The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that “the way in” is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to our failure to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it. (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 10)
As I wrote in my third and fourth installments in this series, there came a point, about nine years ago, when I realized Jesus was no longer the Lord of my life. Instead, I had been relating to him for quite some time as if he were my “co-pilot” – a savior who was supposed to agree with my decisions and clear away whatever obstacles were in my way. I was no longer following him; at some point along the way I had begun to expect he would follow me.
It was after a miscarriage, a time when I was also exhausted and disillusioned from the effects of trying to minister to others out of my own will power rather than the authority and grace of Jesus Christ, that I came to my senses. I confessed my willful and prideful behavior and resolved that Jesus would be in charge of my life from that point on. This began my journey in “losing control.” Yet, while I had taken an important first step by recognizing my problem, I had no clue what to do next. Every thought, every instinct and reflex I possessed had been honed to think of myself first and foremost. How was I to put the brakes on something so deeply ingrained and respond differently? It was akin to expecting that a cat could stop stalking its prey.
On more than one occasion I cried out to the Lord, “Help me! As much as I want to, I don’t know how to let you be in charge.” As was typical for me, I was hoping for an immediate make-over, something that didn’t take too much time or cause a lot of inconvenience. But I have since learned that the only way for such transformation to take hold is for it to happen slowly and steadily.
I turned for help to Richard Foster’s informative book, Celebration of Discipline. Foster’s premise is that in taking up the spiritual disciplines found in Scripture – and practiced by Christians since the time of the apostles – we can help amend the hard soil of our hearts so that the Holy Spirit has hospitable ground in which to plant the nature of Jesus within us. Years of gardening in the South had taught me the importance of amending the clay in my backyard before I try to grow anything of value in it. Due to the effects of sin, we all have a heart of “clay” which must be amended in order for our sanctification to take hold. In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard also writes about the importance of the spiritual disciplines to our spiritual transformation. This was just what I needed to be reading about and practicing.
As I’ve stated before in this series we cannot bring about the needed transformation ourselves. Our direct efforts only serve to reinforce our wayward will. Instead, our part is to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by taking up new habits that will help to make our will more malleable and our heart more receptive. The spiritual disciplines found in Scripture such as prayer, Bible reading, study and meditation, solitude and silence, fasting, simplicity, service, submission, worship and celebration help to turn our attention away from ourselves and focus it upon God, where it needs to be, so that the Holy Spirit has the freedom to rework our nature. So, our efforts are indirect, but essential. The goal for us is to create an environment within that will allow the Holy Spirit to bring forth the resurrected life of Jesus in us. Until that happens, his resurrected life will lie dormant.
So I began to read from my Bible daily (see the first installment in my series on Scripture) and I scheduled times throughout the day for prayers of praise, thanksgiving and petition. (See my series on Prayer for why praise and thanksgiving are so vital to our spiritual health.)
I experimented with fasting by abstaining from sources of “enrichment” such as food, electronic gadgets, and the media so that I could begin to sense the Lord’s abiding presence and “feast” on him instead. I starting taking a half-day, once a month, away from distractions and noise so that I could listen for the Lord’s word to me and pour out my heart to him. I kept a journal so I could record my prayers and his responses to them.
For some Christians, there may be unconscious forces at work associated, perhaps, with an experience of emotional trauma or from having grown up in a family beset by dysfunctional behavior, which work against their efforts to allow Jesus to be their Lord. This was true for me, so I sought out a counselor to help me discover why I was unable to fully surrender control to Jesus. I also turned to Beth Moore’s study and DVD series, Breaking Free, which I found to be the perfect complement to counseling. (Next fall I’ll write more about the helpful role counseling, inner healing and spiritual direction can play in our lives.)
During this time of prayer, study and counseling I discovered how often Scripture directs us to “wait upon the Lord.” It is in waiting that we learn to listen to him and to recognize his voice and the way he works. The more I learned to wait the more trusting I became. I grew confident that he would see to completion the good work he had begun in me (Philippians 1:6). I learned to thank him for the good that was sure to come, even though it was not yet on the horizon. This taught me the meaning of hope – trusting in what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
In time I began to notice the subtle changes that were being brought forth in me. I was growing more joyful, patient, kind, and peaceful – evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity – which Paul writes about in his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23). The process of “losing control” was taking hold. I had only one regret — that I had waited so long to begin.
Next week: Losing control is about becoming like Jesus.