WHEN MAN LISTENS
by Cecil Rose
God in Control
When a forty horse-power car refuses to climb a hill, it is time to find out what is wrong. Had it been a car of eight horse-power, or even ten horse-power, we might have concluded that the hill was too steep, but a forty horse-power car is made to climb any hill.
We are in the same plight to-day with religion. It looks as though Christianity had stopped on the hill. Certainly the type of Christianity to which we have been most accustomed has not been able to surmount the hatreds and fears which divide nations, races, and classes, or the selfishness which results in want amidst a world of plenty. It has also failed to reach the need of vast numbers of men and women who are at war with themselves and in great want of peace, freedom from fear, and the power to deal with life victoriously. Meanwhile materialist ideologies have swept past it in the race for world leadership.
To plead the difficulties of the time–war reactions, materialistic tendencies, and the rest–is to beg the question. The power which Christians claim to wield is God’s power. That should be enough to take us up any hill and over all obstacles.
Why has it not done so?
If we choose, we may say that the car is a fraud that it was never capable of a quarter of its alleged horse-power, and we may leave it at the roadside. That will not take us up the hill. And we do need desperately some means of getting to the top. For one thing the gradient is dangerous. We are in danger of running backwards at any moment into social chaos, personal unhappiness and defeat, or world disaster. But apart from damage, there is in us the desire for life at a level of freedom, effectiveness, and happiness for ourselves and for the world greater than anything we have yet reached. We need something to lift us to this level. We should be silly to abandon the car before we have made quite sure that its breakdown is not our fault and that it cannot be put right.
There is all the more reason to examine our car, since there is none other available. It is not only our type of religion which seems to have failed: education has not overcome the passions which make war, nor has it emptied the divorce courts. Statesmanship is baulked and helpless in a fear-ridden world that cannot outlive its memories. Industry and commerce have built up the marvelous and intricate mechanism of production and distribution, but they have not been able to make it proof against the grit that men are throwing so plentifully into the wheels. Science has provided us with amazingly varied means for the enrichment of life, but it has not given us happiness. Where is the alternative to another trial of the Christian solution?
Besides, the Christian solution is giving more signs of working than perhaps we thought. When an ex-communist and a Russian princess speak on the same platform of the answer that Christ has brought to their hatred, we may well ask how it happened, and whether it cannot happen again to others. When the wife of a Blue-shirt officer in Ireland discovers how to work for a new Ireland in friendship with a woman who wheeled her baby through Dublin streets in a perambulator half-full of Mills’ bombs, we begin to see a possible end to civil strife. When the home of two people, who were on the edge of divorce, becomes a centre of Christian action, we know that there is a real working answer to unhappy marriages. And when this same answer begins to work out, as it is doing to-day, in the lives of thousands of men and women, giving them release from all manner of personal problems, not only is it worth while, but it is imperative, that we should find out whether it can work on such a scale that it can remake a nation-and a world.
Perhaps we had the brakes on all the time, or perhaps we had allowed dirt to block the petrol-pipe.
If we are to try out the Christian life, we must understand what it is.
There is a widespread notion that a Christian is a man who tries to live up to certain ideals. That is to miss the most important fact about him. A Christian is not a man who is trying to do something. He is a man who has received something. He is a man raised to a new level of power. This is evident as soon as we turn to the New Testament.
The New Testament contains something far greater than a new set of ideals. It is the story of what God can do with men and women when they let Him-the revolution that takes place when God is given control of lives. The people we meet in the Acts of the Apostles are clearly men and women to whom something has happened. They are acting with a courage that was not theirs at first. They speak with a force and clarity not natural to their uncultured tongues. They have shed the self-seeking and contentious spirit that marred their earlier record. They are irrepressible in their confidence and joy, when, before, they were so easily daunted. For the most part they are obscure folk, yet they succeed in turning their world upside down. Here are personalities released and raised to a new level of effectiveness. They are adequate in a new way to meet all demands.
That is what all of us want to be.
We may be looking for the secret in all sorts of places where it cannot be found, but the object of our quest is adequacy for life. That is exactly what Jesus promised. He did not say, ‘I have come that you might have a new and more exacting set of rules,’ or ‘I have come to call you to strive after a higher level of conduct.’ He said, ‘I have come that you might have Life-and have it to the full.’ ‘Life to the full’ must mean a life set free from the haunting sense of failure, victorious over temptation, released from fears, with a new mastery over moods, impulses, and habits, a clear purpose, and a power which makes possible the effective use of the whole personality. If that sounds a sweeping programme, it is no more than is promised in the New Testament. A body of people who had found this secret could change the world.
How is it to be found?
Jesus announced His answer to man’s need in one phrase, ‘the Kingdom of God‘-that is the Kingship of God–God’s complete control of life, of your life and mine.
What we see happening to men and women in the Acts of the Apostles is what happens when God is really allowed to take over and run our lives Himself. Our fundamental need is for Him to be in charge. Our fundamental sin is that we have not allowed Him to be. We may have referred some of our difficulties and questions to Him. We may have accepted portions of His programme for us–selected according to taste-but we have not given Him complete command. The self-run life has been our trouble.
Peace, direction, power-the fullness of life await the complete surrender of ourselves to God for His purposes. This is the great experiment that is waiting to be made–giving God control.
How do we begin the experiment?
To put it very simply, God cannot take over my life unless I am willing. Willingness is not a matter of feeling. It is not a vague desire that God should change me. It is not an impulsive resolve to obey God in future. It is a very practical thing.
If a man is bankrupt and consents to his chief creditor reorganizing and running the business, the first thing he must do is to produce the books–all of them. The difficulty with so many debtors is that they conceal some of their debts, or fail to mention some particularly foolish blunder or some doubtful transaction to which fear prompted them. A satisfactory re-organization is impossible if there is only a partial disclosure. If, then, I want God to take control of my life, the first thing I must do is to produce the books. I must be willing to look with God at everything I know about myself, and at everything He can show me when I honestly test my life by what I see of His will in Christ.
A good way to begin this examination of the books is to test my life beside the Sermon on the Mount. A convenient and pointed summary of its teaching has been made under four heads–Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love.
It is very necessary to keep that word ‘Absolute’ in mind. It is like a clear white light searching into all sorts of hidden corners. It makes sure that I shall not overlook the places where I was content with a second best or excused myself for a compromise.
Honesty? Well, that is not too bad. I do not rob the till, or make fraudulent returns to the Inspector of Taxes. (Or do l?) But Absolute Honesty? That looks different. Do I make elaborate excuses over something that I have simply forgotten to do? Do I waste my employer’s time by lateness or slackness? Am I living in the open with my family?
Absolute Purity? What would my thought-life look like on the screen?
Absolute Unselfishness? Why do I get touchy and defensive when people criticize me? Am I only thinking of them, or is it my own feelings and reputation for which I still care? And what would my family say about my absolute unselfishness?
Absolute Love? Yes, I know that I did not begin the trouble, and as far as I know, have done nothing to keep it going, but what have I done to end it? And what about my likes and dislikes?
It may be useful at this point if I get a pencil and paper, and make some notes. This business of looking into the books is taking me further than I expected, but I must see it through.
My life is many-sided. How far am I allowing God to take control over its various interests and activities? There is my business. Is He managing director? There is my money. Does He spend it? My time. Does He dispose of it? There are my friendships, my home, my career, my leisure. How far is God in absolute control of these? Willingness for Him to take charge will mean an honest and thorough scrutiny of every area of my life. It will bring to light all sorts of things that I have not been willing for God to alter-habits, indulgences, wrong relationships, personal ambition, opinions, and sheer self-will. Sin will take on a deeper meaning for me. Anything that I am not willing to submit to God is sin.
The next practical result of my ‘willingness’ will be that I shall take any steps which God shows me, to put right the wrong I. have done. There may be a broken relationship to be healed, an apology to be offered, a sin to be confessed to the person most concerned, reparation to be made for some dishonesty. For one man the step of honesty with God and with his fellows meant offering to go back to the country lie had left and face his trial for breach of trust. For another it meant admitting to his University that he had received a diploma on the basis of a false statement. Others have had to disillusion altogether misled families about the kind of persons they really are.
These first steps of restitution are absolutely necessary if I am to start the new life clear with God and other people. There will be a great many things I can never put right now. Even the restitution I can make will seem altogether inadequate. I must simply accept the wonder of God’s forgiveness, but I dare not take it unless I am prepared to do everything which can honestly and usefully be done to put wrong right.
I must be just as practical in making effective the new quality of life that God is leading me to see. If I realize my indiscipline, I must pin myself down to some definite step-perhaps getting up earlier, replying to letters, or promptness in keeping my appointments. If I find myself tied up by shyness, it may mean going out among people, or speaking in front of them until the fear is broken. If God speaks to me about unselfishness, it may involve some simple, but costly step at home. If my treatment of my employees, or my attitude to my business rivals has been unloving, there will be immediate steps to take in establishing new relationships. Vague resolutions and dreams of what I might be, never lead to God control. I must let God pin me down to the next thing to be done.
These, then, are the first elements in a surrender of life to God-honest and thorough facing of myself with God, restitution to others, and practical steps of new obedience. They are best talked through with another person. It is so easy to deceive myself, to escape the real shame and humiliation of sin, or to evade the necessary steps. To face a completely honest talk with someone I can trust makes me see myself as I could never do in any other way. It may bring to light much that I have massed. It will certainly make it harder for me to go back or postpone carrying out my resolutions. This is one of the purposes for which God has given us fellowship. It is dangerous to neglect it.
Surrender goes on. It is not simply an initial act. It is a process carried deeper every day. We find out more of ourselves to give to God. We find out more of what God can do with us. But it must begin, and it is possible for us now to give all we know of ourselves to all we know of God.
This initial surrender, if it is thorough and honest, is met at once from God’s side. When we hand over, God takes charge, and things begin to happen. A world of strain falls from us. The business of running life is off our hands. We find that we get through more work, because it is being ordered better. We meet people we were afraid of, and discover that fear has gone. A habit that always beat us seems to have lost its power. Someone wee could not bear appears to us in a new light, and we love them. We come through an ordeal and know that it was not in our own strength.
The fascinating experience of getting ‘re-made’ has begun. The interest grows, because the process does not end with us. Other people notice the difference, and God begins to work in them. An area of life around us begins to change.
But how are we to be sure that this will happen? We want good reasons before we take such a plunge.
There is only one way to be sure–by trying. That is true of all life. It is a tremendous experiment. We only know how the water can bear us up when we get our feet off the bottom. We only find what marriage is like by getting married. We test a remedy by taking it. That is what faith means. It does not mean being quite confident beforehand– working up one’s feelings into a state of certainty. It means making the experiment.
There are grounds for the venture. First of all, our need. Life as we have run it ourselves, has not been the kind of success of which we can be proud. It is worth while giving God the chance to run it better. Then there is all that other people say they have found. We take big steps in life on far less recommendation than is available for this step. Beyond all, there is Christ Himself. He lived this life. He lived it on the basis of absolute obedience to and trust in God. He invited us to make the experiment and prove the willingness of God.
We have to start from the place where we happen to be. Sometimes all that we can say, is, ‘O God, if there is a God, take charge of my life.’ If we mean it, God does take control.