When I was getting my Master’s in Creative Writing, there were some taboos. Adverbs! In fact, all unnecessary words–and the passive voice. This was how David Citino, my first writing teacher, memorably excoriated it. “The passive voice is an evasion of responsibility. It says the cookies were eaten. Not, I ate the cookies.”
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But spiritually, I love the passive voice. I love the transference of ultimate responsibility.
Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Oh that’s too active! It makes me feel tired, inadequate, quite out of joy, worried that I am going to drop the cross, and go off and eat chocolate after a few steps.
And if that was all being a Christian was about—denying yourself, and taking up your cross, I wouldn’t feel capable of being a Christian. I would tell Jesus: “I love you very much. In fact, I adore you. You are the cleverest person I know. The way you suggest living is the very best way to live.”
“But you know that bit about denying myself, and carrying my cross? It’s too daunting. I wouldn’t have the energy to get out of bed. Or down the stairs.” (“Deny yourself and take up your cross,” translates into no chocolate, and doing laundry, and dishes, and cleaning and tidying the girls’ rooms in my mind.)
And so I just love the spiritual passive voice. Where continuance as a Christian is dependent on God’s goodness, and not on any muscular cross-carrying on my part–for I have no confidence in my stamina, resilience, or ability to persevere in that without crippling depression.
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When the risen Christ appears to the disciples, He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And in that there is hope for the weakest of us to follow Jesus. We don’t have to grab the Spirit; we don’t have to earn it. We just have to receive it. And it is promised to us as often as we ask for it. (Luke 11:13.)
Much of the Christian life is actually in passive voice. Lovely things happen to us. We are chosen. We are adopted. We are redeemed because Jesus died for us. And we do precisely nothing to earn all this. We don’t fill ourselves with the spirit. We are filled with the spirit. We don’t give ourselves the gift of tongues or any spiritual gifts; we are given them. We don’t sanctify ourselves, make ourselves holy. How can we? Christ within us, the Spirit within us, slowly sanctifies us.
I know there is an active element to faith, Paul labouring mightily, but that has too much of a masculine feel for me for my spiritual temperament; it’s too muscular!
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I find hope in the spiritual passive voice. I am now, in a slower time of my life, seeking healing for nebulous wounds I cannot accurately diagnose which have led to my seeking comfort and highs in food and sweets and crisps instead of God.
As I laid the wounds and callouses in my spirit bare in prayer yesterday, I saw two things.
Firstly, that I lacked the diagnostic or therapeutic ability to heal myself of these wounds I do not understand. Someone else, the Great Physician, has to do it for me. All I can do is bring my wounded spirit to God, and ask him to shine on it, touch it, lavish on it balm, honey, the word of God, and heal me.
Secondly, given that Jesus is who he is, nothing can stop him getting his healing hands onto my wounded spirit, working with it, touching it and healing it. And so, because of the goodness of God, I know the process of healing has begun. Because I have asked him to heal me, and because he is good.
If I had to rely on my own faith, my own endeavour, even my own prayer to be healed, and to live as a Christian, rather than on the goodness of God–ah, what chance would I have?
This is one of my favourite Matt Redman songs. “Who, oh Lord, could heal themselves, their own selves could heal?”
Hudson Taylor struggled mightily against his own sins and shortcomings, particularly in the hot, irritable climate of China. The spiritual secret of “resting in Christ” transformed his life.
Hudson Taylor writes to his sister, “ How then to have our faith increased ? Not a striving to have faith, but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely.
Not by striving to have faith, but by resting on the Faithful One. Here, I feel, is the secret : not asking how I am to get sap out of the vine into myself, but remembering that Jesus is the Vine-the root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit, all indeed. Aye, and far more too! He is the soil and sunshine, air and rain-more than we can ask, think, or desire.
Let us not then want to get anything out of Him, but rejoice in being ourselves in Him-one with Him, and, consequently, with all His fulness.
The Lord Jesus tells me I am a branch. I am part of Him, and have just to believe it and act upon it. If I go to the bank in Shanghai, having an account, and ask for fifty dollars, the clerk cannot refuse it to my outstretched hand and say that it belongs to Mr. Taylor. What belongs to Mr. Taylor my hand may take. It is a member of my body. And I am a member of Christ, and may take all I need of His fulness. I have seen it long enough in the Bible, but I believe it now as a living reality.”
These are inspiring words for me. Just rest, trust in God’s goodness, trust in God’s healing. Just be a branch in the vine, let his sap flow through you. I find this as energising in my writing, as in out of my depth social encounters, or encounters when I travel.
And this is becoming a way of life for me, relying on God to get through the day. Relying on him for words and wisdom in my interactions with people, at church, in writing, or to speedily tidy the house before guests come, or pack before a flight. Living life depending on his power and goodness to help me. Living life in the passive voice.