Over the last week, I’ve been voraciously reading the pilgrim journals of Paul Munn.
I don’t know very many Christians like Paul. For seven years, he walked on a pilgrimage, bearing witness to Jesus’s message of faith, sharing his gifts and resources without asking anything in return, and relying solely on God and the kindness of strangers to meet his needs. He’s funny, insightful, and honest. Here’s a bit of what he has to say:
It’s not enough to simply identify God’s will and agree with it or try to cooperate with it. It’s not enough to figure out what is “good” and do it. This might gain me the approval and admiration of many other people, but it would not unite me with God. If I still stand apart and decide for myself what is good and to what extent I will participate, then I am still separate from God. To approve or cooperate with God is still separation from God. I would have achieved nothing.
What I need is God’s presence, God’s goodness filling me, so that we are not apart but together, not two but one. And God has shown that there is only one path to this union. Faith.
But this faith is not the blind acceptance of religious beliefs without evidence. That is useless. Faith is not an intellectual exercise, or an exertion of the will. Faith is thesurrender of the will. It is letting go of my ego and ambition and trusting God to preserve and guide me, accepting God’s will in place of my own. So there is only one will, one intention. Sometimes this is described as “dying to self,” in which we give up the one thing we have to give, our freedom of will, to God. This is faith.
A good example of a moment of faith in Jesus’ life was his prayer in Gethsemene. Jesus struggles with how to respond to the dangers that approach him. He seems unsure about God’s will. But his response is the response of faith: “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” (Lk 22.42)
This surrendering of self doesn’t achieve anything in itself. It doesn’t unite us with God. But God has shown that he will respond to those who set aside their own will in faith. God freely gives himself to the faithful, to the heart that trusts him. When I trust him. For as long as I trust him. At the moment I take up my own will again, God lets me, and I make myself separate again. But when I surrender my will in faith, God fills me with his presence.
Amen and amen and amen.