When we speak of abandoning our wills to the will of God, we are really talking about giving up some illusions we hold about ourselves. We all grow up with these false self-images, and as long as we clutch them as reality, there can be no inner peace. This was the situation in the lives of three would-be disciples of Jesus we read about in Luke 9:57-62.
The Illusion of Grandeur
First is the illusion of grandeur. It is the idea that I can change the whole world. I can be a world-beater. In every one of my commencement ceremonies—from grade school through doctoral graduation—I was told by commencement speakers that I could change the world. “There’s a potential president here…a future world-shaker here…if only you can discover it.” I was challenged to change the entire world.
If we honestly look at what Jesus taught, however, we see something quite different. For example, in the Luke passage the first man who approached him (Matthew says he was rich, scholarly, and a member of the elite) was saying, “Let’s go change the world.”
Jesus told him he was joining the wrong movement, because “Foxes have holes and birds have nests; but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” (Luke 9:58)
If you study the life of Christ carefully, you will discover that He did not come to change the entire world in one fell-swoop. He came to change a few people and show them how to cope with this world, get ready for the next, and sow seed which would grow after they were gone.
Read the Gospels carefully and you will see that Jesus did not do everything. He did not attempt to meet every need. He had no false illusions about the world. He addressed the fact that there will always be injustice, and that the poor will always be with us. He talked about the fact that rulers of the world had no idea what He was talking about, and that the religious leaders would not understand Him. He described the world as a broken place. He had no false illusions about changing everything. Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot do great things in this earth. We can only do small things with great love.” That’s what Jesus did during his three years of ministry. The greatest came posthumously.
I read a story that occurred during the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. One day the chief bishop went to watch the construction and asked one of the stone masons, “What are you doing here?”
The stone mason answered, “I don’t really know. I just work five days a week taking rocks and sticking them together with mud. Then on the weekends I drink beer and party. The next week I start the same cycle all over again.”
The bishop then approached another stone mason and asked him the same question, “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, let me tell you,” answered the man excitedly. “I am building one little piece of this great cathedral, and my one little piece is like a link in a chain. It will hold this magnificent building together for a thousand years.”
Many of us have this illusion that we can change the entire world. It is an illusion of grandeur. God has not called us to try to change the entire world. He has called us to do small things with great love. I don’t know anyone who has inner peace and carries the burden of the whole world on themselves.
The Illusion of Perfection
When I was growing up, somehow I got the notion that I could keep it all together all of the time. Then I grew out of that, but I decided that I could keep it all together some of the time. Now I have to face the reality that I can’t keep it all together any of the time!
I have read the books. I’ve been to the seminars. I even bought a book the other day entitled, “Beyond Maximization”—it cost me $12! I thought, “How do you go beyond maximization? This must be the new stuff. I’m on the cutting edge!” Later, I said to myself, “There you go again!”
I was like the second man who approached Jesus. He really wanted to follow Him, but he said, “First, let me go back and bury my father.” He was saying, “Let me get everything in my life arranged perfectly and I will follow you.”
Jesus was harsh in his response, but He was trying to drive home an important truth. “You cannot do it all perfectly. I don’t want you to worry about that. I want you to go and proclaim the Gospel.”
Jesus did not try to do everything. He came to do one thing—to obey God all the way to the cross and die for the sins of the world. There were many problems He didn’t address. He didn’t heal everybody on earth. He didn’t straighten out the wicked government. Those who are trying to build utopia will find themselves on a treadmill of lunacy.
I received a letter recently from a television viewer named Marge who heard me say I had just turned sixty years old. She wrote to cheer me up. She told me, “You have no idea how much you are going to be worth. You are going to be worth a fortune! You are going to have silver in your hair, gold in your teeth, stones in your kidneys, lead in your feet, and gas on your stomach.”
She said that since she turned 80 years old, she spends every day with five different men. “When I roll over in the morning, Will Power kicks me out of bed, and then I go to see John. After that, Charlie Horse kicks in and then here comes Arthur-itis. We go from joint to joint and when I’m finished with him, you can understand why I am ready to go to bed with Ben Gay.”
Marge told me that when she shared this spoof with her pastor, he told her that a lady her age should think more about the hereafter. She replied, “That’s all I do—whether I’m in the kitchen, the closet, or the bedroom—I say, ‘What am I here after?’”
The reality of getting old—as with many other situations in life—is that you must embrace your limitations and be able to laugh at them like Marge. But we take ourselves too seriously. We live with this illusion of perfection. The fact is, none of us has it all together any of the time. Until we can face up to that, we have no hope for inner peace.
The Illusion of Immortality
The third illusion we must face if we are to have inner peace is that we cannot arrive at a permanent, unchanging state of existence and cease having to grow. It’s the illusion of immortality…the illusion of not having to die. The last “wanna be” disciple said, “I will follow you sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my family.”
Jesus knew that when this man got home, he wouldn’t say goodbye to his family because he couldn’t let go of his past. That is why Jesus told him that when you begin to plow, you can’t be looking over your shoulder. If you don’t keep your eyes fixed straight ahead on the furrow, you plow crooked, run over fences, and may end up in a ditch.
What Jesus was saying is that there are periods in life that come to an end, and the unwillingness “to die” to them is what causes us such turmoil. Jesus was always very realistic about His death. He had no illusions about His mortality. He knew He was on His way to death. The cross was ever before Him. He talked to his disciples about it constantly, even though they didn’t understand. The last night they were together at dinner, He told them He was going to die and they still didn’t catch on. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane right before His arrest, the disciples slept because they didn’t realize what was ahead. Jesus knew He had a purpose. He was driven by that purpose, and He knew that death was part of it. He was convinced that after death, God would raise Him up.
When I was a young minister, I was an associate pastor and on Mondays it was my job to visit patients at the local cancer center. This was back in the 1950’s and they didn’t have the medical advancements they now have. So almost every person I visited was terminally ill. One day I visited a man who was 78 years old, a widower, and in the final stages of his illness. When I entered the room, I saw the sights and smelled the smells of death and I was paralyzed with fear. Here was a man with only a few hours to live and I was not prepared for it. I just wanted to mumble a prayer, read a scripture, and leave. Mostly, I just sat and looked at the floor.
The man said, “You’re frightened, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” I answered.
“You don’t know what to say to me, do you?”
“No, I don’t”
He said, “Well, I think it is admirable that you aren’t saying anything, so let me say some things to you. When I was born, I came out of a warm, safe place called my mother’s womb. I was thrust into a cold world accompanied by a slap on my behind. I left a secure place for a scary place.
“Later on, when I went off to school for the first time, I left the security of my mother’s side for another scary place. When I left childhood for puberty, and when I left for college that was frightening. Then I left college for marriage and then I went to work. These were all unsettling moments. Later, my children moved out, my wife died, and I finally retired. These all were more frightening transitions.
“All of my life has been a series of deaths. But in spite of the fear, I have discovered that every exit is also an entrance. I don’t know how much longer I have to live, but that is the way I am viewing my death. Every exit is also an entrance.”
The man had no illusions about immortality. He knew he must die, but his hope was that God would resurrect him.
Summary & Challenge
I don’t know if I will ever have the kind of harmony and peace for which I yearn, but I do know that the place to start is to get rid of these three illusions:
- The illusion of grandeur which urges me to change the whole world. My hope is to do small things with great love, not great things.
- The illusion of perfection which tells me that I can keep it all together all of the time, some of the time, or even any of the time.
- The illusion of immortality—the belief that I don’t have to die and say goodbye to things as they are. I want to be able to face the fact that behind everything that changes in life, there is a God that undergirds it all.
If I can confront these three illusions, I will be well on my way to achieving the inner peace of a surrendered soul.
- This series of Posts is based upon Dr. Gerald Mann’s book The Search for Inner Peace. The author and the MakeTrix have received the permission of Gerald Mann’s wife, Sandy Mann, to use the contents of his wonderful masterpiece in this series of articles. We are honored and humbled and wish to thank her for her generosity. This series is of course, and as always, provided free at no cost to the reader.
- Dr. Gerald Mann, The Search for Inner Peace (Austin, TX: Gerald Mann Ministries, 1999), pp. 11-21. ISBN: 0-9678502-0-7, Out-of-Print.
- For more information, read our previous post:
Introduction: The Search for Inner Peace