Quest for the spiritual secret….

When I was in high school my mother (later known in the Assembly as Sister Mayo) began a library for Fountain Avenue Baptist Church in Los Angeles. She and I had a great time discovering Christian books that were new to us. I remember my mom reading Watchman Nee’s book, The Release of the Spirit, and saying, “I was christened in the Methodist Church as a baby, but growing up I never even heard of the Holy Spirit!”

I read They Found the Secret: twenty transformed lives that reveal a touch of eternity, by Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College. Edman wrote about many Christian luminaries who discovered the secret to abundant living–Hudson Taylor, Andrew Murray, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, and Charles Finney, among others. They all discovered The Secret, which is to stop trying to live the Christian life, and let Christ live through you. The main point of Edman’s book was to find freedom from performance-based Christianity.

Apparently many of his readers got the message. One reader on wrote, “If you’ve reached the place in your Christian walk where you find you’re running on a tiring performance treadmill offering no end and no rest…. They Found the Secret is the book for you, because it certainly was for me… In my own walk, I had no peace, no rest. Ministry was just work, work, work….Through very simply written mini-bio’s, Edman explains how each person literally “stumbled” into the abiding life (John 15), and how after stumbling into it, their Christian walk and life was revolutionized. Such is my own testimony. Regardless of your personality type, in one or more of these sketches, you’ll see yourself and what you need to let go of. Once you do, then you, too, will have found the secret.”

But I wasn’t starting out from the same place. I hadn’t yet lived the normal Christian church life long enough to have discovered the performance treadmill in operation. The simple message of Edman’s book went over my head. But I went on to read the books written by these spiritual giants, and as a new convert, I heard another message: “There is a deeper encounter with God to be sought that will result in the abundant Christian life.”

Andrew Murray said it would be found in abiding in Christ. Oswald Chambers said it was entered into by giving your utmost for God’s highest. Hudson Taylor said it came by a special encounter with God that enabled him to trust God completely.

I was subtly diverted at the outset of my Christian life from growing in God’s love for me, to figuring out how I could find God in a more powerful way and become more spiritual. I was set up to want to learn the secret of “overcoming” from George Geftakys.

One reader on Amazon, however, caught the message of a radically changed life in Edman’s book, and had a much more mature and I think biblical response to the idea than I did:
I had a really hard time getting through this book. I had to read it for a class, so I had to finish it, but I found that it irritated me more than it uplifted me. I am a believer and I believe that God does work in many ways, but this book was very one sided. One reads of all these people who all of a sudden in their lives found God in a powerful way. The Holy Spirit came to them and changed their lives and that’s all we hear about.

While I know that the Spirit can do wonderful things, this book ignores the fact that these people were also human. It makes it seem that once these people had found the secret they never had problems again. God seemed to bless their ministry and their faith remained strong. But it never tells about their home life.

How did they treat their wife and kids after this experience? Were they kind at home, or did they all but abandon their family so as to serve God better? I dislike the image that if you are serving God, prior commitments, such as family don’t mean anything anymore. I doubt that their lives were perfect in every way or that they never struggled again. Perhaps Edman did not intend to convey that message, but he did nothing to present a more balanced picture either.

I cannot be uplifted by these stories because they feel too false – I know there is more there. One-sided stories do not uplift me; my life is nothing like that. I have encountered God and have been blessed with the Holy Spirit, but I still struggle with sin and doubt, which I see as a necessary part of a healthy Christian life. I would find more hope in the story of someone who was a real person dealing with everyday life who still managed to serve God and be blessed. Books by Philip Yancey and Anne Lamott are more realistic and therefore much more uplifting.

The Bible is pretty clear in both the Old and New Testaments that loving God is our number one priority. In fact, Moses says in Deuteronomy that this is to be uppermost in our thoughts. This is no secret–it’s the main thing. The second thing is similar: love our neighbors.

Loving God works itself out in a lot of different ways. At one point in the day it might be expressed in trusting God to meet a particular need. And in thanking God for specific gifts and blessings. At another point it might be expressed in acting on God’s behalf to help someone. Later, it might lead to denying an outburst of impatience so someone else might not be discouraged.

The Bible is pretty clear, from beginning to end, that as human beings we are going to fail in all these endeavors more often than than not. “Success” isn’t the point. God sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our failures, and to live the perfect life of love for us. His life is credited to my account instead of my own messes, and God the Father therefore loves me just as much as he loves his perfect son. His love evokes my love for him–in success and in failure! Do I really need some other secret?

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Margaret Irons and her husband Steve and three children were in the Fullerton Geftakys Assembly for twenty years. We left in March, 1990. We are still recovering and learning in Orange County, CA.

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