A short time after I became a believer a friend gave me a little booklet by Amy Carmichael, called “If”. It was a tough book for a new Christian to read because it is primarily a series of challenges to the self to be willing to be in submission to God in all circumstances. It called us always to desire to think and act motivated by what Miss Carmichael called “Calvary love”. I was nowhere near that understanding of faith yet ~ but it opened my eyes to a depth of love for Christ and the possibilities in a life of faith of which I had never dreamed.
It set a standard, and gave me a glimpse of a very human life truly dedicated to serving Christ with all your heart, mind and soul. I saw my own struggles reflected in her struggles. I recognized internal things in my own life which I had never seen before: things like pride, selfishness, and lack of patience. I knew that my primary example should be the Lord, but I also knew I wasn’t able to reach His perfection. Miss Carmichael certainly was not perfect ~ but it was in her failures and conflicts that the true depth of her faith came out, and showed me that I could also fail, but eventually find forgiveness and strength to overcome at the feet of the Savior. I read that book every day, and I think I can truthfully say that next to my Bible, it had more impact on my spiritual life than any other book at that time.
Recently I have been re-reading, with awe, her insights and the story of her life. She was a missionary to India, going out in 1895 and eventually setting up a home for children and later others who needed refuge, including those who had been set aside to serve as temple prostitutes. She served without a single furlough; never leaving India again until she died in 1951. She had a fall in 1932, and after that was confined to her bed with constant pain, and ministered through her devotional writings. I have experienced now, and know at greater depth the kind of spiritual struggles with which she wrestled. I thank God that He put her little book in my path at such a tender spiritual age, because it allowed me to understand that I was to go deeper.
I am still trying to learn that lesson. I get so discouraged with myself at times. I find myself coasting along, satisfied with the status quo, and being content to accept spiritual milk, when I should be hungering for meat. Philip Yancey, in his book on prayer, speaks of the currently accepted vision of God who “represents success, good feelings, a sense of peace, a warm glow.” He makes the point that Christians of today with “the cheery optimism of modern consumer-oriented faith”, are often confused by a call to go deeper. They expect a life of peace and harmony and constant forward motion, and become anxious when it doesn’t go that way. For them, an encounter with the occasional silence of God or an attack from the enemy is a terrible shock. They have been taught that all they need to do is keep the rules and the Lord will give them everything they want, make the way smooth.
Yancey points out that our reading used to take us to works like Pilgrim’s Progress, the story of a struggling believer trying to find his way through trials like the Slough of Despond and other difficulties; or John of the Cross’s Dark Nights of the Soul; or Thomas à Kempis book “Imitation of Christ”; or Brother Lawrence practicing the presence of God as he labored in the most menial and humbling tasks. These books helped us understand that the way of the Cross is often filled with difficulty; that challenge is the pathway to growth. Now we look for warm fuzzies and only enjoy reading about things that reinforce our magic genie vision of God and promise us lots of pie in the sky. In the language of social media, we don’t “like” hard truths that call us to lose some of our complacency and challenge us to take the more demanding path.
Yet, I know that there is more, and increasingly I find I can’t be at peace if I try to take the easy way out. It is all too comfortable for me to compare myself to others and say, “Well ~ look at them ~ they are happy, and they love the Lord, and they never seem to have these struggles. If I just coast along and go through the motions, then I won’t have to go through all this angst and inner pain and life will be so much simpler”. Whenever I do this, the Spirit begins to press. I can’t pretend to myself that this is satisfactory because I have seen, in the lives of people like Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliot and countless other spiritually mature women of God, that we need to go deeper. I must take up my cross and follow Him, no matter where that takes me, no matter how hard the journey. Nothing I have gone through in life can compare to the things He has suffered for my sake. It isn’t as if I have to make the journey alone. He is always at my side, encouraging, strengthening, and helping me up when I stumble.
What sometimes keeps me back is sheer funk. Sometimes I am afraid to trust Him. I know that there may be pain in the lessons, that the path may be rocky and full of risk. Yet, in the end, I know I must follow, because I meant it when I gave my life to Christ all those years ago, and I love Him. How can I hold back any part of me when He has given everything for me?
Ultimately, I am not responsible for the lives of my fellow believers, except that I know I always want to behave in a way that honors Christ, and that others, believers and non-believers, may be watching. I want to represent Him in the truest way possible, for my sake as well as for their perception of who and what a believer can be. The deepest part of the journey lies in genuinely becoming more like Him, rather than being concerned with what appears on the surface. It is an internal change that I desire. The only way for this to happen is that I must die to self, and live to have Him fill me up: “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”. (Eph. 3:19)
What would it take to bring us all to the place where we could echo this prayer by Amy Carmichael?
“My Father, there are many reasons why I could feel downcast.
When I think about some parts of my life, it’s hard to pray… even harder to worship in freedom…
…relationships that are difficult…
…dreams and goals that are crumbling…
…old hurts that wound me over and over…
Some parts of me feel cold and wordless.
Is the problem that I’ve buried some things deep inside? Are You patiently calling ~ through days and months ~ for me to open up to You at some deeper level?
Today, Father, I trust You to go deeper.”
That is the key ~ I WANT to go deeper; to be prepared to follow Him even into the scary places; not compromising with second best; being willing to take the harder way if that will bring me closer to Him. There is an old fashioned word which we seldom hear anymore ~ it is “sanctification”. It means choosing to set ourselves apart for God; and letting Him change us layer by layer into His image by the submission of self to His will. I can no longer accept any substitutes, any shallow cotton candy kind of faith. I am to strap on the full armor of God and go forth as a warrior prepared to take on whatever the world and Satan throw at me. Again and again I need to tell myself that it isn’t about me, and my wants, and my pride and my ego. It is about the Savior who died, and the cost to Him at Calvary for my sake, and all that this means in terms of how I live my life. I can’t be satisfied anymore with a Sunday go-to-meeting kind of faith that stops at the door of the church on my way out. I am either Christ’s person, or I am not… whatever that costs.
Father, please guide me to the next level of faith; let me go deeper as I keep my hand trustingly in Yours.