I Want God More Than Control

I Want God More Than Control

Back when we had permed hair and were twentysomething vibrant, we used to talk about how we hoped God would never send us as missionaries to Africa.

My best friend and I recently revisited this twenty-year-old conversation: how while we walked the halls of a seminary where we studied God, we secretly feared a call on our lives that would make us do something radical and hard. Now, on one hand, we cringe at this. We want to judge it and call it ignorance or selfishness or being really young or thinking life was just up to us, but then we step back, pause, and get honest.

Were we really that different from most believers? We say we want God but sit with fingers crossed behind our backs, hoping He will never ask us to do something too sacrificial.

The truth is that our fear was never really about Africa. Africa just represented something that was unknown. Africa got blamed for what was really a small faith—a mindset whereby we could love God but never let that love interrupt our plan for a beautiful house, a handsome husband, three kids, a dog or two, manicured nails, church on Sunday, and cute jeans. It was never about Africa. It was about wanting life both ways.

Somewhere in the midst of the daily whirlwind of life, we have convinced ourselves that we can live in the in-between when it comes to God. We are convinced we can make our faith what we want it to be— customize it like we do with food at restaurants, ordering faith to fit our tastes. But when we become followers of Christ, we don’t get to make up the script. It’s either all God or no God, He says.

Our desire for control—for logic, for reason, for that which makes sense to us—is one of the biggest factors in why we don’t have more of God. It’s not that God is displeased with our logic or that we shouldn’t seek spiritual understanding through the study of Scripture. In fact, this is the essence of spiritual growth: we want more of God the more we know Him. But if we truly want God, the piece that must be abandoned is our demand for logic. We have to want Him more than what we can understand since intellect gets in the way of unvarnished love. When we demand that God make sense, we overstep our role and show our sense of entitlement. In life, God calls us to scary places we can’t understand, and we must have an open heart of faith to take the leap with Him. We must come as children who know and care nothing of formulas, calculations, and risk. That is faith. That is what makes a Father glad.

Life with God was never meant to be a calculated risk; it was meant to be an illogical surety. Logical people are at risk of stepping in the way of the supernatural. We don’t mean to—it’s just that often there’s a core incompatibility between what is known (tangible, flesh, earth) and the Unknown (God), and when we choose logic, it hinders His work. Don’t misunderstand—God doesn’t need us to understand to do His thing. He can work under any conditions, at any time, in any way. But whether we submit to His working is in our hands.

He wanted us to choose things and see things and experience things from a free will and an open heart. Otherwise, He would have created robots to simply do His bidding. But He didn’t. Because He is God, a part of Him will always be unknown to us as humans with limited minds. Yet so much of Him can be known by way of Scripture, experience, the heart, the mind, and the senses. We don’t need logic and reason to know we love and trust God.

And while logic feels good because it is a controllable entity, God often calls us to illogical and unreasonable places to expose what position control holds in our lives. He calls us to the things we fear because they’re foreign and require sacrifice. The things we don’t want to face because they seem too hard.

I wonder: What is your Africa? It took twenty-five years, but my best friend finally met hers. It started with a simple phone call, a “simple” inquiry about foster children in her county who needed a home, but it really started before that. The heart change had to come first, and did. It started seven years before with a trip to Colorado for couples struggling in their marriage. She went with her husband, fighting long-held private struggles. But she came back herself having changed. My best friend wasn’t the same best friend when she came back. She was a better version of the same one I loved. Something inside of her had met God in a different way in those Colorado mountains— something that made her more God-hungry than ever before. She was just . . . different.

So I wasn’t completely surprised when she called me a few years later to tell me the news. “We’re going to look deeper into foster care, Lisa. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I just feel pulled to do this and I can’t explain why.”

I didn’t need her to explain. I knew from my own life that wanting God means doing things that move His heart—which we want to do. People will no longer have to pitch us on God-causes; our heart for Him compels us to pursue them.

And I knew this, too—that God doesn’t typically ready us in ways we think work best and look best to others. He readies us on the inside when we can’t see it ourselves. (It’s a myth to think we will ever be ready for anything that is a God-sized undertaking. We can position ourselves but can never fully prepare.) My friend would never be ready to do foster care. But she was already ready to do it because of her desire for Him.

She’d done some form of foster care for many years, but I remember her first two years as a foster mom well. Many phone calls where she cried in frustration because it was hard and heartbreaking. Many moments when she felt like she wasn’t enough. I would tell her I loved her but offered little more than that because I just couldn’t help like God. She was bitten and spat on, and held children deep into the night while they told her they heard voices. She was in way over her head, way “underqualified” for the things she could and would tell me about. My little khaki-wearing friend became a woman who walked in and out of jails and spoke to the courts like an expert, without batting an eye. She loved her foster kids. They loved her. They became family. She cried, even when she knew it was right, the day the baby she’d had since birth left their home. I watched, from afar, as an observer. None of it made sense.

But it was all God. It’s what she could not unknow after she knew it.

We have both learned much since those seminary days. About life, God, and what messy looks like. We have learned that life is not our script to write and God lives in the illogical sureties, which are abundantly superior to the calculated risks.

And there is much more to learn. But some things about God we never will. So we keep going and make peace with the not knowing, understanding it is an important part of wanting Him first and most.

Article adapted from I Want God: How to Love Him with Your Whole Heart and Revive Your Soul by Lisa Whittle. Copyright © 2023. Use by permission of Thomas Nelson.

Lisa Whittle, a bestselling author, speaker, podcast host, and Bible teacher is the author of I Want God: How to Love Him with Your Whole Heart and Revive Your Soul. Lisa is the founder of Ministry Strong and the popular Jesus Over Everything Podcast. www.LisaWhittle.com

Your Feelings Aren’t the Boss of You

Your Feelings Aren’t the Boss of You

I have lived this scenario more times than I care to count: someone made a comment that upset me. I wouldn’t say anything, but inside I was triggered by it, so I shut down and began to shut them out. I didn’t necessarily mean to or know I was doing it – it just happened. My best friend and I used to even have a name for it. It was when I would “check people off my list.” We would joke about it, but the truth is, it quietly hurt my heart so I would quickly let people go.

Sometimes it went a little differently. Tensions between myself and a friend would rise, I would blow up over something they did (maybe even something little, due to things having built up), heated words were exchanged, and our friendship would sever. Later I would think about it, wishing I could turn back the clock and take my poor behavior back.

It feels terrible when your feelings become the boss of you.

There have been other situations of bossy emotions, too. Overwhelming fear that kept me from doing something I really wanted to do. Feelings of jealousy that prevented me from being genuinely able to cheer for someone else. Feelings of bitterness that kept me from forgiving someone…or feelings of guilt that kept me from forgiving myself.

Over time, I got so sick of the feelings of regret that came from my emotions being in charge of me that I decided to do something about it.

I knew I needed to better understand why if God had made me with my emotions (instead of making me like a robot without them), they were actually causing me problems and unnecessary pain? And since feelings were created by Him, what was the best way, His way, to handle them?

As I began to pray about this, the Lord showed me an important distinction: how feelings were meant to be a gauge, not a god.

Gauges are crucial. They give us vital information we need to know – what is happening underneath the surface that we cannot see. What might be a problem we need to address. What is a limit, and when we are going too far.

Just think of gauges in a car. We need to know how much farther we can go on the gas we have in our tank, if our oil and water levels are good so the engine doesn’t blow up, and all of the other important informational “signs and signals.” When I went to college, 16 hours away from home, the one thing my dad instilled in me was to always check the pressure of my tires. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know if I was driving around with a tire about to go flat on the highway. Without these gauges, important things go unattended, and we could even be at risk.

But a god, on the other hand, is a role that goes beyond mere instruction in our life. It is a role of highest placement and priority, in a position of ownership and ultimate power.

We can allow things to become a god in our life to rival the real God of all true authority. (He has no real rival, of course, but we can give things God-like status.) These are our idols, and though we might not think of feelings as an idol, anything we put over the Word of God can be. In our culture, and really, all throughout the history of the world since creation, the tendency of humanity is to turn even good things into idols, exalting them above God. It’s actually nothing new.

Feelings have become that for our current culture. If you aren’t sure you agree, just think about things you have probably observed to assess if what I’m saying might be true. Fights over the internet, due to careless and even cruel passing comments by strangers and “friends.” The freedom to say what we want when we want without any commitment to wisdom, crushing so many of our hearts. The volatile past election season, mask wars, and the divided nature of our country. Families that are still divided because we decided to bow to our feelings and behave in whatever way they took us, and though that felt important at the time, we now just want our family back.

We’ve been told to do exactly what we feel like doing with our bodies, and that has gotten us into messy situations in relationships that are now over and all we are left with is regret. I don’t have to go through the list, and I say this with not an ounce of judgment. I have such a tender spot for us because I know what it’s like to cry over past mistakes and wish it were different. I love Jesus so much because He has loved me through that, and loves me through my mistakes, still. And He wants for both of us to simply know the truth: that He is our God, not our feelings. He is in charge. Feelings aren’t the boss – they are to come under His management and control. And His way will lead to a life of no regrets.

“if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you….And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death…doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it…That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now…” (Col. 3:1-8 The MSG)

I am so deeply grateful I know better about a few things, now. I am so grateful He has saved me from my own thoughts, opinions and yes, my every feeling. What I can tell you for sure is that our feelings are beautiful and wildly important. God gave them to us for a reason. But He is our one and only God, and He alone will never steer us wrong.

Lisa Whittle is the author of eight books, and her wit and bold bottom-line approach have made her a sought-after Bible teacher. A pastor’s daughter and longtime ministry leader in issues relevant to the church, Lisa is the founder of Ministry Strong and the popular Jesus Over Everything podcast. Her love runs deep to see people pursue Jesus for life, grow deep roots of faith, and walk strong in the midst of a world that so often seems to have gone crazy. She and her family live in North Carolina. Learn more about Lisa’s new book, The Hard Good, and take her free quiz about bossy emotions at https://lisawhittle.com/good/.

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