Saturday, August 02, 2014

Pray for God to Morph Your Heart from Control to Trust (Prayer Summer 2014)

Munson Park, across from our house
I’ve taught spiritual formation classes at a number of theological seminaries as well as weekend retreats for pastors and Christian leaders. I begin my classes by sending the students out to pray for one hour using Psalm 23 as their focus. When they return from praying I ask them the question “What did God say to you?”

My experience is that one-third of them don’t get past the first phrase of verse 1, “The Lord is my shepherd...” Because God asks them the question, “Am I really your shepherd?” Arguably, this is the basic question of one’s spiritual life. Henri Nouwen has said that the basic question is “Who do you belong to?”

Find out who or what you belong to, and place your trust there. To trust is, ipso facto, to let go of control. If you’re driving, and I’m riding in the passenger's seat, and you see my foot move towards the gas pedal as my hand appears on the steering wheel, you’re going to ask the obvious – “Don’t you trust my driving?” In that case my answer would be “No.” Analogously, to trust in God means allowing him to be the driver and going along for the ride.

One biblical example of this is in John 21:13-18. Jesus asks Peter three times the question “Do you love me?” As Peter confesses his love for Jesus, Jesus then says: “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Verse 19 tells us that “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

Henri Nouwen uses this passage to illustrate the control vs. trust situation. He writes: "Maturation in a spiritual sense is a growing willingness to stretch out my arms, to have a belt put around me and to be led where I would rather not go (John 21:18)." It’s either “dress yourself and go where you want to go” (control) or “be dressed by someone else and go where they want you to go” (trust).

To follow Jesus is to go where he wants you to go. When someone becomes a real follower of Jesus they won’t be dressing themselves anymore.

Thomas Merton says that "maturity," for the Christian, is learning how to be a "sheep." "As long as we remain sheep we overcome and are victorious. But as soon as we are wolves we are beaten: for then we lose the support from the Shepherd who feeds not wolves, but only sheep." If the Lord is my shepherd and I, one of his sheep, hear his voice and follow, that’s the sign of a trusting heart.

God wants to form our hearts in Christlikeness. (Galatians 4:19) God wants to free us from con-formation to the pattern of this world and trans-form (meta-morph) the shape of our hearts into Jesus-likeness. The morphing happens by God, in his presence. We learn to abide in Christ, and trust the process.

A major way our heart is morphed is in the change of our allegiance. We change from a controlling heart to a trusting heart. This is a deep, radical thing. To talk about heart-transformation from control to trust is to move in the “deep waters of the human heart” (Proverbs 20:5).

The “control” thing many of us are addicted to is part of the kingdom of darkness. How so? For one thing, it’s mostly illusory. We may think we’re in control of a lot of things, and marketers may tell us if we buy their product it will give us greater control over something. But the truth is that we control little. We don't control the weather, what other people think, time, the future, our past, and death. We have very little control, if any at all, over sickness, the economy, our physical appearance, addiction, and our feelings.

What, really, do we have control over? The TV controller? Maybe, but I doubt it. The “I’m in control of things” attitude is mostly an illusion. The feeling that “I’m in control” may make you believe that is the case, but the feeling is non-indicative of any reality that corresponds to it.

The only option, then, is that we must trust. But in what or in whom? In money? Governments? The self? Gerald May writes: “In our culture, the three gods we do trust for security are possessions, power, and human relationships. To a greater or lesser extent, all of us worship this false trinity.” (May’s insight is similar to Richard Foster’s who states that the three things people mostly trust in if it’s not God are money, sex, and power.)

Some people are control addicts. My own belief is that a controlling person is a fearful person. When confronted with situations that cause us to fear, the common response is to want to gain control over the situation. That’s not all bad. The problem comes when we become addicted to control. Because, as we have seen, most of life is out of our control. The control addict fearfully tries to gain control over situations that are, fundamentally, out of their control. Like trying to control the hearts and minds of other people. This can't be done. Yet the control addict tries, because they fear people who don’t act or think or feel or choose as they do. Such people are “out of their control,” and they don’t like it.

Surely God is not in our control, right? God is not, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, our “divine butler.” While some Christians seem to think they can control God, the great truth is that God is “sovereign.” See, e.g., the parable of the workers in the vineyard where those who get hired last get paid the same as those who worked all day. The all-day workers cry out “Hey, that’s not fair?” To which the owner responds “It’s my money, right? And I can do what I want with it.” God is in control, we are not. And in some cases we are truly out of control.

To have a controlling spirit is counter to the reality of what’s really happening in and around us. What can we do? The answer is: trust in God to shepherd you. God both wants to and is able to transform (meta-morph) your controlling heart into a heart that trusts in him. This will happen as you place yourself consistently in God’s presence. Over time, God will do this.

I have seen this happen in people. Then that you will discover, in experience and not merely in theory, that God can be trusted. As this has been happening in my heart my experience is one of greater and greater freedom and hope.

I want a heart free of the control-disease, a heart that more greatly trusts in God.

I am placing my trust in God.

Pray for God to morph your heart from control to trust.