There is a gnawing feeling inside all of us that says we could be better. If we would just be more organized or work a little harder, we’d finally have the rich and fulfilling life we want.
But the message of the cross is different.
The message is not one of God saying, “I died for your sins to work as a consultant to help you achieve the life you’re determined to have.” Jesus died to reconcile us to God so that we can die and give our lives to him and to others—a total surrender that is truly a beautiful defeat!
Perspective and peace in the midst of the stormy chaos of life are always available to the person who lives a surrendered life. The result is a rich existence basking in the pleasure and approval of God.
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A Beautiful Defeat
Find True Freedom and Purpose in Total Surrender to God
By Kevin Malarkey, Matt Jacobson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Kevin Malarkey
All rights reserved.
Our Dirty Little Secrets
Now, about that confession—the fact is, I'm not a good person.
Please don't think, Oh, he's just saying that. Left to myself, I'm capable of just about anything, and when I fail, believe me, it's memorable. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I was a drunk for two years in college. Oh, I maintained high grades and respectability most of the time, but the fact is, I was frequently drunk. I'm often fearful that I won't ever be the man I want my sons to become or the type of guy I would want my daughter to marry. I often lack self-confidence, and I try way too hard to get people to like me. Sometimes I even wonder if I am capable of reflecting the God whom I say inhabits my heart.
* * *
"Hey, what do you say to checking out where I went to college?"
"Definitely, Dad, let's do it!"
Mile after mile passed by while the radio remained silent, but it was music to my ears and heart. We just talked. I love that about our relationship. My son is twelve and still loves to talk to me. I'm a blessed dad! We talked a bit about faith and a bit about his various interests. We then talked about how faith and our lives are to be intertwined and not separate from each other. Conversations like this one don't happen all the time between my son and me, but on this morning, I began to feel like quite the godly father.
We arrived at my college campus, and it was a beautiful day to walk around and see the sights. I showed him the places I lived, where I attended classes, the student center, everything. You'd have thought we were in DC looking at the monuments. He was completely enthralled.
"I want to go to college here, Dad!"
Now, I loved my school, but there was a part of me that always hoped he'd go somewhere else. Was that because I wanted him to chart his own course? Maybe. But mainly, it was because the memories of my first couple of years in college were as fresh as yesterday. I did not want this to happen to him. Okay, it didn't "happen" to me—I made choices, bad ones, and somehow this place made it seem that it could happen to him too. Not very logical, but there it is.
And then it happened.
He pointed at a building.
"Hey, Dad, did you ever do anything in that building?"
It was the campus chapel.
"Oh, definitely!" I said, deflecting the fear that instantly gripped my chest. "I heard Jesse Jackson speak in there, went to a few concerts and some other things."
But my mind was racing. In it? ... Yeah, I did some things in it. On it ... that was the real issue suddenly confronting this "godly" father's conscience.
I hesitated. As parents, we don't want our children to lose respect for us or think less of us. Should I risk it? Should I tell my twelve-year-old my most vivid memory of that building? Do I want to untie the knot on the bow of that package? What would he think of me then? If you're listening to the Holy Spirit, you're not writing the script, but you are called to follow. I decided to tell my son the truth.
"Son," I said, taking in a deep breath, "I actually climbed up on top of that roof and hung a sign for the fraternity that I was in. I'm not going to tell you what was on that sign, but it wasn't good. You see that pathway where you could climb up? That's where I got up. After I hung the sign I dumped water down on that area so that it would freeze and no one could get up there to take the sign down."
"Why did you do that? What's a fraternity?"
Open a door and it's going to lead somewhere. I continued to open up with my son and honestly answered his questions, sharing about fraternities, mine in particular—famous for binge drinking and not much studying. He didn't seem surprised when I confessed I wound up on academic and social probation. In less than a year, I had two DUIs to my credit.
"Son, I was so lost at that point in my life, striving to find something I didn't even understand I was looking for. Fact is, I had abandoned my faith even though if you asked me at the time, I would say to anyone, 'Oh yeah, I'm a Christian.'" I also told him the weird thing was that I actually considered this a great time while I was doing it. I had a ton of "friends" and remember feeling quite happy. (Anyone who tells you sin isn't fun or pleasurable, in the moment, is lying. Even the Bible speaks of the pleasure of sin for a season.)
There, I did it. I stopped my story and turned to my son, bracing for his response. You've got to understand, he really looks up to me. Had I said too much? Fear crept in ... Had I compromised all this?
"Wow, Dad!" He grinned. "God is awesome!"
"What? What do you mean?" I asked, surprised, stunned even, though trying not to show it.
"Look at you now. He is so amazing!"
Now that's some seriously wild stuff from a twelve-year-old. Instead of seeing "Dad the failure," he saw God the redeemer! His focus was on how far God had brought me, not on how far I had fallen. Being honest with my son about my scarred past had no impact on his view of me but deepened his faith in what God can do. Had I listened to the voice of fear, I might have missed it all.
My son's response also reminded me of how an improper perspective on struggle can get in the way of what God would most likely desire to get from our difficult times—mainly, glory for himself. Our incessant need to look good (even when we are not so good) hides our deep need for him and in turn does not allow others to see the great things he has done for us. We are all better off being honest about our struggles, choosing to depend on God, and then giving him credit for the improvement that follows.
I'm glad I risked it that day instead of letting fear keep me from the deeper relationship with my son God had planned for that day. This is the power of authenticity in relationship. Will we risk our pride for God's glory?
Is God asking you to take a risk?
But maybe you think my story is safe because it is in the past. How about this:
I am the at-fault driver in an accident that caused one of my children to be paralyzed.
I've struggled with pornography. My house has been in foreclosure. I have made some sizable contributions to broken relationships. There have been many painful moments when the decisions I made poorly and quickly have led to a lifetime of consequences. And these things all happened after I made a genuine decision to follow Christ.
God wants to meet us now, in the challenges, struggles, failures, and shortcomings of today.
It was a speaking event following the publication of my first book. I was not practiced in these things and wasn't sure what to expect. The winter weather didn't keep people away from Northway Church in Pittsburgh that Saturday evening, though. In minutes, the auditorium filled with well over one thousand people. I felt like keeping my interview with the pastor on safe territory, listening to the "reasonable" voice that says "hide" and "evade."
But then I felt a deeper, more authentic voice. I made a decision: Tonight there will be no prepackaged presentation of self. It will just be real. If God brings a personal weakness to mind (he did), I will share it. If a story gets messy and off track (it happened), I will not try to make sense of it. The interview that night was without notes and focused purely on connecting with God and the audience at our deepest point of need. It was uncomfortable at first. And then something amazing happened.
After the interview, a line of over one hundred people formed in the lobby to talk with me and have me sign their books. As I began meeting people, the turn of the conversation surprised me. Over and over again, people would share their struggles and their pain with me. They all began by saying something like, "I have never told anyone this before, but ..." People opened up, letting down the barricade between their hearts and me.
After quite a long time, the line wasn't getting any shorter and I became conscious of the need to keep things moving.
And then she caught my eye.
About three people behind the person I was speaking with, a woman stood, crying openly. It was difficult to keep my eyes focused on the person in front of me. The woman crying seemed the type that typically had things under control-she was dressed in a way that projected confidence. When she finally got to the front of the line, she was still crying but was attempting to regain her composure.
"Hi, my name's Karen [not her real name]," she said through tears. "I don't go to church here."
"Well," I said, "I don't attend church here either. But since you brought it up, why did you come today?"
She began to cry again, removing tears from the corners of her eyes with her fingers, trying to keep her makeup from running.
"I just can't keep it together anymore. I try to hold everything together, but it's just not working. I liked what you said, but I just don't know how to get there."
"Have you considered giving God your burdens—giving him your life?" I asked.
"I want to, I really do—but I just can't let go. And now my daughter is moving away. I'm alone and everything's a mess—more than I'm telling you. I am going to lose her and everything else as well."
Loneliness. Change. Struggle. Her life was just so difficult. Yet I sensed that there was something else making things difficult for Karen: she was caught in a spiritual struggle. A part of her wanted to invite God into the midst of her struggles. She heard my honesty and wanted to be honest too about how her own failures and shortcomings played a part in the tough areas of her life. But another part of her wanted to avoid this, to keep up her appearance of control. She was at a crucial moment. Which way would she go?
"You know God led you to this event, don't you? He's here, right now, willing to meet you right where you are."
As we spoke, I became fascinated with her hands. Her fists closed slowly. Then they were clenched. Then her knuckles turned white. Until she said, "I can't let go. I just can't."
"Karen, I don't want to be insensitive, but how is that working out for you? You know, not letting go? Karen, God is still there, in the midst of your deepest pain. He still cares, and you can make it through, but not without doing things his way."
She kept crying, clenching her fists and shaking her head from side to side.
There were so many people in line behind Karen, and I didn't want to assume that I was the best person for her to talk to. I invited one of the female counselors to continue the conversation with her and greeted the next person in line.
In the quietness of the hotel room that night, my mind replayed the conversation with Karen over and over. Why wouldn't she relinquish the life she was, by her own admission, making such a mess of?
Why did she seem to hold on tighter the more she knew that she needed to let go? It was as if she were hanging on to a high-voltage electric fence, being continually shocked but unable to let go and be free from the pain. She knew she was in over her head, but she would not accept God's gift and his help. Why would she not give her pain to God and instead opt for control, even though everything was out of control?
We can relate with Karen more than we'd like to admit, if we take an honest look inside. Our knuckles are white a lot of the time too. We might be believers, but our flesh likes to maintain control every bit as much as the flesh of someone who doesn't share our faith. And this is what God wants you to understand about the hardest things you face, the struggles that cut you down, humiliate, debilitate, and impede your progress while piercing your heart with pain and sorrow. You can make it because he is there. He knows, he understands, and he will never give up on you. But to experience what he has to offer, you have to not only come to him but come to him his way.
And his way is to make a clean confession of your messes and to relax your hands, giving up the control that you don't really have but deceive yourself into believing you do.
Through my years of being a counselor, I think it's safe to say I've heard just about every dirty secret there is. But as I sat there year after year, a reality, a fact, came clearer and clearer into focus: I was no different from the people I was helping. I had dirty laundry too. And as I revealed above, it's not all in the past tense. I still struggle, I still mess up, I still make mistakes—just like everyone, from the superpastor of the megachurch to the janitor who cleans the restrooms, to the faithful housewife, to the missionary in West Africa—to everyone.
If you're like me, like most people, you have faced or are facing some challenging times. Maybe you're hurt, stressed, or under immense pressure. Are you bitterly ashamed of what you've done or in some other deeply emotional turmoil? Maybe it's of your own making, maybe not, but you are struggling and in the tougher moments, it feels like you are flying solo—alone in this world.
Before you take one step further, I want you to ask yourself a question: Why did I pick up this book?
I think I may know the answer.
You are not satisfied with where your Christian life has taken you. You know you are missing something—something that, intuitively, you know you were intended to have.
And you want it badly. You want something more, something deep and something that says to you that there is purpose and meaning. Even though you've prayed the "sinner's prayer," you haven't yet found all you were looking for, but you want to.
The starting point in this journey is honesty—honesty with God. Do you still like to pretend he does not know everything about you? Someone once said that to be a good writer all you have to do is to open a vein and bleed. I think that's what it takes (metaphorically) to be a good pray-er. Will you get honest with God? Will you open your heart and bleed?
Our loving Father wants us to come to him with every pain, burden, challenge, and mess. Will you bare your soul before God, confess where you really are at with life—your struggles, temptations, messes, and difficulties—and invite God to take his rightful place in your life?
* * *
Before we're ready to move ahead, we need to reevaluate a few things.
Even if you've never thought about it before, you have a pretty specific idea about how the Christian life should work. Most of us need to change our minds about that. We often begin our faith pilgrimage thinking it's a smooth walk to the Celestial City now that we are on the correct path. Haven't we all been told for years that God has a wonderful plan for our lives? After all, aren't hard times for people who are doing life wrong—for those who stray off the beaten path? Aren't difficult relationships for people who are fatally flawed?
It doesn't help when believers imply that the Christian life is always an easier road compared to that of the nonbeliever, or that once you are a true Christ-follower, you are on the road to perfection. One look at the Bible destroys this myth. Do I need to remind you about Peter (the Rock?) who turned his back on Jesus after following him for several years (Matt. 26:69–75)—or how he opposed God's way after the resurrection (Acts 10:9–16)? I could tell you story after story of disciples, apostles, and believers who struggled ... and struggled again ... to live the life of faith. We have something important to learn from this reality: facing struggle isn't a one-shot deal.
For you, for me, for every Christian, struggle is here to stay. Just when I've gotten through a crisis, ready for a little R & R from the challenge, I'm faced with another struggle. The question isn't, Will it happen? but, When it happens, will I come clean with God and, again, relinquish my control, inviting him into every corner of my life?
Remember, you are not alone. Even though your struggles can take you to a lonely place, you are not the only person who struggles. Whether it's the picture-perfect family in the front pew at church, the put-together single business woman who seemingly has need of nothing and no one, or the perfect pastor whom no one will open up to because of the aura of perfection he carefully projects, or me ... it doesn't matter. Everyone is facing something that is uniquely personal to him and universal to everyone else. So, change your mind on what you are expecting of the Christian life. You're going to "do" struggle. The question is, will you struggle well?
And there's something else we need to change. We need to change our minds about the kind of God we worship. If we were to look inside people's minds, including most Christians, and learn their ideas about God, we'd find basically the same thing. The picture isn't pretty. We'd find a big, grumpy guy with a lot of power, sourly reviewing the lives of believers as he finds endless reasons to disapprove. Though not a biblical image, let's face it. Most people live with the nagging suspicion that God is constantly angry or disappointed with them.
Excerpted from A Beautiful Defeat by Kevin Malarkey, Matt Jacobson. Copyright © 2014 Kevin Malarkey. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction: This Is Going to Get Messy, ix,
Part I: A Call for Authenticity,
One Our Dirty Little Secrets, 3,
Two Where Our Struggles Really Come From (Part 1), 19,
Three Where Our Struggles Really Come From (Part 2), 35,
Four Life with Your Struggles, 49,
Part II: A Call for Surrender,
Five Just Die, 63,
Six Prepare for Your Mission, 83,
Seven Struggle Is a Team Sport, 103,
Eight Surrendered ... Really?, 119,
Nine The Battle Between the Battles, 131,
Ten What Surrender Looks Like, 147,
Appendix 1: Ten Steps to a Surrendered Life, 161,
Appendix 2: Ten Bible Verses on Surrender and Dying to Self, 171,
About the Author, 173,