Devoted hearts will find victory

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Ps. 32:8)

We cannot “will” our way to following Christ. We surrender and then determination to follow will come after devotion. 

“God does not want obedience as the fruit of our willful determination. God wants surrender as the choice of the heart. For what we long for in our heart we will pursue with the totality of our being — not simply with the resolve of our will.” (David Benner, Desiring God’s Will, p. 76)

Picking and choosing how and when we love God

“Our ambivalence about surrender to God is based on the illusory security of the kingdom of self in relation to the apparent risk of the kingdom of God. God terrifies humans. In the words of Louis Evely, ‘He is total self-denial. He is entirely directed toward another… He knows no rest, no satisfaction, no withdrawal within himself.’ We, on the other hand, have a deeply ingrained tendency to rely on ourselves. We want love without sacrifice — without the risk and expense of the surrender of self-control and determination. God cannot accept such a bargain.”
— David Benner, Desiring God’s Will (p. 39)

 

The POWER of praying the Lord’s Prayer

Even though we can run through the Lord’s Prayer almost literally in our sleep, it is good to PRAY the Lord’s Prayer.

Our natural prayer is generally (without saying exact words): my kingdom come, my will be done. We too often prayer willful and independent prayers.

The power of the Lord’s Prayer is, if we pray it, we find ourselves in a place of surrender. 

Your kingdom come. Your will be done.

The Lord’s Prayer inverts the liturgy of the kingdom of self (David Benner, Desiring God’s Will).

We need subversive prayers. We need our worlds turned on end. We need our little kingdoms overturned. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of death… to self. It is a choice to live in willing surrender.

PRAY the Lord’s Prayer.

Coming into willingness, not willfulness

I am beginning the third slender volume by David Benner called Desiring God’s Will. It is part of a wonderful trilogy that deserves to be read slowly.

This quote for today:

The motto of willfulness is “My way or no way.” Because of this, willfulness leads to death, not freedom. It is an act of rebellion — the residue of the unredeemed two-year-old who continues to sit in stubborn defiance in a dark corner of our soul, unwilling to let go and let be. In more distinctively Christian terms, it is the unwillingness to offer the prayer of release taught and modeled by our Lord: “Not my will, but thine be done.”

 

Self-Discovery

The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner is the second book in a three book set that leads the reader into understanding who they are in God. Each book is fairly brief and has discussion questions for personal and group study.

This particular volume leads the reader into “self” discovery, but not in a way one would normally think.

“Discovering yourself” isn’t about constructing something through self-improvement. It’s not an object to be grasped. It can’t be torn down and built back up by therapy.

Benner’s contention is we find out WHO we are by seeking GOD.

“There is no true life apart from relationship to God.”

A fairly bold statement for a therapist to make.

As we seek and know God, we find true freedom. We also find our calling. We find the pleasure of understanding what brings pleasure to God… and how he pours that pleasure back through us.

This past week I was reminded of that joy when I shared in another class about my main vocation: pastoring. I teach as an adjunct and really enjoy it, but when I was in another class sharing about my city, my church, and the ministry… I was overwhelmed with joy again. THIS is what brings pleasure more than anything. It wasn’t talking about the relationships I have with city leaders and others in my community. It was the relationships themselves that brought me joy. I think of the deep friendships cultivated and the HOPE of seeing these friends come into Kingdom blessing… and I find true joy.

Two buzzwords we have about our lives are “happiness” and “fulfillment.”

“God just wants me to be happy.”

“I just want to be FULFILLED in life.”

Those are important to God, but can’t be divorced from his DESIRE for us. Deep joy isn’t found in our personal happiness or fulfillment. Deep joy is found in Christ.

Benner boldly states that simply pursuing happiness and fulfillment as ultimate goals is idolatry. Our purest joy, deepest satisfaction, and true authentic self can only be found in Christ.

Benner’s slim volumes are packed with intense thoughts. Short sentences leave me thinking about those thoughts long after I put the book down.

IVP sent me these books at no cost and no obligation for review.

Dealing with the “you” that God knows

The Gift of Being Yourself is a slim volume in a three volume set by David Benner. He gets to the core of knowing the reality of who we are, past the deceptions we like to throw up in defense, and get to the view that God sees… the one God sees and still loves us anyway!

He has a quote from Merton:

There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with reality.

Then Benner writes this:

The truly spiritual life is not an escape from reality but a total commitment to it.

God knows who we are.. in reality… and loves us. Deal with the “you” God knows.

Book Review: Surrender to Love by David Benner

I received Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality by David Benner from IVP. It is part of a trilogy of small books Benner has updated.

The foreword by M. Basil Pennington has this sentence: “It took me several weeks to read.” The volume I as holding in my hands was slender. The text itself, subtracting discussion group exercises at the end, is less than 100 pages.

Several weeks?

Then, I got into Benner’s introduction… and could easily see how long this could take. Every sentence was a meal.

There are some books that “hit us” at the right time. This seems to be one of them. The words were so inviting. The spirit was gentle. The message was intense and full of love. I wrote one of the staff at IVP and said, “I have almost literally cried my way through this little book.”

Benner turns our sappy cultural notions of “love” on its ear. Unapologetically. He also talks in terms of total surrender and complete transformation that is only possible in Christ. Unapologetically. And he does so as a psychologist. He doesn’t believe in “self-help” or incremental change. It is about total surrender to the astonishing love of Christ. And his words breathe hope and life into the reader.

His premise is this: “Love invites surrender, and surrender is at the heart of spirituality.” (p. 15)

He rejects the entire notion that “God is angry” (although he deals with what it means to fear God), and boldly states that only love has the power to transform a person. We have to surrender. We have to be completely vulnerable. We don’t follow Christ out of simple, blind obedience. We follow him from a posture of surrender.

I wrote briefly yesterday of his opening four lines in Chapter One. They still blow me away.

What does God think about me? How DOES he feel about me? Too often I project my own disappointment into that that answer.

“God bursts with love for humans.” (p. 20)

Not exactly “wrath of God” stuff that makes me feel somewhat better about how lousy I am as a Christian at times.

The bold statement of God’s love for Benner is not based on emotion. It is about God’s character. Love is stripped of our sappy cultural definitions. It is powerful, and I sensed that intense love all the way through this slender volume.

When it comes to encountering God’s love, Benner believes it is vital not only for people who “live with their hearts” but also for people who “live in their heads.” We can’t leave our commitment to following Christ with head knowledge. We need the experience of his love. We need to FEEL his deep love for us. We need that experience.

But this powerful love is also for those who tend to live only in the emotion of the moment. God’s radical love takes us beyond the superficial feelings. It is a call to move beyond the superficial feelings and understand the power of authentic feeling. Along with that comes critical thinking, and God’s love is not opposed to critical thinking.

Each chapter ends with a long list of suggestions for further reflection. There are Scriptures to soak in. At the end of the book are two sets of discussion ideas. One set is for a 5 week study. The other set is for a day long retreat.

I readily concede Pennington’s statement in the foreword. This little volume is one I can carry with me for weeks and feast on sentences at a time. It is my prayer the other two volumes pack this much power!