She was not a fence-sitter. This was someone who knew how to make things happen. A solid church leader steeped in safe theology and good manners.
And then, the Holy Spirit got hold of her.
It happened when leaders of our church began to wrestle with how their own spiritual health might be affecting the community.* We were learning new things about the connection between emotional and spiritual health and this one leader was particularly impacted. Seeing how her emotional maturity could impact (for better or worse) not just her spiritual life but the progress of others sent her on a journey that both awakened and unnerved her.
Because she was the kind of leader who didn’t back down from a challenge, she got honest with God and herself. She diagnosed herself with “doing sickness.” She could make things happen, but was all that activity Spirit-led? The cure meant submitting to the Holy Spirit’s work in her life, but that was scary. What if this change disappointed those who had come to depend on her ability to “do”?
One day she marched into my office and with both frustration and surrender in her expression, asked, “Will you be okay with me if I come to the end of this and am a different person?” I thought it was a profound question. After all, she’d been central to some progress we were making as a church. She was doing big things with small groups, developing teams and shaking up our approach to newcomers. I loved her ability to “do.”
But now that the Holy Spirit had gotten hold of her, well … what if she changed? And what if those changes led her out of the work she was doing and into places we couldn’t predict? What if the Holy Spirit convinced her to be still? Would she still be needed? Would we still like her?
It was as if she were standing by a pool holding a rock, her hand hovering over the water. The rock was a crisis of belief that moved her to the threshold of transformation. At this stage, she found herself asking, “What has to change in my life if I am going to go with God?” Because here’s the thing. Once that rock hits the water, ripples happen, and we don’t get to control the ripples. This decision to be led by the Spirit is a choice to release control.
This is what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is about allowing the Holy Spirit to lead as He flows through us, energizing our journey with Jesus. When we submit to being filled, we become part of a movement that cannot be contained and it begins with the question, “What has to change if I am going to go with God?” Am I even willing to let change happen? And if I change, will I be okay with that? Will the people around me be okay with it? Will I be okay with it even if they aren’t?
Sanctification is messy! In our community of faith, we are discovering that we get to control almost nothing in this process. We are being led places we didn’t think we wanted to go. We find ourselves building arks under sunny skies, trusting in what we don’t yet see.
But sanctification is also joyful. As it turns out, I not only like that leader who has allowed the Holy Spirit more access to her life, I like her more. She is still doing great things among our people, but I’m noticing that now her activity comes from a different motivation, a more peaceful and impassioned place. She is slowly but surely being released from the tyranny of “shoulds” and “oughts” and there is a great joy in that release.
Sanctification brings freedom. Freedom from “doing sickness.” Freedom from “pleasing others sickness.” Freedom from the need to air-brush our lives into some socially-accepted image. The Spirit-led life offers such freedom to live headlong into the values of God, to create ripples and flow in His river.
I am convinced this “flow” into the Spirit-led life is the difference between going to church and going with God. After all, it is one thing to believe. That we can control and even choose to keep to ourselves. But it is only as our rocks hit the water, as we choose transformation and let the ripples happen, that our stories begin to flow into God’s story.
What needs to change in your life if you are going to go with God?
*For more on the connection between emotional and spiritual health, visit www.emotionallyhealthy.org, a ministry created by Peter Scazzero, the pastor of New Life Church in Queens, NY.