It’s Messy and I Don’t Like It

Regardless of culture background or individual personalities I think one of the common factors of humanity is a desire to be in control. We want crave the desire to make choices that effect our lives and, for the most part, having a certain amount of control over what we do, think, act, goes, etc. is a GOOD thing! The opposite of having control is being out of control, which by definition, means that something or someone else is controlling you.

Yet this basic urge to have control over our lives is in direct conflict with the life that Jesus is calling us all towards. St. Paul in Romans 12:1 tells us that are to “offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” While we may want to pretty things up a bit, in ancient days sacrifices involved the killing of an animal. So if we are to be a “living sacrifice”, that means we are to give Jesus everything (our desires, passions, jobs, family, dreams, future, etc.) as if we had died.

In fact, though we are still physically alive and make look the same, when we do give Jesus everything we do “die” in the sense that the “old us” is gone and we have been made anew through the life giving grace and blood of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). In doing this, we, as followers of Jesus, take up His mission, passion, dreams, hopes, etc. (this would be the “transformed by the renewing of your mind” that St. Paul mentions in Romans 12:2 right after his “living sacrifice” comment).

C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

So far so good…However, there is a catch…Most Jesus followers would be ok with giving up everything to Jesus if it only meant taking up good ethics and living a good life. You know, don’t lie, cheat, steal, kill folks or any of those ‘bad’ things. Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t define things that way. When He called us lose our lives for His sake (Mark 8:34-35), He actually meant giving up EVERYTHING – no holdovers or hidden places where we get to keep a little something for ourselves.

This is where things gets messy.

You see, in most of places of Christianity around the world and throughout time there has been a desire to control the working of the Holy Spirit (who, by the way, is God just as Jesus is God and the Father is God – they are One through the great mystery Christians call the “Trinity”). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul addressed this issue and told them not to “quench the Spirit” or to “treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

Paul Writing His Epistles, 17th century

Note that this did not give them (nor us) permission to do anything they wanted. Remember, St. Paul said to “test” prophecies and other works of the supernatural to make sure they were from God. A good balance to 1 Thessalonians is St. Paul’s first letter to Corinthians in which he addresses the abuse of the spiritual gifts at length. A good example being 1 Corinthians 14:32 where he says, “the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.” Self-control is, as we must remember in this day unbridled selfishness, one of the fruits of the Spirit which God is bubbling up in each of His followers (Galatians 5:13-26). St. Paul also reminded the Corinthians that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

What is interesting is that St. Paul, while telling the Corinthians to dial it back a notch or two, does not tell them to stop doing what they are doing. Instead, he tells them four times to eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:31, 14:1, 14:12, and 14:39). In other words, St. Paul recognized the messiness of individuals walking after Jesus and trying their best to listen to Him. It would have been easier if St. Paul or Jesus or any of the other biblical authors just said, “No one is allowed to do XYZ unless they do it this way or have graduated from ABC School.” Then we all would know what to do and what not to do.

Only they didn’t.

Instead they, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-10), telling they that EVERYONE who follows of Jesus  has access to the Father through the same Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22) regardless of ethnicity or gender (Galatians 3:28). And, when folks actually take these words seriously and start acting upon them, well….things gets messy as people will make mistakes, boundaries will be crossed, letters such as 1 Corinthians will need to be written to bring order, healing, love and peace back into the church community.

Which brings up full circle back to the issue of control and the primary genesis of this entire post which was an undated talk on the Kingdom of God by John Wimber that I recently listened too. In this talk, Wimber says the following (transcribed by yours truly):

“I find within my heart there is an antagonism towards the work of the Spirit. I have to constantly guard my heart because I don’t like the way God does things! It’s messy! It’s confusing! It puts heat on me – I don’t like to have to answer these questions over and over again. I don’t like the consistent barrage that comes from the rest of the Christian community that is always saying to me, ‘What are you letting go on in your church? Why do you let people shake and fall down like that?’ I said, ‘Because I can’t stop it – that’s why!’

“Because if I could’ve, I would’ve by now – because I’m find within myself a resistance to the work and the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. As shameful as that is – I must confess it. And I have to confess it daily to Him – and constantly give myself over to His leadership and dominion. Because even though I am born of the Kingdom, I don’t like it very much – I don’t like the rule of God in my life. There is something in me that fights that response – and is not responsive to His Lordship.”

John Wimber

This quote really resonated with my heart as I, like Wimber, love to see God moving – yet, like Wimber, I have to guard my hearts because God constantly does things that I don’t like. Why do groups that hold doctrines contrary to the one’s I hold see healings, salvations and other signs of the presence of God? Why does He make us confusing our sins to each other (James 5:16) instead of letting us just say a silence prayer? Why does He tell us to love and bless our enemies (Luke 6:27-36)? Why do some people prophecy and others stare at walls? Why do folks fall down or anyone of the numinous things that folks do when God shows up as recorded in both the Bible and history?

It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t logical. And, well, it is messy as we humans don’t like giving up control to God. As Wimber said, “There is something in me that fights that response – and is not responsive to His Lordship.” St. Paul put it this way, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:22-23).

So what is the answer? Well, I think we have to trust Jesus and to live in the tension of constantly giving control of ourselves and our surroundings over to Jesus while searching out the Scriptures and using our brains and the self-control God has given us. We are live between the two extremes of 1 Corinthians (unbridled messiness that wounded folks) and 1 Thessalonians (ultra-control that grieved the Holy Spirit). We are to, as Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message, know that the “resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ (Romans 8:15, underline added)