Editor's note:

In his classic book, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly quotes Meister Eckhart: “There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves.” Kelly goes on to say, “It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without any reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me—commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.”

—Mimi Dixon

Excerpt from A Testament of Devotion

The first step to the obedience of the second half is the flaming vision of the wonder of such a life, a vision which comes occasionally to us all, through biographies of the saints, through the journals of Fox and early [Quakers], through a life lived before our eyes, through a haunting verse of the Psalms—“Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee” (Ps. 73:25)—through meditation upon the amazing life and death of Jesus, through a flash of illumination or, in Fox’s language, “a great opening.” But whatever the earthly history of this moment of charm, this vision of an absolutely holy life is, I am convinced, the invading, urging, inviting, persuading work of the Eternal One. It is curious that modern psychology cannot account wholly for flashes of insight of any kind, sacred or secular. It is as if a fountain of creative Mind were welling up, bubbling to expression within prepared saints. There is an infinite fountain of lifting power, pressing within us, luring us by dazzling visions, and we can only say, The creative God comes into our souls. An increment of infinity is about us. Holy is imagination, the gateway of Reality into our hearts. The Hound of Heaven is on our track, the God of Love is wooing us to His Holy Life.

Once having the vision, the second step to holy obedience is this: Begin where you are. Obey now. Use what little obedience you are capable of, even if it be like a grain of mustard seed. Begin where you are. Live this present moment, this present hour as you now sit in your seats, in utter, utter submission and openness toward Him. Listen outwardly to these words, but within, behind the scenes, in the deeper levels of your lives where you are all alone with God the Loving Eternal One, keep up a silent prayer, “Open Thou my life. Guide my thoughts where I dare not let them go. But Thou darest. Thy will be done.” Walk on the streets and chat with your friends. But every moment behind the scenes be in prayer, offering yourselves in continuous obedience. I find this internal continuous prayer life absolutely essential. It can be carried on day and night, in the thick of business, in home and school. Such prayer of submission can be so simple. It is well to use a single sentence, repeated over and over and over again, such as this: “Be Thou my will. Be Thou my will,” or “I open all before Thee. I open all before Thee,” or “See earth through heaven. See earth through heaven.” This hidden prayer life can pass, in time, beyond words and phrases to mere ejaculations, “My God, my God, my Holy One, my Love,” or [pure adoration], “O Wonderful, O Wonderful, O Wonderful.” Words may cease as one stands and walks and sits and lies in wordless attitudes of adoration and submission and rejoicing and exultation and glory.

And the third step in holy obedience, or a counsel, is this: If you slip and stumble and forget God for an hour, and assert your old proud self, and rely upon your own clever wisdom, don’t spend too much time in anguished regrets and self-accusations but begin again, just where you are.

Yet a fourth consideration in holy obedience is this: Don’t grit your teeth and clench your fists and say, “I will! I will!” Relax. Take hands off. Submit yourself to God. Learn to live in the passive voice—a hard saying for Americans—and let life be willed through you. For “I will” spells out obedience.

The fruits of holy obedience are many. But two are so closely linked together that they can scarcely be treated separately. They are the passion for personal holiness and the sense of utter humility. God inflames the soul with a craving for absolute purity. But He, in His glorious otherness, empties us of ourselves in order that He may become All.

…He who walks in obedience, following God the second half, living the life of inner prayer of submission and exultation, on him God’s holiness takes hold as a mastering passion of life. Yet ever he cries out in abysmal sincerity, “I am the blackest of all the sinners of the earth. I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of Hosts.” For humility and holiness are twins in the astonishing birth of obedience in the heart of men. So God draws unworthy us, in loving tenderness, up into fellowship with His glorious self.

Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.

Excerpted from Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion, pp.59-67; 124. HarperOne, 1994.