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In Acceptance Lies Peace
My understanding of Christian acceptance is that it is not:
∑ Resignation----where I consider that the unpleasant event is inevitable and I can do nothing more about it.
∑ Fatalism ----where I consider that the events in mmy life are controlled by fate and that I cannot do anything to change them.
∑ Capitulation---where I surrender to the unwelcome event after a few feeble tries.
∑ Passivism ---where I submit and not take the initiaative to change because I am lazy.
∑ Quietism ---where I passively abandon mysellf to devotion and contemplation.
But Christian acceptance to me: is praying many times to the Lord about my unwelcome event and simultaneously do all my best, which includes consulting the best sources, to overcome the situation. I also seek the help of those whom God has given the gift or talent to help me. Only after I have done my utmost, with Godís help, do I then accept whatever is the outcome. God is in charged of my life and I trust that He knows what is best for me ultimately. Thus, in my acceptance, I will find the peace that surpasses all human understanding.
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliotís book ďBe Still My Soul,Ē published in 2003.
I sat next to a lady at a luncheon once who told me that she and her husband had learned he had an incurable and very slowly debilitating disease when they had been married for only a very short time. She said, "When we got home, we sat down together and asked what we were going to do. We decided that we could be miserable for twenty-five years, or however long it would last, or we could be happy. And we chose to be happy." She added, "We had twenty-five wonderful years before he died."
Another time, as I sat at the book table following a seminar, a lady cut through the line, dropped a letter into my lap, and said, "You can read this if you want to, or just throw it away," and quickly disappeared. I hardly had time to see her face, but of course I read her letter and my heart went out to her. She said her name was June and she wrote that she is a committed Christian, Sunday school superintendent, witness to neighbors and friends, seamstress, homemaker, mother of three. The story she told is not a new one:
"Please, can you help me to understand what I must do? I do not love or respect my husband." She described him---Christian, church elder, honor graduate, successful businessman. "We appear to be the ideal couple but I am dreadfully unhappy in our thirty-year marriage." She went on. "Bill has been emotionally crippled since his unhappy childhood and he does not share intimately, though I have loved him for years and years. My hurt is so deep."
What should June do? The situation seems unique to her, but it's certainly not the first time God has seen it. His promise is there in the Book---a promise for help and strength. "I will never leave you nor forsake you." But we have to come to Him in humility, acknowledging our helplessness and our utter dependence on Him, not hanging onto our expectations. I wonder if June is (I wonder if I am) asking of a man more than he can give?
Let's assume that June has prayed faithfully, pleaded earnestly, and tried every way in the world to draw Bill out of his incommunicative shell. What makes June extremely unhappy might not faze another woman, but never mind that. The Lord knows the frame of each of us, our hopes and disappointments, and He has promised that our suffering will one day turn into glory if we'll respond to it in faith and obedience. That's the actual crux of the matter.
First, we can rest assured that the situation in which we find ourselves (and nowhere else) is the very place where God wants to meet us. It is here that we will grow into the likeness of Christ. So this means that the suffering itself is not meaningless, it is not "for nothing." It is an element in God's loving purpose. June's unhappiness, I believe, springs not from her husband's failures and limitations, but from her failure to accept him as he is. He is God's gift to her.
She had certain expectations of what a husband ought to be and do for his wife, some of them realistic, some unrealistic. So has every wife (and husband). But to truly love means to give yourself for others. To give yourself entails accepting disappointment and laying yourself open to suffering. To suffer---if you do so in the close company of Christ---means ultimately to reign with Him. June has the perfect chance to do all of the above, without too much temptation to do it only for what she'll get out of it here and now.
I would like to tell June to give thanks to God for this man. God perfectly understands his past, his inability to share intimately, and his refusal to accept responsibility for it. That's between Bill and God. God isn't going to hold her responsible for what Bill didn't do. She is not, in other words, his moral custodian. Her job is to love him, to do everything she would do if she were madly in love with him.
Work at it, June. Do it cheerfully, as unto the Lord. Maybe the Lord will change both of you through this. Maybe He won't. But when you see His face I think He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!" It will be worth it then. (I'm pretty sure you'll find out, long before then, that it's worth it now---if you do it with thanksgiving and gladness, as unto the Lord.) God never does anything to us that isn't for us.
Accepting With Both Hands
Amy Carmichael wrote a poem she called "In Acceptance Lieth Peace." That phrase has become a dictum for me. Acceptance of my circumstances, the first step in obtaining joy and peace, begins with faith. I would have no reason simply to accept the awful things that happen if I had no idea that Somebody was governing this world and that my individual life was completely under the control of One who possesses perfect wisdom, perfect justice, and perfect love.
We have to ask ourselves repeatedly, especially when the temptations and the dark times come, "Do I really believe this? Do I still believe this? Can I hang my soul on this? Do I really believe that God is governing this world and everything that touches me with perfect wisdom, justice, and love?" He who keeps us neither slumbers nor sleeps. His love is always awake, always aware, always surrounding and upholding and protecting. If a spear or a bullet finds its target in the flesh of one of His servants, it is not because of inattention on His part. It is because of love.
If His lordship is really established over me, it makes no difference (I might even say it's "no big deal") whether I live or die. I am expendable. That knowledge is freedom. I have no care for anything, for all that I am, all that I have, all that I do, and all that I suffer have been joyfully placed at His disposal.
The faith of Job on his ash-heap is astounding in view of how much less he knew of the love of God than we who know Him through the life and death of Jesus Christ. We have a whole Bible full of revelations about suffering. Job's response was perhaps closer to capitulation than acceptance, but it was enough. God told his friends Job had spoken the truth about Him while they had not.
We have been shown the way of acceptance on every page of the life of Jesus. It sprang from love and from trust. He set His face like a flint toward Jerusalem. He took up the cross of His own will. No one could take His life from Him. He deliberately laid it down. He calls us to take up our crosses. That is a different thing from capitulation or resignation. It is a glad and voluntary YES to the conditions we meet on our journey with Him, because these are the conditions He wants us to share with Him. Events are the sacraments of the Will of God---that is, they are visible signs of an invisible Reality. These provide the very place where we may learn to love and trust. Heaven waits for our response.
God included the hardships of my life in His original plan. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Nothing is for nothing. His plan is to make me holy, and hardship is indispensable for that as long as I live in this hard old world. All I have to do is accept it.
Three eternal and unshakable verities were what held me and comforted me during the terminal illness of my second husband, Add. I told myself the truth: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Nothing can undermine those facts. Surely it was those truths that sustained the faithful disciple John when he was exiled to the island of Patmos. He was sustained by his faith, and he saw...
... seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like the Son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand, the one that held the seven stars, upon me and said: "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.' (REVELAMN 1:12-18, NIV)
The One who has the keys is the One who is in charge. And if we have given our lives to Him, we are able to accept everything that happens to us as from His hands.
John was not out of the will of God by being in that place of suffering and exile and probably great loneliness. Presumably he was an elderly man at that time, undoubtedly experiencing the weaknesses and the limitations of old age. But if the least thing could happen to him without God's permission and sustaining grace, it would mean something was out of God's control, which would contradict the unshakable fact that He is, above all and for all time, in charge.
Sometimes it is hardest to accept the waiting parts of life. I think of the story told by Amy Carmichael in her first year of missionary work in Japan. She and a missionary couple were delayed on a journey because of a boat that did not arrive. Not just hours but days went by, and the young missionary began to fret because of the time lost and the consequences to others who counted on them. The older missionary said calmly, "God knows all about the boats." It became a maxim of faith for the rest of her life.
Many times in my life God has asked me to wait when I wanted to move forward. He has kept me in the dark when I asked for light. I like to see progress. I look for evidence that God is at least doing something. If the Shepherd leads us beside still waters when we were hoping for whitewater excitement, it is hard to believe anything really vital is taking place. God is silent. The house is silent. The phone doesn't ring. The mailbox is empty. The stillness is hard to bear---and God knows that. He knows our frame and remembers we are made of dust. He is very patient with us when we are trying to be patient with Him. Of course for most of us this test of waiting does not take place in a silent and empty house, but in the course of regular work and appointments and taxpaying and grocery buying and trying to have the car fixed and get the storm windows up; daily decisions have to go on being made, responsibilities fulfilled, families provided for, employers satisfied. Can we accept the patience-taxing ordinary things alongside the four-alarm fires of our lives?
Psalm 16:5 is one of my life verses now. "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup and have made my lot secure." My "lot" is what happens to me---my share of that which comes by the will of the Power that rules my destiny. My lot includes the circumstances of my birth, my upbringing, my job, my hardships, the people I work with, my marital status, hindrances, obstacles, accidents, and opportunities. Everything constitutes my lot. Nothing excepted. If I can accept that fact at every turn in the road, I have indeed stepped into His everlasting arms even more securely, and there I will find peace and joy.
Remember what happened to Mary and Martha. Their brother died. He had been their sole support. Jesus came too late. The account reads as follows (John 11:5-6, 21, 32, 15, NIV): "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days." How strange.
When He finally arrived, of course both Mary and Martha were in despair and grief. They each said the same thing to Him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." And He said, "I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe." What could they make of that? He could have healed him easily, but He let him die. He allowed a disaster to occur. He had in store something inestimably more wonderful than what they had wished for, something they had never dreamed possible.
I think that He does that with us quite often. Our major problems of acceptance and trust usually have to do with timing, because God's timetable is always different from ours. He wants me to wait in order to believe, in order to learn to put my faith in His timing.
The same God who raised Lazarus is the One who is in charge of our lives. With that in mind, we can accept whatever comes from His hand, trusting that He means it for our good. We can each look back in our lives and see the things that would not have happened if something else hadn't happened. It may have been a disaster, but think about the ways in which God has worked since then.
The deepest spiritual lessons come through suffering. It takes the deep water and the hot fire and the dark valley to teach us the walk of faith. I would not be able to state this with such authority if it were not for losing my first husband Jim. That shattering event precipitated a lifetime of learning rich spiritual lessons, writing and speaking about what I have learned, and holding on in ever increasing faith to the One who will one day receive me into His presence. The verse that came to mind when I received the shortwave message that Jim was missing was Isaiah 43:2: "When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned. Neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God." I can testify that He has never broken that promise. He kept those words through those five agonizing days while we five wives waited to discover whether our husbands were indeed dead or alive. He kept me through all the subsequent years. He didn't give me a bridge over troubled waters, but He kept the promise that when I passed through the waters, He would be with me. His promise applies to each of us. The one thing that He requires of us in response to deep waters is acceptance. This acceptance is not passivism, quietism, fatalism, or resignation. Peace and joy and faith will not be found in forgetting, and they will not be found in busyness or aloofness or the submission of defeat. They will not be found in anger at the "unfairness" of it all. St. Francis de Sales said, "Accustom yourself to unreasonableness and injustice! God sees these things far better than you do, and permits them!"
Once there was a lady in our church who was like a tigress in a corner. She lashed out with all claws bared at everybody. All I knew about her was that she was a widow, as I was also. I didn't know whether that was what was eating her or whether it was something else, perhaps a great evil perpetrated against her by someone, but it was very obvious that she had never accepted something in her life.
There wasn't anything anyone could do to get near that woman and comfort her. She destroyed every small group she ever joined and disrupted all kinds of things in that church. One night at a church supper, I happened to be seated opposite her. She got up to get a cup of coffee, and when she came back, the sweet girl who was waiting on tables had taken away her dessert plate that still had about two bites of her pie left on it. The lady exclaimed, "Who took my pie! Where's my pie!"
I said, "The girl who's serving tables."
So she called the girl over and remonstrated, "Where's my piece of pie?"
The girl apologized, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I thought you were finished. I will get you another piece of pie."
"I don't want another piece of pie. I want that piece of pie. I want those two bites."
That's the way she was with everybody. She came late to my house one night for a committee meeting and burst through the door without any preliminaries saying, "Nobody told me what time this thing was; I had a terrible time finding this place; I don't know what's the matter with you people...." I don't know where that poor lady is now. She left our church a long time ago. Perhaps she has now learned acceptance.
Get to the Root
If we can identify the source of what rankles us, we are halfway to accepting our difficulties with faith. Here are the most common sources of our hard-to-accept problems:
Other people. Those who annoy and trouble us are part of our assigned portion and lot. God makes the assignments, and He apportions the degree of difficulty in precise measurements.
Accidents. Disasters put us in a quandary. We don't see how things can ever work out. But God says, "You are loved with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3) and "underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27). He will never let us down if we stay with Him.
Limitations. We would prefer to have the exalted spiritual experiences or God-given gifts that He has given to somebody else. We tend to settle into our corner thinking, "I must have been behind the door when God gave out gifts, so I can never live as well as that fortunate person." But we can offer our limitations, like widow's mites, to Him. "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and do it" (Luke 11:27-28).
Choose Your Weapon
If true acceptance means we acknowledge that the Lord of the universe is the Lord of this current trouble of ours, and if acceptance is the first step toward peace, how can we achieve it? Here are six choices that lead to acceptance:
Choose your attitude. We read in 2 Corinthians 12:10, "For Christ's sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties." Does that come naturally? Of course not. But you can choose to delight in weaknesses. "For when I am weak, then I am strong." This is one of the magnificent paradoxes of the cross: You bring to the cross your weakness and you receive God's strength. You bring Him your sins and you receive His righteousness. You bring Him your sorrows and you receive His joy. You can choose to trust His faithfulness in every detail of your life and, in turn, that choice enables you to delight in the same messy details that could have dismayed you.
Choose to offer your pain to God. Whatever you are offering---pain, heartbreak, suffering, an accident, any disaster---you know you cannot handle it yourself. You don't need to go to thirty-nine of your closest friends first. The first thing you should do before crying on anybody's shoulder is to open your hands and lift up your pain to God. He knows how to bring good out of evil. You may need to repeat this offering many times.
Choose to receive what God has given with open hands. Receive this thing that you cannot change. It is a willed choice. This thing that has happened for you, down to the least circumstance, is the will of God. E.B. Pusey wrote:
This, then, is faith, that everything, the very least, or what seems to us great, every change of the seasons, everything which touches us in mind, body, or estate, whether brought about through this outward senseless nature, or by the will of man, good or bad, is overruled to each of us by the all-holy and all-loving will of God. Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive as the Will of God. If it befalls us through man's negligence, or ill-will, or anger, still it is, in even the least circumstance, to us the will of God. For if the least thing could happen to us without God's permission, it would be something out of God's control. God's providence or His love would not be what they are. Almighty God Himself would not be the same God; not the God Whom we believe, adore, and love.
Choose to renew your commitment to Him. He does know what He is doing. The psalmist said, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you" (Psalm 56:3-4, NIV). In the same verse we note both emotion ("When I am afraid") and willpower ("I will trust"). In spite of your emotional state, you can choose Him once again.
Choose to praise Him as Habakkuk did. Habakkuk praised God when there were no figs on the tree, no grapes on the vine, no cattle in the stall. Habakkuk didn't feel good about having no figs, no grapes, and no cattle, but he chose to rejoice in the Lord. You don't have to paste on a happy smile and pretend to be tickled to death because something dreadful has happened, but you surely can rejoice. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
Choose to do the next thing. "Do the Next Thing" has become one of the mottoes of my life. I am indebted to an unknown author for the following verses:
From an old English parsonage, down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration---
"DO THE NEXT THING."
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus,
"DO THE NEXT THING."
Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe 'neath His wing,
Leave all resultings,
"DO THE NEXT THING."
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor,
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing,
Then, as He beckons thee
"DO THE NEXT THING."
There is nothing magical about any of this. The Lord has assigned you your portion and your cup; it is designated, measured precisely. Are you upset because you have been hindered from doing what you wanted to do, or perhaps what you thought God wanted you to do? Jesus Christ provides the way out of the labyrinth of the world into the freedom of the new creation. You will keep the same talents, the same circumstances, the same health, the same family, the same property, the same daily demands. But as someone has said, "A door has opened, and the crossing over to Christ has been made possible by acceptance." In Acceptance Lieth Peace. [27-44]
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