an Ordinary Saint by Nathan Foster. I read his father’s book while in Africa and at the time the disciplines seemed a bit overwhelming to me. I was lost in my own dark night and so the idea of stillness, submission, fasting, or confession, which would have probably prevented much of what came after, were too much for me to even consider.
It is tragic that the church has lost the disciplines. They are a way of bringing about true communion with God. We are trying to talk to God in the midst of distracted moments of our day, but His voice seemingly gets lost along the way. We are a broken, lonely, disconnected people who don’t seem to realize the power of solitude, meditation, service and guidance.
Live with Open Hands
Foster starts with submission. This is living with hands open. It is the core of King David’s humility. He knew that nothing he had was truly his and so lived his life fully submitted to God. He did not get it right 100% of the time. We are all human and regardless of how much we try to yoke ourselves to God and let Him “train” us how to be, we are still flawed people in need of grace. But in the key moments, David realized he was not the author of his story and chose to leave that role with God instead of pretending it was his.
Richard Foster defines submission as: the spiritual discipline that frees us from the everlasting burden of always needing to get our own way. … We learn to hold things lightly, We are also always learning to diligently watch over the spirit in which we hold others – honoring them, preferring them and loving them (p. 21 – Saint).
When we look at the actions of Sarah to Hagar, David to Bathsheba or the duplicity of Rebecca, not only did they usurp the role of God to get their way, but they also used/destroyed another person to do it.
They put (let) their desire for a child, their lust, their need to be first, override their trust in God. They chose to have “their own way” verses knowing God was writing a narrative through them (as he does with all who truly submit to him) and trusting his timing.
“Submission means to hold the interest of others above our own. It means freedom self-pity and self-absorption (the opposite of submission). … Self-denial is the only true path to self-fulfillment”Making of an Ordinary Saint (pg.21)
As we have all lived through the last six months, we have seen how some people respond to a “loss of freedom.” Other realize that circumstances do not dictate our freedom. People in prison, in hiding, in quarantine, or in pain can find true freedom while people with “everything” can be imprisoned in anger, hatred, self-preservation, “rights”.
It’s attitudinal. It’s perspective. It is what you chose to focus on.
What are you looking at? Where is your vision? What are you letting define you?
Our ability to see beyond where we are is a choice. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, is available anywhere.
Read the Psalms – the heart cry of David (and others). Here was a man told the kingdom would be his, only to spend 16 years on the run from the current king who wanted to kill him. He had opportunities to kill the king, but did not because it was not his place. He cried out to God in the wilderness, he submitted his circumstances to God’s hands. He was patient for his promise. In the midst of persecution, war, hatred, and time he submitted – again and again – and held all he had with hands wide open before the Lord.
His greatest sin – adultery and murder – came when he started to pursue his own desire. He is a great reminder that submission is not a one time action. It is constantly repeated release of control.
Surrendering Your Story
As you practice and do the disciplines Foster writes about, you become more okay with the reality that I am not the author of my story. It is not up to me to make it all work, to create my path, to cling to other’s ideas for my identity.
In letting go of the lie that my striving does any good, I am able to release my need to control or allowing outside standards define and dictate me. I release people to be who they are and realize it is not my place nor my duty to change them.
When I let go – God shows up.
“I encountered a deep serenity from surrendering my desire and accepting life for what it is and not what I want it to be. … I accept people for who they are and not who I want them to be… When I let go, God shows up”Making of an Ordinary Saint (pg. 31)
Finding True Freedom
“Chain yourself to me and I’ll teach you how to live as you were created to live. … My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
We often only turn to God when we are at our wits end. We have tried to solve whatever is going on by ourselves. We have schemed, bargained, worked, run ourselves ragged – and the whole time God is offering to shoulder this load with us (for us).
There is a better way! A way that dulls the allure of social media and muffles the noise so you could focus on what matters. The disciplines invite you to this other path.
It is surrender and letting go of control. It is realizing we are not the commanders of our lives. It is acknowledging that we are not here to get our way and instead pursue something better.
But we humans are selfish and, for some reason, prefer the hard way.
“Jesus knew that as humans, we are by nature slaves – slaves to power, approvals, to escapism. So instead of leaving us bound to our selfish desires, he calls us to chain ourselves to his rule of love.”Making of an Ordinary Saint (pg. 32)
What have I chained myself to? It is an uncomfortable question, but one that must be answered honestly if we are ever to be free of what enslaves us.
It is a slow process to leave behind what I am told to let define me and to lean hard into God. We do not know His yardstick and we are not supposed to. It is surrender, not perfection. It’s letting go and realizing it never was about me.
Foster’s book invites us to learn “the unforced rhythms of grace” by making the disciplines applicable to today. In our times of righteous anger, 140-character retorts, time lost online because we do not know what else to do but we all feel the sky is falling, Foster calls us to pause and look up. He invites us into rhythms that heal. It is the balm we need right now.
So many are looking for God in all the wrong places. He will not be found in a party, in the laws we pass, or the justices we approve. God is found in acts of service, solitude, prayer, submission. If your heart rebels against such things, or if those words are water to a parched soul – I promise Foster’s book will leave you more at peace than where you are right now.
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