Step Four in the spiritual life is to choose what God asks and act on what God asks. Before we get there, however, let’s acknowledge this truth: surrender (step #2) is actually where change occurs in the spiritual life. Intuitively we know that until we are able to surrender, it is really beyond our capability to choose what God asks – let alone act on it. In this post, I am suggesting that surrender actually has the power to re-write the story we tell ourselves. It is precisely this power which allows us to finally choose what God asks and act on what God asks.
I’m going back to one of my favorite books for an illustration, “Present Over Perfect: Leaving Frantic Behind for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Life” by Shauna Niequist. Listen to how she narrates the power of surrender to re-write her story. “We all have these complicated tangles of belief and identity and narrative, and one of the early stories I told myself is that my ability to get-it-done is what kept me around. I wasn’t beautiful. I didn’t have a special or delicate skill. But, I could get stuff done, and it seemed to me that ability was my entrance into the rooms into which I wanted to be invited.”
Pause and reflect. Do you have a story about what makes you valuable? Why do you think people would want to keep you around? Why do you think God wants to keep you around?
Niequest continues, “I couldn’t imagine a world of unconditional love or grace, where people simply enter into rooms because the door is open to everyone. The world that made sense to me was a world of earning and proving, and I was gutting it out just like everyone around me, frantically trying to prove my worth.”
Can you feel it? Can you feel the power of imagining a world “where people simply enter into rooms because the door is open to everyone?” Niequest’s book goes on to illustrate how surrender gave her the power to re-write her story. Just because we’ve always believed something to be true about ourselves doesn’t mean it has to tell the truth of who we are becoming. Surrender opens up different stories or narratives in our lives. That is why it changes us.
Now we come to the gospel text with this question, “What story is being written by Jesus’ words?”
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
One story from this text could sound something like this. God is the almighty buzz kill, the eternal wet blanket, the drenching rain on our parade. God just doesn’t want us to have any fun. Surely God missed the memo, “The one with the most toys wins.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, God, I hear ya! I just think you missed it. My heart isn’t influenced by my treasure. Treasure is more about trophies than it is about values.
Another story might sound something like this. God doesn’t want us to chase after that which can never bring us joy; or put ourselves at risk of loss because we valued the wrong stuff. No, God wants us to invest in that which will last because that will bring us peace.
You know what determines the story you read in the gospel text? Surrender. Only surrender has the power to align our desires with God’s desires. Only surrender creates a thirst in our souls, a thirst for God and what God desires.
Much can get in the way of surrender completing its beautiful re-shaping of our story. One of the main obstacles we face is idolatry. Idolatry keeps our desires from aligning with God’s desires every time. To understand idolatry, let’s go back to the meaning of sin. The Greek word for sin, hamartia, is an archery term and a powerful metaphor. When you see a target, immediately, you know where you are supposed to aim — the bull’s eye. In the spiritual life, we would say the bull’s eye is God’s good and perfect will, God’s highest desire for our lives. Idolatry is when we allow anything other than God’s good and perfect will to be the bull’s eye in our lives. That is Jesus’ word of warning in the text, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Step Four in the spiritual life is to choose what God asks and then act on it. That step is absolutely dependent on us identifying the right bull’s eye in our lives — the good and perfect will of God. If we are aiming at the right target with full surrender, then choosing what God asks will come naturally. In fact, other choices won’t even enter the equation. Richard Rohr puts it like this, “The heartfelt desire to do the will of God is, in fact, the truest will of God.”
This process of aligning our desires with God’s desires is known as sanctification. When everything in the spiritual life is working as intended, it is the most natural expression of loving God that we can imagine. We love God. We trust God. We know God is for us and for our good. We naturally want what God wants. That will look like the Great Commandment and the Great Commission: to love God and neighbor, to go into all the world and make disciples. Step Four, if we’ve done the other three, is a no-brainer. It is the natural result of a life lived under the umbrella of grace.
So, we’ve reached the end of the newsprint which started this whole quest, but an authentic and life-changing journey with God is still ahead of us. I hope you see how sequencing these steps in the right order is essential. Beyond that, remember that any time we are distracted or drifting in the spiritual life, we go back to Step One, knowing God’s goodness and trusting that it is true. I’m praying for your steps.