Lord, Give me patience during this time. Give me peace. Give me rest for my weary soul and body. Give me wisdom and discernment so I know what to do. Give me boldness and courage to do your will. Give me joy amidst this heavy sorrow. Give me love for my neighbor. Give me a heart to obey, even in times of trial. Give us, and the rest of the world, protection from this pain and suffering. Give me more of you.
How many of us are praying a similar prayer right now?
Before coronavirus and amidst coronavirus, in my prayers, I’ve noticed that I seem to always be asking God for more. I mean, generally speaking, what human being isn’t?? While I think we can all agree the above is a solid list of things that we should not hesitate to ask for (since God Himself calls us to ask for these things), I think there is one key thing missing that needs to come before all the others. You see, I want God to keep adding, adding, adding to my life but rarely do I ask Him to take anything away.
I want patience, but how often do I ask Him to take away my impatience? I want peace, but do I ask Him to take away my anxious thoughts? I want rest, but do I offer my time up to Him? I want to obey, but do I ask Him to take away my rebellious spirit? I want to be loving, but do I ask Him to take away my hard heart? I want wisdom, but do I ask him to take away my pride?
I’ve realized something about myself. I want to take, take, take from God without ever giving anything up. I want to be filled up, without first being emptied. I want to receive, without release.
This word has been on my mind for months. In January it was on my mind as I was meditating on a word for the new year and coming up with resolutions; the word release was at the heart of it all. In February it came to my mind again as we entered into the season of Lent, generally known in the church as a time of release in which we prepare our hearts for what is to come. In March with the explosion of COVID19, it seemed the whole world was called to ponder and take part in a season of release as well…release of comforts, schedules, and most of all, control.
And now, we are in April and it is the day before Easter. Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus being tortured, hung, and nailed to the wooden cross for our sins, was yesterday. His body was buried and placed in the hollow grave deep beneath the Earth and collectively Creation mourned in sorrow while taking in a deep breath, not knowing exactly if or when the release from death would come.
Thankfully, three days later it did.
All of Creation was released from the grip and sting of Death itself.
We who were prisoners, bound by the chains of sin and powers of darkness, were set free.
It is finished.
The battle is won, now what is to come?
As I lift my eyes and hands upwards in prayer and ask for Him to give me more of His spirit, His love, His wisdom, and His peace… God leans in and whispers back down into my ear.
“It is yours already, RELEASE and take hold.”
How can that be? That He who has released me, calls me too to release? Release what?
“Release the bitterness, the fears and anxiety, the jealousy and pride, the insecurities and shame, the self-righteousness, “your rights” and the things you think are owed to you, the need for control, the expectations of your future, the unrealistic standards of perfection, the desire for the temporary pleasures of this world. Release.”
He has surrendered His life for me, but I still must surrender my own to Him.
He has set me free from bondage, but I have to choose freedom for myself.
The chains are surely broken, but I still have to put them down and let go.
It seems like it would be such an easy decision–choose freedom! So why then does Paul need to remind us not to go back to our captors?
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Because we are human and our understanding of the world is severely limited. Sometimes, we are like the prisoner who finds out they have been set free, yet meanders back to their cell, reasoning that bondage, because it is familiar, feels safer than the freedom. We cling to our filthy old rags and cold metal chains, afraid to inch out of the darkness, afraid of the light because it is unknown and shows us things outside ourselves. We cling to them, thinking we can keep some of the old and familiar things with us as we walk into the new. We cling to them not believing ourselves to be truly free…not believing ourselves worthy to wear anything other than this. We cling to them thinking they offer us something that He cannot.
And while I am still clinging onto these broken chains and filthy rags, My Father, My Redeemer gently reaches down to help to pry them from my hands, giving me confidence and strength to let go, while offering me something entirely brand new, clean, and beautiful…something priceless and infinitely better, a robe fit for the daughter of The King.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Take off and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24).
God doesn’t want to just to just put a new robe over old rags, He wants to remove them. God doesn’t want to just add to what we already have, He wants to transform it. God doesn’t just want to make us better people, He wants to make us His people. God doesn’t want us to just have a changed life, He wants to give us a new life.
To receive this amazing gift, we must first have a heart that is willing to release.
Scripture is filled with these calls to release.
In the gospels, a rich man asks what he must do to receive eternal life and Jesus tells him “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor.” Later Jesus reminds the people that “No man can serve two masters…or he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” You must release one.
In the Year of Jubilee (also known as “Lord’s release”) described in Deuteronomy 15, God reminds the people of Israel every 7th year of the importance of releasing their grip on power, property, and people in order to maintain harmony and closeness in their relationships with each other, creation, and with God.
In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus told the crowd and his disciples “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Our prayer can’t just be “more of Him”, it must also be “less of me.”
More of Him, Less of Me.
He has set us FREE, not so that we can return to the yoke of slavery to sin and the flesh or to the rags of self-righteousness under the law or to shame. But, so that we might walk forth boldly out of the darkness, arms raised in surrender and ready to receive, toward the light of the Son, who long ago orchestrated our release by allowing Himself to be bound and tied to the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.
His torture for my freedom. His death for my life. His capture and bondage for my release.
It is here, at the foot of the cross and the feet of my Savior, that I am called to my own sort of daily release. A daily release of self. It is here, in the shadow of His earthly body, that I am called to release control and ownership of my own, offering my body instead as living sacrifice and temple for His Spirit to dwell. It is here that I am called to not only release (let go), but to repent of (turn away from) my selfishness, my pride, and my fears that threaten to bind me once again under the yoke of slavery.
It is here that I myself was released, and it is here that I in turn release my self to Him.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection…when Christ defeated the grave and in turn gave us the chance for new life, eternal life.
It was His choice to lay His life down for us. Will we in return choose to lay down our lives for Him?