He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
Our verse is laden with mystery: a new name and secret nourishment are promised to him who overcomes. And it seems, from this verse, to overcome one must first hear. Much is said in scripture about ears that hear or ears that do not. Why is this? What is it that opens ears? What keeps them closed? Jesus tell us: “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17). C.S. Lewis put it like this:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” …Those who seek find. For those who knock it is opened. (The Great Divorce)
The first step in overcoming is to hear, and to hear we must present ourselves to God as those willing to do his will. Once a man has given himself to God, saying, “As far as it concerns me, Lord, Thy will be done,” the ears are opened. God now has someone on whom his words will not be wasted. Someone may still protest, saying, “But… I cannot do God’s will; it is beyond me.” This is both a true and a false statement. Let’s allow Lewis to continue.
To have faith in Christ, means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.
Now we cannot discover our failure to keep God’s law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say, there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time, we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”
The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become—because He made us. He invented us. He invented the person that you and I were intended to be… It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. (from Mere Christianity)
I pray that we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to the church in our day. Our overcoming depends on it. Becoming the light of the world depends on it. The Bride of Christ, having her lamp full of oil, is dependent on it. Since hearing is pivotal to overcoming, surrendering to God is foundational.
In the abandonment both Jesus and Lewis preach, there is a process of discovery in which we encounter the cross—that place where we die to ourselves and can say with clear conscience, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who now lives in me. This is why C.S. Lewis also said, “Die before you die, there is no chance after.”
The life of God is hidden from us, in large part, until we die – but not completely. When Christ’s life becomes our life, we know it because it is accompanied by a new identity. We know we are God’s and God is ours. In this place, slaves who were laboring to please the Master, become sons and friends to God. They have, in essence, been renamed and their labors to please God cease. And yet they bear fruit and overcome out of the new nature within them.
To find our way home, we must first give ourselves to God who is both our origin and our destiny. We must hand the title back to him. Then, our hearing will be opened; then we will begin to learn the many lessons he has for us in his school of obedience, where we will learn that (as Lewis has aptly put it) “It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.”
Father, truly you are our hidden manna. And, you are the Good Shepherd who is guiding us home. May our hearts grasp that you alone are our Way, our Truth, and our Life. Amen.