Beliefnet

Before September 11, many Americans--particularly Christians--felt that they had a privileged place in God's heart. We put "In God We Trust" on our coins and declare ourselves "one nation under God" when pledging allegiance to our flag and nation. On the whole, America was strong, successful, and prosperous, so folks thought the "fix" was in. God would never allow America to come to harm.

When terrible harm did come, people started asking how God could have allowed such a thing to happen. Jerry Falwell was one of the first to offer an answer: God had withdrawn protection from America because of gays, abortions, and the American Civil Liberties Union. (He sort of apologized later.)

A widely circulated e-mail answered the question "Where was God?" by listing all of the things God had done to limit damage: making folks sleep late, comforting passengers on the planes, inspiring the firefighters to save people in the World Trade Center. But some people began to question the whole idea of the "fix." Could it be that people had been standing on a promise that God never made?

If God isn't in our back pockets, isn't a magic shield to be brought out in times of danger, isn't a dispenser of blessings in times of safety, then who is God? What is our relationship to God? Could it be that the calls to give ourselves to Jesus were more than preacherly rhetoric, that following Christ, surrendering our wills to God's will, is really what Christian spirituality is all about? Is it time to stop being children, looking to God as a big sugar daddy in the sky and "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15)? Maybe even time to stop asking God to bless whatever we want to do and ask instead for God's guidance. Even while our government tries to bring the Taliban to submission, perhaps we need to submit ourselves to God.

When we hear the call to surrender ourselves to God from preachers and evangelists, in Sunday worship, at revivals, even watching television, it always sounds so simple. Just turn your life over to Jesus. Say Yes to God. Let Jesus take control. This is the basic decision of the spiritual life: Are we going to trust God or not? Will we seek to discern and do God's will, or will we continue to insist that we know what's best for ourselves? The question is simple to ask and the answer is a simple choice. But it is by no means easy to live it out.

The first step in this spiritual journey is from ought to want. Before we know God at all, others--parents, pastors, and teachers--tell us about God and about what our relationship to God should be. It can be a gentle suggestion or a demand: "You really ought to trust God and trust yourself to God." Eventually, whether by some experience of God's love or from the realization that our attempts to be good on our own are doomed to futility, we begin to internalize the suggestion. We realize that we do want to trust God to guide us in our lives.

For some people the realization comes gradually. For others it is a single dramatic step, a conversion. But however we come to want to trust God's guidance, we are soon faced with another problem. While we may want to trust God completely, we don't. We hold back whole areas of our lives from God's control. We try hard to follow what we can see of God's plan for us in some areas. In others we second-guess every hint of God's will. We may even openly reject what we're sure God wants of us. So there needs to be a second step: the slow, often painful movement from want to be. Gradually we learn to trust God more and more, until what we want has come to be who we are, until with God we "will one will." That is, until in cooperation with God's grace we have been made perfect in love.

Throughout this journey of surrendering, we need all the help we can get: encouragement from friends, spiritual guidance, support from a small group of fellow travelers, immersion in scripture and other spiritual reading. But it is good to have some constant goad, something to keep reminding us of the choice we've made. For the last quarter century or so, the Covenant Prayer has reminded me to keep on keeping on:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt,
rank me with whom thou wilt;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee;
let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

The prayers that we pray can become a rock to which we cling through the storms of crisis, like the ones we are experiencing today. Since they are prayers we have chosen and reaffirmed, we know that they express our own deeper longings and the core of our faith.

Even after years of living with the Covenant Prayer, sometimes it is just a prayer I repeat, almost without thinking. Sometimes it is the spur for deeper meditation. But always it reminds me of my deepest desire: to surrender, to give up clinging to the illusion that I am my own, and become, by God's grace, fully God's.

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