Let me first explain our topic. Suppose a father asks his son to do a certain thing. The son answers, "Right now I have something in my hand ; as soon as I finish it I will do what you order." "The thing in hand" is the thing which the son is doing prior to his father's orders. Immediately we recognize that we all have those "things in our hands" which hinder us in our walk with God. It might be anything—a good, important or seemingly necessary thing—which preoccupies us and diverts our attention. As long as the outward man remains unbroken, we shall most likely find our hands full of things. Our outward man has its own religious interests, appetites, concerns and labors. So when the Spirit of God moves in our spirit, our outward man cannot answer God's call. Thus it is the "thing in hand" which blocks the way to spiritual usefulness.
Our human strength is limited. If a brother can only carry fifty pounds, and you want him to take an additional ten, he simply could not do it. He is a limited person, unable to do unlimited work. The fifty pounds he is already carrying is "the thing in hand." As the physical strength of our outermost man is limited, so it is with the strength of our outward man.
Many, not realizing this principle, carelessly spend the strength of their outward man. If, for example, one lavished all his love upon his parents, he would have no strength left for loving his brothers, not to mention others. In thus exhausting his (soul) strength, there is nothing left to direct to others.
So it is with our mental strength. If one's attention is focused on a certain matter, and he exhausts all his time in thinking about it, he will have no strength to think of other matters. In His Word, God has explained our problem : "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and of death" (Rom. 8:2). But why is this law of the Spirit of life ineffectual in certain people? Again we read: "The righteous requirement of, the law should be fulfilled in us who walk according to Spirit" (Rom. 8:4). In other words, the law of the Spirit of life works effectively only for those who are spiritual, i.e., those who mind the things of the Spirit. Who are these ? Those who do not mind the things of the flesh. "Mind" can also be translated "to be intent upon, to be attentive to." For instance, a mother is going out and she leaves her baby in the care of a friend. To take care of the baby means to be attentive to him. When you are entrusted with the care of a baby, you dare not be distracted to other things. Similarily, only those who are not intent on carnal things can be attentive to spiritual things. Those who are intent upon spiritual things come under the force of the law of the Holy Spirit. Our mental strength is limited. If we exhaust it on the things of the flesh, we shall find ourselves mentally inadequate for the things of the Spirit.
We realize, then, just as our physical strength is limited, so it is with the soul strength of our outward man. As long as we have "things in hand" we cannot do God's work. According to the number of things in hand, strength for serving God decreases or increases. So the thing in hand indeed becomes a hindrance, and no small one.
Again, one may have many things in hand emotionally : such as varied and conflicting likes or dislikes, inclinations or expectations. All these pull with a magnetic attraction. With so many things in hand, when God asks for his affection he cannot respond, for he has already used up all his emotion. If he has exhausted a two-day supply of emotional resources, it will be that long before he can adequately feel and speak again. Thus when emotion is wasted on lesser things it cannot be used unrestrictedly for God.
Then there is someone manifesting an iron will, a strong personality whose volitional powers seem unlimited. Yet in the things of God he seems unable to make up his mind ; how often the strongest will waver in his decisions before God. Why is this? Before we answer let us consider another who is full of ideas. Though he never seems at a loss in conceiving new schemes, when it comes to discerning the will of God in spiritual things he is utterly void of light. Why is this so?
While the outward man is so weighted down with the things in hand and is so exhausted, there is little strength left for any spiritual exercise. It is needful, then, to see the limited strength of the outer man. Even though it is broken there must be a wisdom in using this strength. How necessary, then, to have "empty hands" !
In His dealing with man, God's Spirit never by passes man's spirit. Nor can our spirit by pass the outer man. This is a most important principle to grasp. As the Holy Spirit does not pass over man's spirit in His working in man, no more does our spirit ignore the outward man and function directly. In order to touch other lives, our spirit must pass through the outward man. Hence, when the latter's strength is consumed by the many things in hand, God cannot do His work through us. There is no outlet for the human spirit nor for the Holy Spirit. The inward man cannot come forth because he is resisted and blocked by the outward man. That is why we have repeatedly suggested that this outward man must be broken.
The thing in hand is there before God begins to work. It does not belong to God, nor does it need God's order, power, or decision to be carried out. It is not something under the hand of God but rather an independent action.
Before your outward man is broken, you are occupied with your own things, you walk in your own way, and you love your own people. If God wants to use your love in loving the brethren, He must first break your outward man. This love of yours is thereby enlarged. The inward man must love, but he has to love through the outward man. If the outward man is occupied with the thing in hand, the inward man is deprived of its proper channel for loving.
Again, when the inward man needs to use his will, he finds it is acting independently, already engaged by the thing in hand. To break our will, God must strike us a heavy blow until we prostrate ourselves in the dust and say. "Lord, I dare not think, I dare not ask, I dare not decide. on my own. In each and every thing I need Thee." In our being stricken, we must learn that our will is not to act independently. Only then is our will ready to be used by the inward man.
Without the cooperation of the outward man, the inward man is most handicapped. Suppose a brother is going to preach the Word. He has a burden in his spirit. However, if he fails to find corresponding thoughts, he cannot release his burden and it will soon fade away. Even though the burden may permeate his whole spirit, all is futile if his mind is unable to communicate it.
We cannot save souls merely with the burden in our spirit ; this must be expressed through our mind. The burden within must be coordinated with the mouth without. Without utterance it is impossible to make known to others the Word of God. Man's words are not God's Word, but the latter must be communicated by the former. When man has God's words, God can speak; when he does not, God cannot speak. The trouble today is that our inward man is available to God, able to receive God's burden, but our outward man is driven by such multitudinous, confusing thoughts from morning till night that our spirit can find no outlet.
Thus it is that God must crush our outward man. He breaks our will by taking away the things in our will's "hand" so that it cannot act independently. Not that we have no mind, but that we do not think after the flesh, according to our wandering imaginations. Not that we are devoid of emotion, but that all our emotions are under the control and restraint of the inward man. This gives the inner man a will, a mind, and emotions that are usable. God wants our spirit to use our outward man in loving, in thinking, and in deciding. While it is not His thought to annihilate our outward man, we must receive this basic dealing of being broken if we aspire to effectually serve God.
Until this happens, the inward and the outward man are at odds with each other, each acting independently of the other. When we are broken, the outward man is brought under the control of the inward, thus unifying our personality so that the shattered outward man may be a channel for the inward man.
Now it must be recognized that a unified personality may often characterize an unsaved person, but in this case the inward man is under the control of the outward man. Though the human spirit exists, it is so beaten by the outward man that it can at best only raise some conscientious protests. The inward man is utterly dominated by the outward man.
However, after one is saved, it is God's intention that he should experience a reversal of this order. As much as his outward man controlled the inward before his being saved, so now his inward man should hold absolute sway over his outward man.
We can use bicycling as an illustration. On flat ground, we pedal the bicycle and the wheels roll along the road. But on a down slope, without pedaling, the wheels just rotate and the road seems to urge us along. Similarly when our inward man is strong and the outward man is broken, we "pedal" and the "wheels" roll along the road. We can decide whether to continue or stop and how fast to go. However, if our outward man is hard and unbroken, it will be like coasting down an incline out of control. Should the Lord be gracious to us and level the slope by breaking the outward man, so that he can no longer give counsel and make decisions independently, we shall be as those who are able to properly use their spirit.
No one is equipped to work simply because he has learned some teachings. The basic question is still: what kind of man is he? Can one whose inner workings are wrong, but whose teaching is right, supply the need of the Church? The basic lesson we must learn is to be transformed into a vessel fit for the Master's use. This can only be done by the breaking of the outward man.
God is at work in our lives unceasingly. Many years of sufferings, trials, hindrances—this is the hand of God, daily seeking to carry on His work of breaking us. Don't you see what God is doing in this endless round of difficulties? If not, you should ask Him, "Oh God, open my eyes that I may see Thy hand." How often the eyes of an ass are sharper than those of a self-styled prophet.
Though the ass had already seen the Angel of the Lord, his master had not. The ass recognized the forbidding hand of God, but the self-styled prophet did not. We should be aware that brokenness is God's way in our lives. How sad that some still imagine that if they could only absorb more teaching, accumulate more preaching material, and assimilate more Bible exposition, they would be profitable to God. This is absolutely wrong. God's hand is upon you to break you—not according to your will, but His ; not according to your thoughts, but His; not according to your decision, but His. Our difficulty is that as God withstands us, we blame others. We react like that prophet who, blind to God's hand, blamed the ass for refusing to budge.
All that comes to us is ordered by God. To a Christian, nothing is accidental. We should ask God to open our eyes that we may see He is striking us in all things and in all areas of our life. One day, when by the grace of God upon us we are able to accept the ordering of God in our environment, our spirit is released and ready to function.
There is an immutable law of God's working in us: His specific purpose is breaking us and, releasing our spirit for free exercise. We must understand that none of our praying, pleading or promising will affect or change this purpose. It is according to His law of accomplishing a brokenness and release in us ; all our praying will not alter this law. If you deliberately thrust your hand into the fire, will prayer keep you free from pain (barring a miracle) ? If you do not want to be scorched, do not thrust your hand into the fire and think that prayer will save you. God's dealing with us is according to His law. In order to come forth, the inward man must pass through the outward man. Until our outward man is shattered, our inward man simply cannot come forth. Do not disregard this law and keep praying for blessings; such prayers are in vain. Praying can never change God's law.
We must settle this once and for all. The way of spiritual work lies in God's coming out through us. This is the only way God has ordained. To one who is unbroken, the gospel is blocked and cannot flow out through the life. Let us bow low before God. To obey God's law is far better than saying many prayers. It is much better to stop praying and confess : "God, I prostrate myself before Thee." Yes, how often our prayer for blessings are actually raising up barriers. We long for blessing, yet seem to find God's mercy. If only we would seek for enlightenment, learn to submit ourselves to His hand, and obey His law, we would find that the outcome is the very blessing we long for.
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