11 November 2023

How hard is it to be wholly his?

Major Cliff Allchin

Major Cliff Allchin considers the conflict we might face in following God’s will.

Key text

This summer, two of my corps members undertook physical challenges to raise funds for worthy causes. One walked a million steps for Dementia Awareness. The other, aged 81, walked from his home to the start of the Great North Run – and then took part in the race!

Pause and reflect

  • What is the hardest challenge you have ever faced?

Elton John’s songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, would have us believe that one of the most difficult things to do is to apologise: as the song says, ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’.

A search on the internet reveals various lists of the hardest things in life: achieving peace in difficult circumstances, letting go of someone you love, remaining calm when falsely accused of something, speaking up after a put-down, leaving people behind. Some lists also include life achievements: parenthood, marriage and the handling of success or failure. However, for me, James calls it with his instruction to the early Christians to ‘submit yourselves, then, to God’ (v7).

Surely he is right, if it was submission to the will of God that saw the Son of God on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying with such fervour that drops of blood formed on his brow. Jesus submitted with this heartfelt prayer: ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42).

Pause and reflect

  • Consider Jesus’ mental and spiritual journey from ‘take this cup from me’ to ‘your will be done’.
  • When might you have cried out to God from the depths of your heart as you faced a tough situation?

James considers that there are at least three opponents to overcome if we are to ‘submit to God’. The first: our personal desires. James says that our desires battle within us that we ‘desire but do not have’ (v2), that we are more concerned with our own pleasures than with God’s will for us.

A photo shows someone standing on a rocky outcrop in front of a misty mountain.

James 4:12

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?

Read James 4

This seems to reflect our modern world, which – as per the title of a song from The Greatest Showman – declares: ‘This Is Me!’ Or, as Popeye would say: ‘I yam who I yam!’ Yet Christ calls his disciples to put aside their own desires, to lay down their very selves and to take up a cross each day in order to follow him.

It is no wonder that Jesus identifies the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven as the ‘narrow’ gate and the pathway as being hard (see Matthew 7:13 and 14). What can be harder than to give over your own desires, hopes, passions and longings? Yet we need to submit those personal desires to God for the greater desire of knowing Jesus.

Pause and reflect

  • ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’ (Luke 9:23). How do you apply these words to your life?

The second hindrance is that of pride. James encourages us to ‘humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up’ (v10). A few verses earlier, he cites Proverbs 3:34: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble’ (v6).

In the story of the Fall (see Genesis 3), we see that the sin of our first parents was all about pride. Adam and Eve wanted to be God. Yet God shows to us the path of humility: we must ‘seek humility’ (Zephaniah 2:3), ‘put on … humility’ (Colossians 3:12 English Standard Version), ‘clothe yourselves with humility’ (1 Peter 5:5). Marvellously, we see the example of Jesus, who, as Paul writes in Philippians 2:5–11, ‘humbled himself’ by descending from Heaven to Earth, from the highest echelons to the lowest place of death as a despised criminal, crucified upon a cross.

Pause and reflect

  • Paul writes that Jesus ‘emptied himself’ (Philippians 2:7 English Standard Version).
  • Of what did he empty himself?
  • How did Jesus empty himself?
  • What does his example mean for us, his followers?

The third enemy to our submission to God’s will is Satan. James alludes to this when he sandwiches his advice to ‘resist the Devil’ with the compelling call to ‘submit yourselves therefore to God’ and ‘draw near to God and he will draw near to you’ (vv7 and 8 Revised Standard Version).

Satan will make every effort to stop the Child of God from doing the Father’s will. His attacks on Christ clearly illustrate this (see Luke 4:1–13; Mark 14:32–36; Matthew 27:40).

Satan’s agenda is to divide God’s people, to deceive God’s people and to destroy God’s people. He will use any means, fair or foul, to achieve that goal. Our only hope to resist the Devil is to draw near to God, to submit to God, giving ourselves over to his will, for his glory. When we do this, we discover that God, as CS Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, ‘gives them back all their personality, and boasts … that when they are wholly his they will be more themselves than ever.’

When, in order to follow God’s will for our lives, we submit ourselves to him, overcome the stumbling blocks of our own desires and pride and resist the Devil’s attacks, then we discover the incredible world that is the Kingdom of Heaven and a life that is filled with countless blessings.

Pause and reflect

  • Which of the three obstacles to your submission to God is, or has been, the most difficult for you?
  • What blessings are you experiencing because you have chosen to follow the will of God?

Bible study by

Cliff Allchin

Major Cliff Allchin

Corps Officer, Leeds West Hunslet

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