Watchman Nee

B. Childress
Nov 03 2013

Let me first explain the title of this chapter.  Suppose a father wants his son to do something for him.  The father gives
the order, but the son says, “I have something in my hands.  When I am finished with what is in my hands, I will do what
you want me to do.”  This is the meaning of having something in one’s hands.  Before the father asks the son to do
something, the son already has something in his hands.  Every one of us has something in our hands.  In our course of
following the Lord, we often are hindered by things in our hands.  We have to tend to the things in our hands first.  As a
result, God’s assignment is delayed.  It is hard to find a person who does not have anything in his hands.  We always
have things in our hands prior to God’s speaking, and we always have many things in our hands before the outer man is
broken.  The outer man is involved in business, things, labor, and activities.  When God’s Spirit operates in our spirit, it
becomes impossible for our outer man to meet the demands.  The things in our hands disqualify us from being useful
spiritually in any real way.


Our outer man’s strength is limited.  Suppose a brother is not very strong and can only lift fifty catties of weight
[Translator’s note: a Chinese measure of weight].  If he has fifty catties on his shoulder, he cannot add ten catties.  He is
limited.  He is not unlimited in the things he can carry.  He can carry fifty catties and cannot add ten more.  These fifty
catties are the things in his hands.  This is an analogy.  The strength of our outer man is limited, just as the strength of
our body is limited.

Many people realize that the strength of their body is limited.  But they do not see that the strength of their outer man is
also limited.  As a result, they squander and waste the strength of their outer man.  Suppose a person expends all his
love on his parents.  He will have no strength to love the brothers or to love all men.  He only has so much strength, and
when he has exhausted his strength, he has no more strength to spend on other things.

A man’s mental strength is also limited.  No one has an unlimited supply of mental energy.  If a man spends more time in
one thing, that is, if his mind is set fully on one thing, he will have no strength to think about other things.  Romans 8 tells
us that the law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death.  Why then is the law of the Spirit of life not
working in some people?  The Bible also shows us that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those who walk
according to the spirit.  In other words, the law of the Spirit of life only has an effect on those who are spiritual.  The
spiritual ones are those who set their mind on spiritual things.  Those who set their mind on spiritual things do not have
their mind set on the flesh.  Only those who do not set their mind on the flesh can set their mind on spiritual things.  The
setting the mind on can also be translated as “Paying attention to” or “taking care of.”  Suppose a mother
leaves the house and entrusts her young child to a friend, saying, “Please take care of her for me.”  What does it mean
to take care of the child?  It means to pay attention to one thing; he cannot pay attention to two things at the same time.  
If a person commits a child to our care, we cannot take care of it on the one hand and take care of the sheep and cows
on the mountain on the other hand.  If we take care of the child, we cannot take care of anything else.  Only those who
do not take care of the things of the flesh are able to take care of the things of the spirit, and only those who take care
of the things of the spirit receive the benefit of the law of the Spirit.  Our mental strength is limited.  If we waste our
mental strength on the things of the flesh, we will not have enough mental energy to take care of the things of the spirit.  
If we set our mind on the things of the flesh, we will have no further strength to set our mind on the things of the spirit.

We must be very clear about this one thing.  Our outer man is limited in strength, in the same way that our two arms are
limited in their strength.  Therefore, if there are already things in our hands, we cannot take up God’s things.  How much
we have in our hands is inversely proportional to the power we have in our service to God.  The things we have in our
hands are a great hindrance, a very great frustration.

Suppose a man has “things in his hands” with respect to his emotion.  He has all kinds of distracting desires and
expectations.  He wants and craves many things.  He has so many things in his hands.  When God has need of him, he
has no emotions to spare because all of his emotions are used up.  If he has used up all of his emotions within the last
two days, he will be unable to feel or say anything for another two days.  Our emotions are limited; we cannot draw from
them endlessly.

Some people have a strong will; they are very determined.  We may think that they have unlimited strength in their will.  
But even the strongest person finds himself with a wavering will when it comes to making a decision before the Lord.  He
will wonder if one choice is as good as another.  He may appear to be a strong person, but when a situation calls for the
genuine exercise of the will in the course of God’s business, he cannot do it.  Many people like to express their opinions.  
They have an opinion for everything.  One minute they have one opinion; the next minute they have another opinion.  
They are never short of opinions.  But when it comes to making a judgment on God’s will, they are very hesitant.  They
are lost and cannot decide because their outer man is full of “things in the hands.”  There are too many things before
their eyes and in their hands.  Their entire person is consumed by these things, and all the strength of their outer man is
used up and gone.

We must see that the strength of our outer man is limited.  As soon as we have things in our hands, our outer man is


As soon as our outer man is bound, our spirit becomes bound as well.  The spirit cannot bypass the outer man to
operate in others.  God never bypasses man’s spirit when His Spirit works in man.  Nor does God allow our spirit to
bypass our outer man when it operates in others.  This is a very important principle, and we must be clear about it.  The
Holy Spirit never works on man apart from man, and our spirit can never work on man apart from our outer man.  Our
spirit must pass through our outer man before it can operate in others.  Whenever our outer man is occupied by “things
in the hands” and has exhausted its strength, we cannot participate in God’s work.  If our spirit does not have a way to
go on, the Holy Spirit does not have a way to go on either.  The outer man can block the way of the inner man.  The
outer man can frustrate the inner man and prevent it from coming out.  This is the reason that we repeatedly emphasize
the breaking of the outer man.

Once the outer man has things in its hands, the inner man has no way to break out, and God’s work is frustrated.  
Things in the hands refer to things which are present before God’s work comes into view.  In other words,
things in the hands are things that are unrelated to God.  These things are perpetuated without God’s command, power,
or ordination.  They are not under God’s hand; rather, they are independent entities.

God has to break the outer man before He can use the inner man.  He has to break our love before He can use our love
to love the brothers.  If the outer man is not broken, we are still doing our own things, taking our own way, and loving our
own preferences.  God must first break our outer man before He can use our “broken” love to love the brothers and
before our love can be expanded.  Once the outer man is broken, the inner man is released.  The inner man must love,
but it must love through the outer man.  If the outer man has things in its hands, the inner man will have nothing to work

Our will is strong.  It is not only strong; it is also stubborn.  When our inner man needs the will, it cannot find it, because
our will has been moving too independently and has too many things in its hands.  God has to give us a heavy blow; He
has to smash our will and humble us so much that we are forced to say, with our face in the dust, “Lord, I dare not think.  
I dare not ask.  I dare not decide.  I need You in everything.”  We must be so smitten that our will can no longer act
independently.  Only then can the inner man take hold of the will and use it.

If the outer man is not available, the inner man will be unemployed.  Can we preach God’s word if we do not have a
physical body?  How can we preach without a mouth?  It is true that one needs the spirit to preach.  But preaching also
requires one’s mouth.  What can a person do if he only has a spirit but not a mouth?  At Pentecost there was the work of
the Holy Spirit.  But at Pentecost there was also the dispensing of the gift of speaking.  Without utterance one does not
have the word to release and explain God’s word.  If man does not speak, God has no speaking.  Man’s word certainly is
not God’s word, but God’s word is conveyed through man’s word.  If a man does not speak, there will be no word of
God.  There must be man’s word before there can be God’s word.

Suppose a brother is preparing to speak God’s word.  He may have the word and a burden in his spirit, and the burden
may be very heavy.  But if he does not have the suitable thoughts, his burden can never be released.  In the end even
his burden will disappear.  We do not despise the burden, but even if our entire spirit is full of burden, this burden is
useless and bound up if our mind is not fruitful.  We cannot save men with our burden alone.  The burden in our spirit
must be released through our mind.  After we have a burden within us, we still need a mouth.  We still need a voice and
the help of the body.  The trouble today is that while our inner man is available to receive a burden from God, the mind
in our outer man is too busy and confused.  From morning to night it is giving its own suggestions and expressing its own
opinions.  Under such circumstances, the spirit does not have an outlet.

Today God’s Spirit must be released through man.  Man’s love must be available before others can see God’s love.  
Man’s thoughts must be available before others can see God’s thoughts.  Man’s decision must be found before others
can touch God’s will.  But the trouble with man is that his outer man is too busy with his own things.  He has his own
views, his own thoughts.  He is too busy with himself.  As a result, the inner man has no way to be released.  This is the
reason God has to break the outer man.  This does not mean that the will has to be annihilated.  However, it does mean
that the “things in the hands,” that is, in the will, have to be stripped so that the will no longer acts independently.  It does
not mean that our thoughts have to be annihilated.  It means that we will no longer think according to ourselves that we
will no longer come up with all kinds of ideas or be led astray by our own wandering mind.  It does not mean that our
emotion is annihilated.  It means that our emotion will be under the control and direction of the inner man.  In this way the
inner man will find a mind, an emotion, and a will that are available for use.

The spirit needs a mind, an emotion, and a will to express itself.  It needs a living outer man, not a dead one, to express
itself.  It needs a smitten, wounded, and broken outer man, not a sealed and untouched outer man.  Today the biggest
obstacle is with us.  God’s Spirit cannot break through us.  His Spirit lives in our spirit, yet He cannot come out of our
spirit.  Our outer man is too full; it is full of things in its hands.  We have to ask God for mercy so that the outer man will
be broken and the inner man will have a way to come out.

God does not destroy our outer man.  But neither will He allow it to remain intact and unbroken.  He wants to pass
through our outer man.  He wants our spirit to love, think, and make decisions through the outer man.  God’s work can
only be accomplished through a broken outer man.  If our outer man is not broken, the Lord will not be able to have a
way through us.  He has to break through our outer man before He can reach others.

Before the outer man is broken, the inner man and the outer man stand in opposition to one another.  The inner man is
a complete person, and the outer man is also a complete person.  The outer man is complete and independent; it is free
and full of things in the hands.  Meanwhile, the inner man is imprisoned.  After the outer man is genuinely broken, it no
longer acts independently.  It is not destroyed, but it no longer stands in opposition to the inner man; it is subject to the
inner man.  In this way there will be only one person left in us.  The outer man will be broken into pieces and ready for
the inner man’s use.

Those whose outer man has been broken are “unified” men.  Their outer man is under the control of the inner man.  An
unsaved person is also a “unified” man, but the roles of his two men are reversed: His inner man is controlled by his
outer man.  An unsaved person has a spirit, but his outer man is so strong that his inner man can voice some protest in
the conscience.  The inner man of an unsaved person is completely defeated and dominated by the outer man.  After a
man is saved, he should turn everything around.  The outer man should be completely crushed and be fully under the
control of the inner man.  Just as an unsaved person finds his outer man dominating his inner man, we should turn
things around and allow the inner man to take control of the outer man.  In riding a bicycle a person can be in one of two
conditions: Either the wheels work on the road or the road works on the wheels.  On flat terrain, the legs peddle the
wheels and the wheels work on the road.  On a downward slope, the legs do not have to work.  The wheels roll by
themselves, and in this case, the road, that is, the slope, works on the wheels.  When our inner man is strong and the
outer man is broken, the wheels work on the road; that is, we decide when and how fast we want to move.  But if the
outer man is stubborn and unbroken, it is like riding a bicycle downhill; the slope works on the wheels.  The wheels will
roll by themselves, and we can do nothing about it.  This is what happens when the outer man controls the inner man.

Whether or not a man is useful before the Lord depends on whether his spirit can be released through his outer man.  
When our inner man is bound, the outer man does everything by itself.  The outer man acts independently; the wheels
turn by themselves.  By the Lord’s grace, when He levels the slopes and breaks the outer man, the outer man no longer
offers suggestions and makes decisions.  When this happens, the inner man will be released freely without any
hindrance from the outer man.  If the Lord grants us the grace and breaks our outer man, we will become a person
adept at exercising our spirit, and we will be able to release it whenever we want to.


We do not become qualified for God’s work simply by learning some doctrines.  The basic problem is our very person.  
Our person is the means by which we carry on our work.  It is a matter of whether or not our person has passed through
God’s dealings.  If the right doctrines are committed to a wrong person, what can be ministered to the church?  The
basic lesson for us is to make ourselves usable vessels.  In order to make ourselves usable vessels, our outer man must
be broken.

God has been working in us all these years.  Although we are not very clear about this work ourselves, nevertheless,
God has been carrying on the breaking day by day.  We have gone through sufferings and difficulties for years.  Time
after time God’s hand has halted us.  We want to go one way, but God stops us again.  If we do not see God’s operation
through the working together of all these environments, we have to pray, “God!  Open my eyes so that I may see Your
hand.”  The eyes of the donkey are often sharper than the eyes of a self-proclaimed prophet.  The donkey has seen
Jehovah’s messenger already, but the self-proclaimed prophet has not seen it yet.  The donkey realizes God’s halting
hand, but the self-proclaimed prophet is still ignorant of it.  We have to realize that breaking is God’s way with us.  For
years God has been trying to break our outer man.  He has been trying to crush us so that we will not remain intact.  
Unfortunately, many people think that what they lack is doctrines.  They wish they can hear more doctrines, pick up more
ideas for preaching, and understand more expositions of the Bible.  But this is absolutely the wrong way.  God’s hand is
doing only one thing in us – breaking us.  We cannot have our way; we have to take God’s way.  We cannot have our
thoughts; we have to take God’s thoughts.  We cannot have our decisions; we have to take God’s decisions.  God has to
break us down completely.  The trouble with us is that while God stops us time after time, we blame this and that for the
blockage.  We are like the prophet who did not see God’s hand; instead, we blame our “donkey” for halting.

Everything that comes our way is meaningful and under God’s sovereign arrangement.  Nothing accidental happens to a
Christian.  Nothing is outside God’s ordering.  We have to humble ourselves under God’s sovereign arrangements.  May
the Lord open our eyes to see that God is arranging everything around us; He has a purpose in us.  Through everything
He is crushing us.  When God grants us the grace one day, we will gladly accept all the arrangements He places in our
environment.  Our spirit will be released, and we will be able to use our spirit.


In dealing with us and in breaking us for the release and exercise of the spirit, God works according to His law, not
according to our prayer.  What does this mean?  This means that the release of the inner man through a broken outer
man is a law.  It is not something that we secure by means of prayer.

A law cannot be altered by prayer.  If we put our hand into the fire while we pray, our hand will still be burned.  (I am not
speaking about miracles here.  I am speaking about a natural law.)  Our prayer cannot change the law.  We have to
learn to obey God’s law.  Do not think that prayer alone will work.  If we do not want our hand to be burned, we should
not put it in the fire.  We should not pray and put our hand in the fire at the same time.  God deals with us according to
law.  The inner man can only be released through the outer man.  This is a law.  If the outer man is not broken and
pulverized, the inner man will not be released.  This is the Lord’s way.  He has to break us before He can have an outlet
through us.  We should never challenge this law while praying for this or that blessing.  Such prayers do not work.  Our
prayer cannot change God’s law.

The way to true spiritual work is for God to be released through us.  This is the only way God will take.  If a man is not
broken, the gospel will not go out through him, and God cannot use him.  He will have no way to go on.  We have to truly
prostrate ourselves.  Submission to God’s law is better than many prayers.  A minute of revelation of God’s way is better
than an incessant, ignorant pleading for God’s blessings and His help in our works.  It is better to stop such prayer and
say to the Lord, “I humble myself before You.”  Our prayer for blessing often is nothing but a hindrance to God.  We
often long for blessing but do not even find mercy.  We have to ask for light.  We have to learn to humble ourselves
under His hand and obey this law.  With obedience there is blessing.


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