Losing Control (sixth in a series)

Anything we can do without prayer and without an utter dependence upon God must come from the spring of natural life that is tainted with the flesh. (Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, p. 232)

This week I continue with the topic of will power by describing some of the signs which may indicate we’re exerting self will instead of acting in faithful obedience to God’s will. Mary’s insightful comments to my post last week are so helpful as we look at the motivations prompting our efforts.  She described how God asked her what her reaction would be if someone else accomplished, perhaps even better, the very thing she felt called to do. Would she rejoice that His will had been done? In asking ourselves such questions we may discover we’re being motivated by pride instead of a faithful desire to serve God and give him the honor due his name.

I know all too well how easy it is to turn service into self-promotion.  Each week, as I write for this blog and pray for the Lord’s will to be done through it, I have to address issues of pride that arise.  But I’m also thankful such pride is revealed because I don’t want to operate under the influence of will power. I’ve done that too many times in the past and the effects are so injurious to my spiritual well-being.

I can remember back twelve years ago when I began a writing project because I felt called by God to do so.  But it quickly turned into an effort where I felt I had to prove to the world that I could produce a book. I found myself obsessing about my progress each day.  It was the last thing I thought about before going to sleep and the first thing that came to mind when I awoke.

The members of my family could tell I was distracted because I was usually looking right through them, lost in thought about some aspect of the writing, and not really listening to what they were saying.  And my prayers consisted mainly of “Lord, help me finish” instead of “Lord direct me to accomplish your purposes.”  Finishing was my goal, but I had no idea whether it was God’s goal – and I was not interested in finding out.  I did complete the project, but the sense of accomplishment I looked forward to enjoying did not last long.  It never does. Pride is insatiable.  Soon it demands we undertake a new project in order to satisfy that need for “a sense of accomplishment.”

I have since learned the importance of prayer and of asking others to pray for me as I contemplate whether I am called to take up a task or responsibility.  If I discern I am called to serve the Lord in a particular way, I continue in prayer, with others, bringing every aspect of the work before God.  I hold in my mind the thought that I labor on God’s behalf and according to his timetable and goals, not my own.  And I stop from time to time to pray and make sure I haven’t gotten ahead of him.

Here are some questions I now ask myself about any work I take up in the Lord’s name:

  • Am I seeking to call attention to myself or to the Lord?
  • Can I put it down for a while, or take a break from it — Or do I feel compelled to keep working at it with no rest at all?
  • Can I give it up if God calls me to do so?  Can I even entertain that thought?
  • Can I live, without regret, with a result that may appear to be “less than perfect” but still accomplishes God’s purposes?
  • Am I trusting in God to provide what I need or am I trying to manage every aspect myself?

In addition, the following are signs, based upon my own experience, that you’re running on will power:

  • Worrying instead of praying and releasing your concerns to the Lord
  • Thinking your way is the only right way or that you are the only person who can “get it right”
  • Resenting interruptions
  • Sleeplessness
  • It’s the last thing you think about at night and first thing you think about upon waking
  • Distracted by it to the point relationships with family or friends suffer
  • Living for the success of the project, not for the Lord

There is no grace or Sabbath rest (the peace which passes all understanding) when we’re operating under will power.  Instead, we end up with a continual sense that there is yet one more thing that has to be done and the nagging fear that our work will not reflect favorably on us.  But in his second letter to the Corinthians Paul gives us the Lord’s perspective on

The oldest known image of St. Paul, from a Roman catacomb, c. 300 A.D.

our service in God’s name: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (12:9)  When we are free from the burden of pride we don’t have to worry about the direction or results of our work. Instead, we can rest assured that we have the Lord to guide and empower us.  We also get to experience the joy that comes from collaborating with him and from using the unique gifts he’s given us.  Finally, we are guaranteed he will bring glory to his name through whatever we do, regardless of whether or not the world sees value in it.  We can then rest contentedly in God’s abiding peace because our efforts are not being driven by will power, which is a thoroughly relentless taskmaster.

Next week: Avoiding the exercise of will power during the season of Lent.

About Claudia Dickson Greggs

I am an Anglican priest, author, wife and mother. Writing and teaching about Christian life and faith are passions of mine.
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8 Responses to Losing Control (sixth in a series)

  1. Sam Epperson says:

    Pride can become an idol to which we exist to serve. Recognition is the surface idol that feeds the deep one….pride. Tim Keller helped me see this in his book “Counterfeit Gods” It certainly fits your descriptions shared with us today.
    Thanks Claudia!

    Sam

  2. Susan Montgomery says:

    HI Claudia, I just went back and reread all your posts in this series and that has been helpful to understanding what you are getting at. I look at your life and profession of ministering in the name of Jesus; most of the projects that you take on are directly in service to the Lord where you want to bring glory to Him and not yourself. I am thinking of my very mundane life where I am not tackling a project in obvious service to Him, but just completing tasks of daily living, eg. cleaning up, calling friends, running errands, paying bills, doing a kindness for friend or family. So I think it is a harder distinction to make inbeing God-directed vs. self-directed and prideful. Every morning I pray(from BCP) : “Heavenly Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into sin or be overcome by adversity, and in all I do,direct my steps to fulfilling your purposes.” Then I go in peace! Am I missing a large part of this discussion?! Thank you for including the signs and symptoms of losing control. Blessings, Susan

    • Susan, just so you know I can turn any “project” — whether it is writing for the blog or raking leaves or grocery shopping or some other kind of everyday work — into an exercise in will power. (Just ask Gil!) So, I pray about everything, lest I fall into that trap. I want to glorify the Lord in all I do, not just in the things that are considered “ministry.”

      In fact, all that we do is ministry; it’s a matter of recognizing that we are God’s servants in all that we do throughout the day. For example, I pray before I enter the grocery store, asking the Lord to shine his light through me while I’m shopping. I try to remain “open” to the Holy Spirit should there be an opportunity to pray for an employee or customer or to share my faith in some way. I don’t do this because I’m ordained, I do it because Jesus is my Lord. I remind myself that the ultimate goal isn’t to come home with groceries and move on to the next thing, but to glorify the Lord through these things. My motivation in life used to be to get things done and to put myself in the best possible light while doing them. But, by God’s grace, my goals are now grounded in him. I can still get caught up in will power, but not nearly so often, anymore. And when I do, I don’t get very far before recognizing I’m running on will power and not on effort disciplined by the Lord.

      Does this shed any light on your question? Thank you so much for writing! Claudia

  3. Rick says:

    Well, God certainly does give us plenty of opportunities to deal with this issue. 😉

    And I am going back and checking projects that I have been working on for years to be sure this is what God wants me to be doing, and asking Him to give me wisdom in what I do, and to anoint me in what I do each day, all the time guiding my steps (that’s with me cooperating consciously), and ordering them (with me not consciously cooperating) as necessary, that His kingdom may come, and His will would be done here on earth through us this day as it is in heaven. It makes for a wild and interesting ride, but it also makes opportunities to trust in Him.

    I appreciate your postings in this series. They help me navigate through the issues you discuss.

    • Rick, thankfully our Lord is gracious and omnipotent. He’s taken things I’ve done under my own power and still used them for his glory. But, I’m thankful he’s exposed my will power for what it is — sin-sickness. I just don’t want to live that way anymore; it’s too exhausting — and lonely. Thank you so much for your comment. Claudia

  4. Siri says:

    Thank you for this posting and these lists. They are really really helpful, and exactly what I was hoping for. They are making me more aware of my motivations and more open to the Lord’s leading, which is exactly where I want to go. Thank you!! (And thanks to the commenters too — I am learning from them also.)

    • You’re welcome, Siri! I’m so thankful the hard truths about myself I’ve had to face over the past nine years can be a blessing to others. The Lord doesn’t waste a thing. Halleluia! And I, too, have found the comments to each post quite helpful. Thank you for writing! Claudia

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