What does our physical circumstances have to do with the spiritual life of the child of God? Watchman Nee, in the sixth chapter of his book The Release of the Spirit, displays much spiritual wisdom in answering that question. The many grains of sand that make up the mountain of tribulations, that we very often classify as mere “circumstances,” are nothing less than the hand of God breaking away the shell of clay, we call the flesh or the “old man.” We are to expect and embrace all the lessons the Master Teacher brings to us, without grumbling or complaint, because He knows what we need and our ability to handle each lesson. But, He is patient, and will try us many times, till He breaks the vessel that holds the precious gift. It is for freedom that we are free, and only when the flesh is brought into bondage to the spirit can we experience release, and exude the sweetness that is Holy Communion with God.
This particular chapter has been a great help to me in the last few days, I pray it will be a balm of healing to you also.
The Release of the Spirit
Brokenness And Discipline
For THE OUTWARD MAN to be broken, a full consecration is imperative. Yet we must understand that this crisis act alone will not solve our whole problem in service. Consecration is merely an expression of our willingness to be in the hands of God, and it can take place in just a few minutes. Do not think God can Finish His dealings with us in this short time. Though we are willing to offer ourselves completely to God, we are just starting on the spiritual road. It is like entering the gate. After consecration, there must be the discipline of the Holy Spirit, this is the pathway. It takes consecration plus the discipline of the Holy Spirit to make us vessels fit for the Master’s use. Without consecration, the Holy Spirit encounters difficulty in disciplining us. Yet consecration cannot serve as a substitute for His discipline.
Here then is a vital distinction: our consecration can only be according to the measure of our spiritual insight and understanding, but the Holy Spirit disciplines according to His own light. We really do not know how much our consecration involves. Our light is so limited that when it seems to us to be at its greatest, in God’s view it is like pitch blackness. God’s requirement so far exceeds what we can possibly consecrate, that is, in our limited light. The discipline of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is meted out to us according to our need as seen in God’s own light. He knows our special need, and so by His Spirit He orders our circumstances in such a way as to bring about the breaking of the outward man. Notice how far the discipline of the Holy Spirit transcends our consecration.
Since the Holy Spirit works according to the light of God, His discipline is thorough and complete. We often wonder at the things which befall us, yet if left to ourselves we may be mistaken in our very best choice. The discipline He orders transcends our understanding. How often we are caught unprepared and conclude that surely such a drastic thing is not our need. Many times His discipline descends upon us suddenly without our having prior notice! We may insist we are living in “the light” but the Holy Spirit is dealing with us according to God’s light. From the time we received Him, He has been ordering our circumstances for our profit according to His knowledge of us.
The working of the Holy Spirit in our lives has its positive as well as its negative side, that is to say, there is both a constructive and a destructive phase. After we are born again the Holy Spirit dwells in us, but our outward man so often deprives Him of His freedom. It is like trying to walk in a pair of ill fitting new shoes. Because our outward and inward man are at variance with each other, God must employ whatever means He thinks effective in breaking down any stronghold over which our inward man has no control.
It is not by the supply of grace to the inward man that the Holy Spirit breaks the outward. Of course, God wants the inward man to be strong, but His method is to utilize external means to decrease our outward man. It would be well nigh impossible for the inward man to accomplish this, since these two are so different in nature that they can scarcely inflict any wound on each other. The nature of the outward man and that of external things are similar; and thus the former can be easily affected by the latter. External things can strike the outward man most painfully. So it is that God uses external things in dealing with our outward man.
You remember the Bible says that two sparrows are sold for a farthing (Matt. 10:29) and that five sparrows are sold for two farthings (Lk. 12:6). This is certainly cheap, and the fifth sparrow is included free. However, “one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father; but of you even the hairs of the head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:29, 30). Not only is every hair counted, but every single one is also numbered. Hence we may be sure that all our circumstances are ordered by God. Nothing is accidental.
God’s ordering is according to His knowledge of our needs, and with a view to the shattering of our outward man. Knowing that a certain external thing will thus affect us, He arranges for us to encounter it once, twice, and perhaps even more. Do you not realize that all the events of your life for the past five or ten years were ordered by God for your education? If you murmured and complained, you grievously failed to recognize His hand. If you thought you were just unfortunate, you were in ignorance of the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Remember that whatever happens to us is measured by the hand of God for our supreme good. Though probably it is not what we would choose, God knows what is best for us. Where would we be today had God not so disciplined us through ordering our circumstances? It is this very thing which keeps us pure and walking in His pathway. How foolish are those who have murmurings in their mouths and rebellion in their hearts at the very things the Holy Spirit has measured to them for their good.
As soon as we are saved, the Holy Spirit begins to deal out discipline; but He cannot act freely until our consecration is complete. After one is saved but not yet consecrated, and while he still loves himself much more than the Lord, the Holy Spirit is nonetheless working to bring him under control and break down his outward man that He may work unhinderedly.
Finally, there comes a time when you realize that you cannot live by yourself and for yourself. In the dim light you have, you come to God and say: “I consecrate myself to Thee. Come life or death, I have committed myself into Thy hands.” This will strengthen the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Herein lies the importance of consecration: it allows the Holy Spirit to work without restriction. So think it not strange when many unexpected things befall you after your consecration.
You have told the Lord: “Lord! Do whatever Thou deemest best in my life.” Now that you have thus put yourself unconditionally in His hands, the Holy Spirit can freely work in you. To wholeheartedly decide to follow the Lord, you must pay close attention to the disciplinary work of the Holy Spirit.
The Greatest Means of Grace
God has been bestowing His grace upon us from the day we were saved. The ways by which we may receive grace from God are called the “means of grace.” Prayer and listening to a message are two examples, for through them we can draw near to God and receive grace. This descriptive term, “the means of grace,” has been universally accepted by the Church down through the centuries. We receive grace through meetings, through messages, through prayers, and so forth. But surely the greatest means of grace which we cannot afford to neglect is the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can be compared with this means of grace, not prayer, Bible readings, meetings, messages, meditation, or praise. Among all the God given means of grace, it would seem this is the most important.
Tracing this means of grace can show us how far we have gone with the Lord. What we experience daily, at home or school or factory or on the road, is ordered by the Holy Spirit for our highest benefit. If we are not profited by this greatest means of grace, we suffer terrible loss. None of the other means can replace it, precious though they all are. Messages feed us, prayer restores us, God’s word refreshes us, and helping others releases our spirit. But should our outward man remain strong, we give all who contact us the impression of being mixed and impure. People will recognize our zeal but also our mixed motives, our love toward the Lord but also our love for ourselves. They feel we are a precious brother, yet a difficult one, for our outward man has not been broken. Let us not forget that though we are built up through messages, prayer, and the Bible, the greatest means of edification is the discipline of the Holy Spirit.
Henceforth there must be on our part a complete consecration so that we submit to what the Holy Spirit orders. Such submission brings blessing to us. If, instead, we quarrel with God and follow our own inclinations, we shall miss the way of His blessing. Once we realize that all of God’s orderings are for our highest profit, even things troublesome to us, and are willing to accept these as disciplinary measures from Him, we shall see how the Holy Spirit will make use of all things in dealing with us.
Dealings of Various Kinds
Whatever the things to which you are bound, God will deal with them one after another. Not even such trivialities as clothing, eating or drinking can escape the careful hand of the Holy Spirit. He will not neglect one area in your life. You may even be ignorant of your affinity for a certain thing, but He knows and will deal with it most thoroughly. Until the day comes when all these things are destroyed, you do not know perfect liberty. In these dealings you can finally recognize the thoroughness of the Holy Spirit. Things long forgotten are brought to mind by the Lord. God’s works are perfect, and nothing less than perfection can satisfy Him. He cannot stop short. Sometimes He will deal with you through others, arranging for you to be with someone whom you are angry with, or whom you despise or are jealous of; or very often it is through those you love. Before this you did not know how unclean and mixed you were, but afterwards you realize how much “rubbish” there is in you. You thought you were wholly for the Lord, but after receiving the discipline of the Holy Spirit you begin to see how far-reaching are the effects external things have upon you.
Then again the hand of God may touch our thought life. We discover that our thoughts are confused, independent, uncontrolled. We feign to be wiser than others. Then it is that the Lord allows us to crash into a wall and hit the dust, all to show us that we dare not use our thoughts inordinately. Once we have been enlightened in this, we shall fear our own thoughts as fire. Just as a hand withdraws immediately from a flame, so we shall instantly draw back when we encounter our uncontrolled thoughts. We shall remind ourselves, “This is not what I should think; I am afraid to pursue my own thoughts.”
Further, God will so arrange our circumstances as to deal with our emotions. Some people are extremely emotional. When they are elated, they cannot contain themselves; when they are depressed, they cannot be comforted. Their whole life revolves around their emotions, with their elation resulting in dissipation and their depression in inactivity. How does God rectify this? He places them in situations where they dare not be too happy when elated, nor too sad when depressed. They can only depend upon the grace of God and live by His mercy, not by their fickle emotions.
Although difficulties with thoughts and emotions are quite common, the greatest and most prevalent difficulty is with the will. Our emotions run wild because our wills have not been dealt with. The root is in our will. The same is true with our thoughts. We may be able to mouth the word, “Not my will but Thine be done,” but how often do we really allow the Lord to take over when things happen? The less you know yourself, the more easily you utter such words. The less you are enlightened, the easier submission to God seems to be. He who speaks cheaply has proved he has never paid the price.
Only after being dealt with by God do we really see how hard we are and how ready we are to have our own opinion. God must deal with us to make our wills tender and docile. Strong-willed people are convinced their feelings, ways and judgments are always right. Consider how Paul received this grace recorded in Philippians : “Do not trust in flesh” (3:3). We must also be led by God to such a place that we dare not trust our own judgment. God will allow us to make mistake after mistake until we realize that this will be our pattern for the future too. We truly need the grace of the Lord. Frequently the Lord permits us to reap serious consequences from our own judgments.
Finally, you will be so stricken by your failures that you will say: “I fear my own judgment as I fear hell fire. Lord, I am prone to mistakes. Unless Thou art merciful to me, unless Thou dost support me, unless Thou dost restrain me with Thy hand, I will be wrong again.” This is the beginning of the destruction of the outward man: when you dare no longer to n List yourself. Your opinions usually come easily until you have been dealt with repeatedly by God and have suffered many failures. Then you yield and say: “God, I dare not think, I dare not decide.” This is the discipline of the Holy Spirit: when all kinds of things and all sorts of people are pressing in from all directions.
Do not think there will be any slackening of this lesson! Very often the supply of God’s word may be lacking or another means of grace may be insufficient, yet this special means of grace, the discipline of the Holy Spirit, is ever with us. You may say you have no opportunity to hear and be supplied by His word, yet this can never be true of the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Daily He is arranging ample opportunities for you to learn.
Once you yield yourself to God, this discipline will meet your need to a far greater extent than will the supply of His word. It is not just for the learned, the clever, the gifted; no, it is the way for every child of God. The supply of God’s word, the power of prayer, the fellowship of the believers none of these can substitute for the discipline of the Holy Spirit. This is because you need not only to be built up; you need also to be broken, to be delivered of all the many things in your life that cannot be brought over into eternity.
The Cross in Operation
The cross is more than a doctrine; it must be put into practice. Do not think that the way to humility is to be constantly reminding ourselves not to be proud. We must be stricken again and again, even if it means twenty times until we surrender and are proud no more. Let us never assume this comes about merely by following the teaching of a certain brother. No, it is because our pride has been broken through God’s dealing.
Through the operation of the cross we shall learn to depend upon the grace of God, not on our memory. Whether we remember or not, the fact remains, He is accomplishing a work which is dependable and lasting. Formerly, the outward and the inward man were not able to join hands; but now the outward man waits meekly, in fear and trembling, before God.
Everyone of us is in need of this discipline from the Lord. As we review our past history, we cannot but see the hand of God in dealing with the independence, pride, and selfishness of our outward man. We discover the meaning of the things that have happened to us.