Armand J. Azamar
This is the first of a series of articles based on The Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee. The series will shadow the lessons of New Life Assembly's men’s meetings. This first article is an introduction to the writer, with the basic premise of book and my reflections of the first chapter.
Recently, I finished The Release of the Spirit and it was truly one of the most challenging reads in my life. So much so, I decided to take the men’s group of our church through the book. Even starting to write this series proved difficult: I needed a few months to prepare for the first lesson alone and several meetings to complete the book. My pastor encouraged me to take my time with Release of the Spirit.
With The Release of the Spirit, I realized I could not just teach it intellectually. Of course, with any biblical lesson, the church teacher struggles with living out what they teach. But, with this lesson, I preached to myself more than usual. I needed to teach in the spirit, as the premise of the book encourages.
Background on Watchman Nee
Watchman Nee (Nee Shu-tsu) was a Chinese Christian teacher and church leader during the 20th century. He was born on November 4, 1903 to second-generation Christian parents. According to the Watchman Nee website, Watchman Nee was consecrated to the Lord before his birth. His mother desired a son and prayed, “If I have a boy, I will present him to You.”
The Lord answered her prayer with the birth of Watchman Nee. His father later said to him, “Before you were born, your mother promised to present you to the Lord.” One could not help to think of how the mother of Samuel consecrated him to the Lord before his birth.
It is noteworthy that Watchman Nee never attended a Bible institute for a formal ministerial education. He simply read the Word of God and books of Christian leaders from church history. These include, but are not limited to, John Bunyan, T. Austin Sparks and Hudson Taylor. In his thirty years of ministry, Watchman Nee corresponded with believers, produced publications and established many churches and Bible conferences.
However, Watchman Nee suffered much for the call of Jesus Christ. Again, the Watchman Nee website states five main sources of suffering: poverty, ill health, denominational opposition, dissenting believers in the local church and imprisonment. Illnesses include tuberculosis, chronic stomach disorders and heart disease. Watchman Nee and his ministry became the repeated target of false rumors and misrepresentation. He even said of himself, “The Watchman Nee portrayed by them I would also condemn.”
In March 1952, Watchman Nee was arrested for his profession of faith and leadership among the Chinese churches. He was falsely condemned and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment He died in confinement in May 1972. Toward the end of this series, I will go more into other aspects of his life, his imprisonment and death.
Despite the obscurity of his death, the life of Watchman Nee still serves as a testimony of self-denial and enduring suffering.
Premise and Terminology
The whole premise of The Release of the Spirit is that your soul needs to be broken in order for the Spirit of God to work effectively through you. The very first line of the book sets the theme: “Anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the great hindrance he has in the Lord’s work is not others, but himself (Chapter 1, page 11).”
Paul describes man as being tri-part. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless. Thus, man is comprised of spirit, soul and body.
In terms of the book, Watchman Nee describes the spirit as the inner man, the soul as the outer man and the body as the outermost man. I am not going to use this terminology (inner man, outer man and outermost man) for our discussion in this series. For this series, I will use terms the modern American church is more familiar with (spirit, soul and body). Nevertheless, the terminology of Watchman Nee does serve to help readers with a mental picture.
The spirit is to govern the soul (the soul being the seat of your thoughts, emotions, will, desire, consciousness, your personality; what makes you unique). The spirit through the soul would use the body to express the purpose and life of God (the body being the physical part of a person, which uses the five senses to perceive the physical world). Thus, the spirit wears the soul and the spirit/soul wears the body.
Sin corrupted this union of spirit, soul and body. The fallen soul is naturally self-preserving and selfish. However, when you are born again, you receive the Spirit of God, which unites with your human spirit. It is the desire of God for your spirit to become His dwelling place. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:19, you are the temple of God.
The end goal is for your soul to be broken, conquered and renewed for use of the spirit. This brokenness is accomplished through the various trials of life, sufferings, both big and small. Although these daily circumstances may seem negative, God allows them for our spiritual growth.
The Alabaster Box
Chapter 1 of The Release of the Spirit discusses the analogy of the alabaster flask.
Mark 14:3 says, and being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His [Jesus’] head.
An alabaster flask (also translated box, vial or jar) is an ointment container. It can also mean a perfume vase. In order for it to be used, it needed to be broken. Likewise, in order for the perfume of the Spirit to come out, the container of our soul needs to be broken.
The container of the fragrance may look pretty. But, the container only contains the fragrance; the end goal is the release of the fragrance. As Watchman Nee says, “We are not antique collectors. Nor are we ‘vase admirers.’ We should be those who only desire the fragrance of the ointment.”
If the container of our soul remains unbroken, the fragrance of the spirit would not be able to come forth. As soon as the soul is broken, our spirit is released.
“Many of God’s servants are not able to do the most elementary work…” says Watchman Nee (Chapter 1, pages 11-12). “Yet due to restrictions of the outward man [soul], their spirit does not seem to function properly. It is basically because the outward man has never been dealt with, for this reason, excitement in revivals, pleading prayers, and zealous activities are but a waste of time. As we shall see, one kind of basic dealing can enable man to be useful before God – brokenness.”
I could not help but notice the lack of importance Watchman Nee places on activity. This is a stark contrast to the modern Church, which places a high emphasis on motion, regardless if that motion is good or bad.
The breaking of God may take years to accomplish, as not all believers are the same. The breaking might be sudden or slow, small or massive. In the end, God controls the timing and degree of the breaking. We can’t reduce it, but we can extend the breaking due to our stubbornness. Stubbornness only results in wasting time. Needless to say, God requires us to be good stewards with whatever He gives us (Galatians 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:17), including time.
We can preach by using our mind and words, and we can stir others up emotionally. But if we do not know how preach in the spirit, the Spirit of God cannot touch people.
Watchman Nee specifies two distinct types of believers. The first type includes those in whom the spirit is restricted and unable to be released. Again, such a believer might be able to move someone emotionally. The second type includes those of whom the Spirit of God can be released. Such a person, as described by Watchman Nee, can truly reach the core of another by the Spirit of God.
There are two things that hinder brokenness. First, the Christian fails to see God as the source of the breaking. Other people are perceived to be the true problem. Similarly, Christians may perceive their surroundings or circumstances as the true problem. This is a false perception, as the Lord permits all things. This includes people, surroundings and circumstances. We only need to acknowledge this and bend to His breaking.
Second, is self-love. This is related to self-preservation. Whether we like to admit it or not, we love ourselves. As a result, we attempt to escape the breaking of our soul. This rescue of self results in subsequent and compounded problems.
“However, too many of us, even before the Lord raises a hand, are already upset,” Watchman Nee said (Chapter 1, page 16). “Oh, we must realize that all of life’s experiences, troubles, and trials which the Lord sends are for our highest good. We cannot expect the Lord to give anything better, for these constant difficulties are His best. Should one approach the Lord and pray, saying, ‘O Lord, please let me choose the best – your daily trials are for your greatest profit.’ So God’s motive behind all the things He has ordered for our lives is clearly for the breaking of the outward man. Once this occurs, and our spirit can come forth, we will be enabled to exercise and release the spirit consistently.”
Again, trials and tribulations contribute to our brokenness. These include bad surroundings, difficult people and so-called bad “luck”. We tend to react to trials with complaints. Understandably so, we do feel uncomfortable. But, we forget that the Lord is the One who orchestrates all things in our lives. Romans 8:28 says, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. This does not mean all things are good.
The Cross of Jesus is the pinnacle of the breaking of the outer man. As Jesus took up His Cross, we must be willing to take up our Cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). This is easier said than done until you begin to feel that pain.
I once heard it prayed, “Lord, chasten us if you have to.” Personally, I don’t think you need to ask the Lord chasten you. He will by default, like a good Father. And not only when we do bad, but also simply for the refining of our faith (1 Peter 1:7).
The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ defeated the fallen state of your soul. You should not be used by your intellect, will, and emotions. Instead, your spirit and the Holy Spirit should use those traits of your soul.
I will end this article with 2 Corinthians 4:16: therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
This series uses the Christian Fellowship Publishers (June 1, 2000) Edition of The Release of the Spirit.