Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hallesby on When You Don't Want to Live for God

[My response to Bob, a fictionalized version of a real person with whom I had a real conversation, was inspired by something I'd read years before. It's from the great book, Why I Am a Christian by Ole Hallesby, which I'm re-reading right now. Below is an extensive quote from that classic, a longer piece than I should probably post, but the whole thing is a gem!

[Hallesby was a twentieth century Norwegian Lutheran theologian. In his writings, you detect a man not only of great intellect, but of a deep and warmly loving faith. Do yourself a favor and buy one of his books today!]

Perhaps some one of my readers is saying to himself: "I have not experienced this new creation. My religious life is a heavy, burdensome duty, which I often neglect and which I must force myself to perform. Often I do it in an absent-minded and spiritless manner. Dead works! That is without doubt the right name for my Christianity.

How can I get life with God?

What must be done on my part in order that God may perform this miracle within me?

My friend, it is not difficult to tell you what you must do. You have nothing to do but to turn to your Saviour and confess to Him that you love sin and not God, and ask Him to perform the miracle in your heart.

The moment you truly do go to God in this way, He will perform the miracle of regeneration within you.

I am prepared to hear somebody say: "I have already done this some time ago. But I did not experience what you have described above as the effects of divine regeneration. I have not felt the nearness of God of which you speak. Not the joy and bliss. Nor the peace and inward calm. Nor the dislike for sin. Nor the desire to do God's will. So far I have experienced practically nothing but restlessness and fear, now and then exceedingly great distress. Between times I have had a few brief periods of calm.

What is the matter with me?

What shall I do further in order to experience what you have described?

In reply to this, permit to say, first, that every birth is a painful process. Spiritual birth is no exception to the rule. The spiritual pains you are experiencing, in the form of restlessness, doubt, fear, and anxiety, are birthpains.

The Holy Spirit of God is at work creating something new within you. But the new life can not be born within you except the old die at the same time. It is God who killeth and make alive (Deuteronomy 32:39). Paul says in the account of his conversion that he died (Romans 7:9-10). He has reference to the painful process by means of which God through His holy law convicted him of sin, "that sin might be exceedingly sinful" to him (v.13). Or, as he expresses it in another place, "that every mouth may be stopped and the sinner be brought under the judgment of God" (Romans 3:19).

What you are now experiencing in your spiritual distress and restlessness is this life's first beginning: death...

You must first see the sin in your heart and life, which sin must die. Just to see this is a painful and fearful experience, enough to fill a soul with hopelessness and despair, because men [sic] do not realize how sinful they really are...

This experience becomes still more painful when one not only sees the wickedness of one's life, but also discovers, when trying to battle against it, that one is not able to overcome one's sins, either in word or deed, and still less in thought and fantasy...[Paul writes in Romans:] "Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?"...

If you have begun these inner experiences, do not permit yourself to become frightened or confused. It is the Lord's work in your soul. It is painful, to be sure. All such curative experiences are distasteful to our pampered natures, but they are necessary. Give thanks to the merciful God, who in this way has begun to put to death your old life...

...what God has shown you of your sin should...drive you to your crucified Saviour, make you hunger for the grace of God and seek salvation, and become one of those whom the Lord calls blessed: "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled. Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3-6)

After the Lord has put to death, He also makes alive.

Be calm, therefore. Let the Lord Himself take full charge of this work. He Himself will perfect the good work which He has begun in your soul. When He sees fit, the veil will be drawn aside, and you will rejoice in salvation with unspeakable joy. You will experience God's blessed presence, peace, and rest. You will be given an inward dislike of sin and a holy desire to do His will.

Meanwhile, wait humbly and patiently for the Lord. Plead your distress before Him each day. Read His Word and cling to His promises.

Remember this: You expereinced the new birth the moment you turned to your Saviour and honestly confessed your sins. What you have felt so far has been principally its mortifying and painful aspects. But that...is a part of the vital mystery of Christianity.
[I love Hallesby's way of making things clear and how he does so with such compassion and heart!]


Deborah White said...

I had a copy of Hallesby's book on prayer and gave it away. YOu cause me to regret that moment of charity. I think I'll look for another copy.

Mark Daniels said...

The story of that book and me is sort of interesting...at least to me.

In my home congregation was a man who had been a pastor for all of one year. After that time, he decided that wasn't really the life for him. He went back to Columbus, where he had attended college and seminary, to be certified as a science teacher. He did both that and worked part-time in retail for years. But he always arranged his schedule to sing in the church choir.

He married, had three children, and was just one of those solid, but quiet, people who by their commitments, make a difference in more lives than they know.

In his late fifties, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. I was in seminary at the time, as was another person from our congregation.

All the books he had acquired as a seminary student and pastor were stacked neatly on shelves in his basement. His family said that the other seminarian and I should go through the library and take what we wanted. We both found one wonderful book after another, most of them Biblical or theological reference works.

But Hallesby's book, 'Prayer,' was among them. I picked it up, because I'd heard of it somehwere. For about five years, every time I tried to read it, I couldn't do it.

Then, at a sort of crisis time in my life, I was about to take a walk around what we called "the triangle," a set of crisscrossing roads in the farming area where we lived at the time. I picked up 'Prayer' on a whim and started reading.

I don't know how to describe it: I ate it up! It was as though this was the time I was meant to read it. Sentences that seemed archaic and inaccessible before now opened themselves before me and I understood, truly understood, what Hallesby was saying.

Maybe it was because I was at the end of me spiritually and Hallesby was saying that was exactly where I needed to be in order to truly pray.

A few years later, I attended a Billy Graham School of Evangelism at Wheaton College. The dean and keynote speaker was Dr. Paul Cedar. His topic was prayer. As he developed his presentation, I kept thinking, "This is like Hallesby!" Then, near the end of it, he looked at us all and said, "Look, if you're really serious about prayer, go out and get Ole Hallesby's book, 'Prayer.'"

The book has continued to play an important role in my life and constantly reminds me the blessed really are those who are poor in spirit, who refuse to buy the lie that they can do fine without God, and who simply let Jesus in when He knocks on the doors of their hearts.

I love that book! Through it and its influence on me, that guy from my home church who may have thought that because he'd quit being a pastor, he'd done nothing significant for God's Kingdom, is still having an impact on others.