As we progress in prayer, our prayers gradually begin to look more and more like those we see from Jesus and Paul and others. The prayer of relinquishment moves us from struggling in always asking God for what we want to releasing our will to His.
Side note: When I first taught this, this form of prayer was foreign to me. Since then, it has become one of my favorites.
Jesus. praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, laid down his human will. Christian theology says that there is one person, both fully God and fully human, Jesus Christ, who had two wills. To believe that Jesus only had one will is heresy. Jesus’ human will submitted fully to his divine will. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden displayed his human will asking for God to let the cup pass from him, finding his prayer unanswered, and submitting his human will to the divine will.
Obviously, you and I only have one will. But it still must be transformed and surrendered to the will of God.
Richard Foster describes this prayer with the image of a person sitting in the hot summer sun who falls into a swimming pool for relief from the heat. There is a sense that a thirst has been quenched when a person falls into the arms of Jesus with this kind of prayer. I agree with him, at least at the end. But at the beginning, this prayer is a struggle.
Struggle is a necessary feature of this prayer. Jesus struggled in the garden to the point of sweating blood. Foster writes, “Struggle is important because the Prayer of Relinquishment is Christian prayer and not fatalism. We do not resign ourselves to fate.” Instead, we surrender our wills, crucify our wills, knowing that day by day, as we face the decisions in front of us, God will be faithful to see us through.
Andrew Murray writes,
“The Spirit teaches me to yield my will entirely to the will of the Father. He opens my ear to wait in great gentleness and teachableness of soul for what the Father has day by day to speak and to teach. He discovers to me how union with God’s will is union with God Himself; how entire surrender to God’s will is the Father’s claim, the Son’s example, and the true blessedness of the soul.”
The prayer of relinquishment may happen more easily by changing posture. Kneeling to pray and lifting your hands to God symbolizes your surrender. Wrestle with God in your words. Don’t simply start the prayer by telling God that you want His will to be done. Tell him what you really want to happen. And be careful not to assume that just because you want something, it is at odds with what God wants.
You might lift up in your arms people: your spouse, children, and close friends. Then give God your future, hopes and dreams. Give him your angers, enemies, and desire for revenge. At the end, pray something like, “Lord, crucify in me what needs to be crucified. Bring back to life what will please you and advance your kingdom. Let it come in whatever form you desire. Let it be in your time and in your way. Thank you for resurrection.” Some things will stay dead, and that’s good.
So, what do you need to relinquish? And what might your life look like if this became a regular part of your prayers?
As I have taught this ordo salutis at my church, we have exposed ourselves to the spiritual disciplines. Evangelicals regularly emphasize such disciplines as Bible reading and prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and community. They may even encourage other forms of spiritual discipline without labeling them. As far as I know, it is only since Richard Foster’s release of The Celebration of Discipline several decades ago that evangelicals have started to embrace the broad spectrum of spiritual disciplines as valuable.
Spiritual disciplines are a means of grace. They are part of the “path of disciplined grace” as Foster says. This does not mean they are the sole means of grace, but any discussion of the avenues God has appointed to distribute His grace to us would be severely lacking without mention of them. They are, as Dallas Willard says, wisdom not righteousness. In the disciplines, we do not earn righteousness but become wise toward the ways of God.
Galatians 6:8 says, “Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Richard Foster comments, “A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines–they are a way of sowing to the Spirit…. By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 7).
G.K. Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy something to the effect that we falsely assume that something consistent does not have life in it, such as a clock. We are wrong. Consistency is actually a sign of life. He gives the example of children who say, “Do it again,” to parents who get tired quickly and then says God may be much younger than we. Our inconsistency gives away the death within us. The spiritual disciplines are, if anything, the consistent way to let God breathe life into us.
Inward disciplines are those that one does in solitary that no one knows about. These are those Jesus speaks about in Matthew 6 where we must be careful not to get our reward from people observing our deeds of righteousness. Outward disciplines are ones that one does where there is evidence of the act. They are not necessarily done alone—in fact, some of them seem to require a relationship with others. But they are not done intentionally with others. And corporate disciplines are those done together with a consistent group of other Christians. The adjectives describe a person’s relationship to those around him while practicing the disciplines.
Think of it like raising a child. A child, as he grows up, learns new things that will prepare him for life. He learns how to set an alarm clock and wake up early, how to manage his money, how to behave around the opposite sex, how to respect his elders. All of these practices are new at one time but, in time, become a part of who he is. Eventually, he is one who wakes up early, one who can manage his money, etc. And, in time, he becomes a person who wakes up because it makes him a better businessman. He manages his money because it enables financial freedom.
We practice the spiritual disciplines not only so we can be people of prayer, etc. but people for whom prayer provides an avenue for God to change us. If we want to be people of character, of virtue, prepared and ready to rule and reign as people reflecting God’s image in the world, then we must subject ourselves to this path of disciplined grace. And we must remember that change will take time.
Dallas Willard gives correction to those who would complain about the difficulty of the disciplines, as if following Jesus were simple and easy. “Ironically, in our efforts to avoid the necessary pains of discipline we miss the easy yoke and light burden [that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11]. We then fall into the rending frustration of trying to do and be the Christian we know we ought to be without the necessary insight and strength that only discipline can provide. We become unbalanced and are unable to handle our lives” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 7).
Here is a list of some of the basic spiritual disciplines taken from Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.