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Say Yes to GodA call to courageous surrender
By Kay Warren
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Kay Warren
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE LEAP OF FAITH
"Much is required from those to whom much is given." Luke 12:48 LB
If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, November 1
I didn't see it coming.
I woke up on a normal day, looking ahead to a typical schedule. Nothing out of the ordinary was planned - routine stuff filled the calendar slots. I didn't have the faintest clue that God was about to rock my world and change the trajectory of my life forever.
Unaware of the radical change in store for me on that spring day in 2002, I sat down on the couch in my living room with a cup of tea and picked up one of the weekly newsmagazines we subscribe to. I noticed that there was a story about AIDS in Africa, and I casually flipped over to that section, not because I cared about AIDS in Africa (I didn't care about AIDS anywhere, let alone in Africa), but because I wanted to stay up on current events. As I began to read, I quickly realized that the graphic pictures that accompanied the article were horrific - skeletal men and women, children so weak they couldn't brush the flies from their faces. I couldn't look at them. But for some strange reason, I was compelled to continue reading. I partially covered my eyes with my hands and tried to peek through the cracks in my fingers at the words without looking at the faces of dying men, women, and children.
God, in his wisdom, knew exactly how to bypass my feeble attempts to block out the upsetting photographs. If he couldn't get my attention with the pictures, he would use the words. The phrase "twelve million children orphaned due to AIDS in Africa" jumped off the magazine page and imprinted itself in my mind. I was shocked and stunned and, frankly, disbelieving. "No," I said out loud, "there's no way there could be twelve million children orphaned in one place due to one illness at one time. I don't even know one orphan - how could there be twelve million?" I threw the magazine on the floor in horror.
But I couldn't get rid of this new reality so easily. That night, I was haunted by the thought of twelve million boys and girls left alone, their parents the victims of AIDS. As I drifted into sleep, my last thought was about the orphans; I woke up in the morning with their little faces swirling through my mind. Suddenly AIDS, Africa, and orphans were everywhere! Every newspaper I picked up had an article about AIDS in Africa; it seemed as though every newscast echoed the story. Over the next few weeks, I tried to escape the stories and the pictures, but I couldn't.
God and I began an intense internal conversation. At the time, I thought our conversation was about AIDS. In retrospect, I understand that we were beginning a discussion about something even bigger. Surrender. Surrender to the God of the universe. But God knew I wasn't ready to see that surrender was the real subject. After all, I already considered myself fully surrendered to Jesus Christ. No need to discuss that any further, right? But AIDS, that was something I knew God and I had to talk about.
My first argument with him was over the numbers of people infected by HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - and the number of orphans left in its wake. I reasoned to myself that the media must be exaggerating the numbers. Since I considered myself pretty savvy about global situations, surely I would know if a problem of this magnitude existed.
As the days went by, the internal dialogue with God continued unabated, but it also began to shift focus. I gradually began to accept that while I had been raising my family and serving in my church, a humanitarian crisis of gargantuan proportions had been escalating on our planet. There was no media exaggeration, no propaganda to garner sympathy for a minor cause. Something tragic and terrible was happening right under my nose.
I felt powerless to do anything about the new reality thrust in front of me. I cried out to God, "Why are you bothering me with this? There's nothing I can do about it. I'm just an ordinary person. What could one person do about such a gigantic problem? And by the way, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a white suburban mom with a minivan. What do I know about a disease in Africa?"
After a month of anguished wrestling with God, I reached a point at which I had to make a conscious decision. Would I retreat to my comfortable life and my settled plans, pretending I didn't know about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the millions of orphans? Or would I surrender to God's call - now so obvious I could not deny it - and let my heart engage with a cause I was pretty sure would include buckets of pain and sorrow? I didn't know what would happen if I said yes to God's increasingly strong urge to engage. What did engaging even mean? I felt like I was standing on the edge of a giant precipice. I couldn't go back, and yet the way forward looked like stepping into a void. God was calling me to surrender to his call on my life, even if I didn't yet understand what he expected me to do.
The moment of decision had arrived. With eyes closed and teeth clenched tightly, I finally said yes. The second I did, my heart broke, and I was shattered. It was as though God took my heart and put it through a wood chipper - what went in was a "branch" but what came out on the other side was a heart shredded into a million pieces. With lightning speed, God yanked the blindfold of apathy, ignorance, and complacency from my eyes, and I was overcome by the realities of the suffering he revealed. I ached with a new kind of pain - a pain that felt as though it had come from the most visceral part of me. I was filled with sorrow and grief. I wept as though I was the one who was sick, or my child was dying, or I was the orphan left alone. I knew next to nothing about HIV/AIDS, but my heart was instantly linked with those who know it intimately. Like the apostle Paul knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9), I was changed by my encounter with truth.
I became a seriously disturbed woman.
Suddenly I became consumed with a desire to learn about HIV/AIDS. I devoured every book, article, and video I could get my hands on. I searched the Internet for websites that could teach me about this global crisis. I consulted health care professionals. I put out feelers through all of my contacts, searching for anyone who could help me understand how HIV/AIDS began, what was known about it, and what could be done. I was disturbed - almost frantic - in my hurry to make up for lost time.
The word disturbed is often associated with mental illness and instability. We say, "He's disturbed," when we describe someone who reacts in an overly emotional way or appears troubled emotionally. I want to redefine this word, because I believe that God is looking for some disturbed people. He is searching for men and women, students, and young adults who will allow him to disturb them by making them truly see the world in which we live - so disturbed that they will be compelled to do something about what they see.
Most of us have grown up in a culture that promotes precisely the opposite approach. Parents tell their children, "Never talk about politics or religion; it makes people uncomfortable." And for the most part, we've obeyed this cultural edict. Instead of tackling uncomfortable topics, we talk about the latest TV reality show or the hot sports figures or the price of gasoline. Believers are just as guilty as nonbelievers! Even worse, we refuse to talk about the painful, disturbing subjects - child prostitution, child labor, rape, poverty, injustice, ethnic hatred, greed, materialism, environmental destruction, HIV/AIDS. These are disturbing topics. But if we're not disturbed by the world in which we live, we will be consumed with the trivial, the insignificant, and the temporary. We will spend our days pursuing all the wrong goals, living by the wrong measurements of success, evaluating our legacy by the wrong standards.
Jesus' words "Much is required from those to whom much is given" (Luke 12:48 LB) began to reverberate inside my mind, taking their place alongside the disturbing images I had seen. I had been given so much - what was my responsibility in return? God clearly tells us that we are "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God" (Micah 6:8). I began to wonder how to apply this truth to my life. How does becoming a seriously disturbed person affect the way I live?
I soon realized that the first area of my life to be shaken up would be my approach to personal comfort. Instead of being disturbed, I was comfortable. I had no complaints. My material needs were more than met. I lived in a beautiful part of the country. I enjoyed a rich and satisfying marriage. My children made me proud. I had meaningful friendships that provided companionship and fun. I was involved at my church in multiple ministries that I loved.
It's very easy for us to remain aloof and untouched by the suffering that defines the existence of the vast majority of people on this planet. I have read that if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of the people in this world! If you have any money in the bank and some in your wallet and some spare change in a dish somewhere, you are among the top 8 percent of the world's wealthy; 92 percent have less to live on than you do! If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million other people in the world. If you can attend worship ser vices at church without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
I don't tell you this to make you feel guilty - but I do hope you feel uncomfortable. I hope these statistics disturb you. God in his sovereignty decided where you would be born and allowed you to live in a place that has almost everything anyone could ever desire, so there is no guilt that he has ordered our lives in such a way. The only guilt we bear is the guilt of ignoring the men, women, and children of this world who do not have what we have - the guilt of spending the majority of our time, money, and resources exclusively on ourselves and our families. That is legitimate guilt.
Let's just say that something is beginning to stir in your soul as you read. What should you do about it? Where should you begin? What is God's will for you and for the broken world you inhabit?
One thing I know for sure: God's will begins with surrender.
Someone once asked me to define Christianity in one word, and after some reflection, I responded, "Surrender. It all boils down to surrender." Everything I know about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ begins and ends with surrender - with saying yes to God. That tiny one-syllabic word initiates an exhilarating, life-altering adventure.
So why is surrender a dirty word to many of us with mostly negative connotations? Some synonyms are give in, give up, admit defeat, lay down your arms, submit, yield, capitulate. Surrender implies failure, a decision made only when irrevocably backed into a corner, a concession by the conquered to the conquerors, a tattered white flag waving weakly. No wonder we avoid talking about surrender. It's not very attractive to those who see themselves as strong. One of the most deeply held illusions by those of us in the West is that we are tough and independent and quite sure we don't need anyone else. We carry these illusions into our spiritual lives as well, and doing so keeps many from following Christ. "Surrender to God? No thanks. I can do life by myself." Even those of us who have acknowledged our need for Jesus Christ to be our Savior have a difficult time surrendering our will to him on a daily basis; we're just too full of ourselves, too much in control, too proud.
From God's perspective, however, "I surrender" are the most beautiful words he ever hears us speak. To him, our saying yes to his will has only positive connotations. Surrendering means that we have come to the end of our independence from him, our reliance on self-sufficiency, and our insistence that we don't need him. Surrender to God changes everything!
I'll explore this concept further in the next chapter, but here at the start, please know that surrendering your life to God is the boldest and riskiest step you can take. Being courageously surrendered to God allows you to know him in increasingly deeper ways and to participate fully in his will.
THE DEVELOPING PHOTOGRAPH
Before that spring day in 2002, I thought I knew what God's will was for that stage of my life. Rick and I were entering the empty-nest season. Our youngest son was a senior in high school, and we had our lives planned out. We share a deep love for pastors and missionaries and thoroughly enjoy using our spiritual gifts of teaching. We anticipated that the second half of our lives would be spent traveling the world, teaching and encouraging ministry couples. It was a really good plan for our future.
It just wasn't God's plan.
Through the years, I've found that discovering God's will often resembles looking at an undeveloped Polaroid photograph. When the camera spits out the picture, the images are gray and shapeless, but the longer you look at the picture the clearer it becomes. The day I said yes to caring about people with HIV/AIDS, God handed me a fuzzy Polaroid picture. I didn't know exactly what he wanted me to do. I had no agenda, no plan in mind, no long-range strategy - I just knew I couldn't face God someday and tell him I had ignored the suffering of millions of people just because it made me uncomfortable or because I didn't know what to do about it. The picture didn't grow sharp and clear instantaneously, but over the course of several years, it has become increasingly clear. I now "see" more of what God has in mind for my role in stopping the AIDS pandemic.
Of course, with the advent of digital technology, Polaroid cameras are becoming outdated. Now we're impatient with such a slow process - we want instant clarity! We don't want to wait for the picture to develop. When we sense God's leading us on a new journey, we want all of the information up front. We want God to fill out the travel forms in triplicate, give us a detailed road map before we start the journey, and guarantee our safe arrival at the destination. We want the rewards of living lives of faith without actually having to demonstrate faith. For you to become a seriously disturbed, surrendered person of faith, you will have to be willing to say yes in advance - to give God your answer before you've heard the question.
My friend Gary Thomas frequently challenges me to grow spiritually through his insights that probe beneath the surface of my faith. He writes, "I learned that faith isn't tested by how often God answers my prayers with a yes but by my willingness to continue serving him and thanking him, even when I don't have a clue as to what he is doing."
We tend to think that only the superstars - the brilliant high achievers, those with head-turning good looks, the naturally gifted athletes - can make a difference in the world through their courageous surrender. The great news is that God's plan for getting his work done in the world includes more than superstars. Ordinary men and women can be part of a miracle by saying yes to God.
"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).
I look back on the day God captured my attention and turned it toward people living with HIV/AIDS and realize that I didn't see it coming for a number of reasons, but mostly because it never occurred to me that I had anything significant to offer to a global problem. I have never seen myself as a particularly gifted or talented person - just as someone average and quite ordinary.
Excerpted from Say Yes to God by Kay Warren Copyright © 2010 by Kay Warren . Excerpted by permission.
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