Boats on the River

A few years ago, I co-authored a book on worship. It sprang from many years delivering music in worship seminars and training events, as well as leading congregations before God. The main author of the book chose to take on the first chapter all about God seeking worshippers. When we came to look at the finished chapter together, I was utterly dismayed to find that he had spent the very first section of the very first chapter talking not about worship, but about control; control as a human tendency (as well as demonic influence), that we all need to relinquish. Though at the time I disagreed that it should be there as I thought it would be off-putting for many readers, it stayed in the final print.

Ten years later, I have now changed my stance. I have increasingly found out the hard way how important it is to relinquish control if we are to grow in our walk with Christ. Time and again I have kept too tight a rein on timings at events, tried to make people behave how I wanted, and even closed down my heart on emotions so as not to seem vulnerable. I have also found it hard to allow others to lead or take certain jobs because of an innate (and almost certainly incorrect) feeling that I would do better, which really just means that I want things to be done my way.

Acknowledging all this I realise and repent for how much pain I must have caused others, but also how much pain I have caused the Holy Spirit every time I organised Him out. My worshipping life is a pale reflection of all it should be as my control has denied Jesus access to the deepest places in my emotions. I am so glad I serve a God of mercy and forgiveness!

A couple of weeks ago I heard a podcast:

In it, Emma Stark and Sam Robertson were talking about God’s river, which reminded me of a blog post I once wrote called ‘The Canal and the River.’ They focused on these verses from Isaiah 33:

20 Look on Zion, the city of our festivals;
    your eyes will see Jerusalem,
    a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;
its stakes will never be pulled up,
    nor any of its ropes broken.
21 There the Lord will be our Mighty One.
    It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars will ride them,
    no mighty ship will sail them.
22 For the Lord is our judge,
    the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king;
    it is he who will save us.

The River of Life that flows through the New Jerusalem will be deep, broad and wide. It is not a river we can navigate with our own strength and understanding. No oars or sails – no form of control is allowed and all who enter the river are expected to surrender to the current and allow it to dictate. The river is always moving – there is no such thing as maintaining the status quo. We are always being moved by God into different areas of growth, of understanding; different practical tasks; different seasons. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, but we are never to remain the same as we are gradually transformed into His likeness.

So what does this look like for me?

When I am on my way to see someone, or going to a planning meeting or trying to make decisions, I find I have to pray ‘Lord, I surrender my own agenda to you, and instead choose yours.’ I’m definitely still a work in progress on this, and find it hard to hear Him speaking when it is something I am holding close to my heart. I am having to learn to hold my plans lightly and be ready to change at a moment’s notice. And I also know I have to be ready to move away from places where I feel I am indispensable, to enable others to break through where my presence was stifling them.

It was also really important when Amy and I recently led a retreat for a group of women who wanted to grow in hearing from God. I was entirely comfortable with the teaching side of things, but it is only possible to develop hearing from God skills by actually doing it. This meant that for significant periods of time at this event I had to give God space to do exactly what He wanted and not to control it myself. I was hugely apprehensive, but every time He came through for us, and the women all heard Him for themselves in a huge variety of ways.

Control affects each of us in different ways depending on our history and life experience. It can be as subtle as wanting things done our way, through to extremes such as manipulation, bullying and even forms of self-harm and eating disorders. Ultimately we want to be free to follow the flow of the Holy Spirit, and for others to be free from our domination; but for each one of us it is a journey. If we allow Him, the Spirit will gradually reveal areas where we are holding onto our own control, and bit by bit He will show us how to give all things over to Him.

Father, I am sorry where I have been straining at the oars when You just want me to allow the current of Your Spirit to take me along. Please reveal to me where I have been grasping and holding onto control. I repent for partnering with all forms of control, and I choose to relinquish it, resting in Your powerful and safe hands. I choose to hold things lightly, and I give everyone and everything to You.


One response to “Boats on the River”

  1. Christopher Gray Avatar
    Christopher Gray

    Thank you for sharing this Helen. I am very aware at times of my need to be in control, especially in worship settings.


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