Introduction- Saying Yes to God

If you picked up this book, I believe you care deeply about your relation­ship with God, and you want it to be better. You genuinely love God and are grateful for your blessings. You are trying to follow and serve Jesus Christ. You sincerely want to do God’s will. Yet, at the same time, you are strug­gling, or simply longing for more in your relationship with God.

You may be yearning for some reassurance that you are on track as a follower of Christ. You may be hoping for some guidance or for fresh ideas to help you on your spiritual journey. You may sense that God is calling you to a deeper place, to a more spiritually dynamic life, or to do something special for God—and you want that, too. But something keeps getting in the way. Something is blocking you, hindering your ability to go forward, or holding you back.

Perhaps you feel conflicted about drawing closer to God. You may want to hear God’s voice better, but you’re afraid of what god might say to you if you listen carefully enough. Or perhaps, you may be discouraged from previous failures or frustrations. You may feel inadequate and reluc­tant to hear something you don’t think you will be able to do. You might be living too much in a groove that you know and manage well, but which doesn’t leave much space for God to speak into it. You might feel resistant, because you don’t want to give up something you’ve been holding on to that doesn’t fit with God’s will for your life.

However, if you’re feeling stymied or frustrated in your relationship with God, the outlook is better than you may think. The fact that you are struggling indicates that God is actively calling you to a deeper relation­ship, and that you care. Your growing dissatisfaction signifies that you’re getting ready for change. If you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t even be aware of your limitations and wouldn’t be struggling with where you’re at spiritually. No, the fact that you’re reading this book suggests that you’re already moving toward God or being drawn to God in some new way. But what does God have in mind?

Perhaps you are still having a hard time seeing and coming to grips with the fact that your relationship with God is still mostly about you. You want God’s help to make your life better or more satisfying or happier. You think that if God would only help you more, then you’d have more of the life you’re longing for. But again, it’s the life you want, not necessarily the life God wants for you. Perhaps it’s time to change the way you are looking at God or yourself, change the way you are trying to pursue your goals or find satisfaction in life, or change how you relate to God and go about try­ing to grow and serve.

The leading question of this book is not, “is there hope for you and your relationship with God”? The answer to that is yes, absolutely! The questions needing to be answered are, “Are you truly willing to listen to God and cooperate with the Spirit’s leading?” “Are you willing, in ‘real time’ today, to say ‘yes’ to God in whatever way the Spirit is leading you now?” “Are you willing to let go of your idea of what your life is or ought to be, and accept more fully God’s calling for the life Christ wants for you?”

“Hitting a wall” in your spiritual life is a graphic and powerful image to describe what happens to everyone who takes his/her relationship with God seriously and desires to grow. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. It may actually mean that you are finally ready for the next stage in your growth. When you hit a wall, you must face your inability to attain your goals or fulfill your desires in your way, on your terms, and in your own power. Yet, the emotional and intellectual impact of hitting the wall is a sign of hope, because it means you are now ready to listen to God in a new way and at a new depth.

Janet Hagberg and Bob Guelich in their book, The Critical Journey, talk about the wall as the place where we are “unmasked” and have to face what we have not been able to acknowledge about ourselves and our moti­vations up to that point. It’s the place where we may have to face our own limitations and, frankly, our inability to be the person we wished to be. It’s where our will meets God’s will.1 it’s where we must “let go and let God,” as many preachers are fond of saying, in a more profound and truly life-changing way than ever before. It’s where we surrender.

  1. Hagberg and Guelich, The Critical Journey, 175.

Hitting a wall, then, is actually a positive sign that you are growing (or poised to grow) in spite of the fact that it may feel as if you’re coming apart. The wall prepares you to experience God and to develop in new ways, pre­viously unavailable to you. There are many spiritual practices and resources you can draw on to help you at the wall, which will be discussed at length in this book; but in the end, God is the one who takes you through the walls in your life. Only God’s Spirit can enable you to reach a more mature stage in your spiritual life. The walls in your life drive you to your knees where you must wait for God. There you pray, seeking, asking, and knocking on God’s door, being purified and prepared for the Holy Spirit to take you somewhere you cannot reach on your own. This is your spiritual journey.

A Spirit-led life

The apostle Paul taught that the Christian life is grounded in god the Fa­ther’s immeasurable love for us, what Christ did for us on the cross, and the ongoing, active work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul spoke often about the grace of God and our need to trust in Christ for our salvation. He also explained that, in practical terms, the Christian life depends on our rela­tionship with the Holy Spirit. At one point, the apostle Paul neatly summed up the critical role of the Spirit when he said to the galatian Christians, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (gal 5:25).

But what does it mean to live by the Spirit? What does it mean to keep in step with the Spirit? Do the two phrases mean the same thing? If they differ, how so?

Living by the Spirit

According to Scripture, there are many different ways in which we can or do live by the Spirit. Life in the Spirit begins with simply possessing god’s life-giving breath, and thus applies to all human beings whether we rec­ognize God’s presence within us or not. However, the quality of how we experience the Spirit expands considerably when we enter a life-changing, personal relationship with Christ. In fact, the kind of experience with the Spirit is so qualitatively different from ordinary human life without Christ that we must consider this a kind of new life in the Spirit.

For the Christian, God’s Spirit leads us to Jesus, gives us faith, and enables us to surrender our wills to God’s will. Something happens inside of us that is like coming alive. We experience the forgiveness of sins. God takes away our guilt and shame. We become convinced that we truly belong to God and in the family of God. We come to love Jesus and want to follow him. We want to stop sinning, and we feel more strength and power to live for God, even if we still battle with stubborn sin throughout our spiritual journeys. All these experiences fit with what Jesus meant by being born again, or, being born of the Spirit (John 3:1–8). John explained that it is the Spirit of God that leads us to the truth about Jesus Christ, and that a true encounter with the love of God will transform us and enable us to become loving people in ways not possible beforehand (1 John 4).

As we mature in our relationship with Christ, we will experience more and more ways the Spirit breathes new life into our minds, relationships, and ways of being in the world. We will see god working through us to bless others and to enable us to contribute meaningfully in the church and in society. We will be better able to love God, ourselves, and others in life-giving ways. For all these reasons, we can say we are living by the Spirit, because God’s presence in us and the Spirit’s working in and through us gives us a life that was and is not possible otherwise.

More broadly, we can find in Scripture at least ten different ways the Spirit of god gives life to human beings, which would be particularly appli­cable to Christians. Though all of these references do not come from Paul’s writings, together they represent a consistent New Testament perspective on how God works in human lives through the Spirit, and thus make up the theological world Paul was immersed in and contributed to. In bullet point fashion, we learn from Scripture that the Spirit. . .

  1. Gives life to every human being (gen 2:7; Ps 104:29–30; acts 17:24-28).
  2. Convicts of sin (John 16:7–11). The Spirit shows us our sin and con­vinces us it is wrong.
  3. Guides us to truth and specifically enables us to have faith in Jesus (John 14:6; 16:13–15; eph 2:8–9; 1 John 4:1–3).
  4. Makes us spiritually alive in a renewed relationship with god (John 3:1–8, 16; 7:37–39; 20:19–23). That is, we are “born again.”
  5. Inspires a living hope and real joy, coupled with a deep love for Jesus (1 Pet 1:3–9).
  6. Gives power to resist sin and to live at peace (Rom 8:1–6, 9; gal 5:16).
  7. Enables us to experience and exhibit “fruit” in our lives, which enable us to relate to others in more loving and godly ways (Gal 5:22–23; 2 Pet 1:2–3).
  8. Helps us to pray in ways we could not do on our own (Rom 8:26–27; 1 Cor 14:2, 18; eph 4:18).
  9. Gifts and empowers us for Christian service to build up the body of Christ (1 Cor 12; Rom 12:3–8; 15:18–19; eph 4:11–16).
  10. Empowers us to fight and overcome evil (Eph 6:10–20, see especially vv. 17–18).

 

When Paul said, “We live by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25), he particularly was referencing the new life made possible since the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers in Christ.2 yet, and here is the critical assumption for this book, what is possible through the Spirit because we “live by the Spirit,” isn’t automatically the same as what we will experience in daily life. Though we truly live by the Spirit as believers in Christ in whom the Spirit is at work in life-giving ways, we must also learn how to get in step with the Spirit and then keep in step with the Spirit in order to keep growing and to live fruitful lives in Christ’s service.

Keeping in step with the Spirit

So many of us know the “right answers” when it comes to following Christ and serving God, but we falter in our own efforts to practice what we preach at significant points. We may have experienced new life in the Spirit, and genuinely appreciate many ways we have experienced God touching, blessing, or working in our lives for good. Yet, at the same time, real gaps

  1. According to Scripture, the Spirit was active in human beings in similar—albeit more limited—ways in Old Testament times. The Spirit would, on occasion, empower individuals in extraordinary ways and was a source of wisdom to all who would listen. Yet, the former ways of the Spirit are not foremost in Paul’s mind in Galatians or in any of his writings. For Paul, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection along with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are so significant that they have become the central pieces of his theol­ogy. Practically, since Pentecost, trusting in Christ and being led by the Spirit are now the key to a right relationship with god and to one’s ability to please god and fulfill god’s purposes for one’s life. (See, e.g., Gal 3:1–5; Rom 8:1–8.) The ways god’s Spirit has worked and works in the world among those who do not know or follow Jesus Christ is an important and relevant topic in pneumatology (the study of the Spirit), but outside the scope of this book. Here our focus is on the critical role of Holy Spirit for followers of Christ.

Still exist at times between our ideology/theology/philosophy and how we conduct our lives, handle temptations, and respond to hard-to-love people. We’re all trying, and most of us have seen fruit from god’s grace and our efforts in many different aspects of our lives. Yet, at the same time, if we’re honest, we will admit that we are also failing at key points, too. Either we just don’t know what to do differently, or we lack the motivation, ability, or strength to do what Christ calls us to do.

This has been the story for Christians since the beginning. This is the story for every would-be follower of Jesus Christ. This human story ex­plains why every writer in the New Testament not only announces God’s wonderful love and grace extended to us through Christ, but also devotes significant space to overcoming ignorance, sinful desires, persistent resis­tance to God, and unhealthy, ingrained habits in everyday life. For practical Christian living, something more is needed than just faith or following the traditions we inherited. Something more is needed than having Christ in our hearts and possessing the Holy Spirit. Here is where keeping in step with the Spirit comes in.

When Paul said, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit,” he was shifting from what God does for us to what we must do in response to the presence of Christ and the Spirit in our lives. The Spirit renews our hearts and minds, reveals truth to us, provides reliable guidance on our spiritual journey, empowers us to overcome our resistance to God, and corrects us when wander off the path, but usually doesn’t force us to obey. That’s something we must do. Though god is surely speaking to each one of us, we must listen for the Spirit’s voice, and cooperate with his lead­ing. Though the Spirit is the greatest power available to us, it is a resource we must draw on to benefit from it. Though the Spirit may even chase us and compel us at times, we still must say “yes” to God in order to keep in step with the Spirit.

Most, if not all, of the ways that we “keep in step with the Spirit” will flow from how we “live” by the Spirit. In other words, if you want to know how the Spirit might be leading you at any given moment, look back over the list of ten ways that we live by the Spirit (above). It is likely that the Spirit is prompting you in some way that fits one of his chief roles in your life.

The Spirit’s prompting, stirring, enlivening, and empowering us provides the internal resources we need to live a Christ-centered, fruitful life, but we must draw on or respond to the Spirit’s leading to make the called-for changes. We must take what we receive and then actively (re-) direct our attitudes, actions, and priorities in concrete ways that stem from the Spirit’s life-giving presence in our lives. This may involve just remaining open to however the Spirit may choose to get our attention or speak to us, or it may require actively drawing on the Spirit’s power and presence for whatever help we need.

In other words, keeping in step with the Spirit requires cultivating a lifestyle of listening regularly for the voice of the Spirit, and then staying ready to cooperate by following, obeying, and submitting our will to God’s will in a hundred little ways every day. This is the meaning of Paul’s impera­tive, and it is the only way any of us can grow spiritually and fulfill God’s good purposes for our lives.

The life God is calling you to

The biblical vision for the ideal relationship with God is to know, love, and serve the God who loves us beyond what we can fully comprehend or imag­ine. To help us on our spiritual journey, we must draw on Scripture, put our trust in Jesus Christ, and be led by the Holy Spirit. Through Scripture we can expect God to most clearly speak to us. In the person of God’s son, Jesus Christ, we will best know God’s character and what true love is all about. By the Holy Spirit we will become convinced of the truth found in Jesus Christ and Scripture, and through the Spirit we can experience the love of God and transforming presence of Christ for everyday relationships and responsibilities.

As Spirit-led people, we will be fully engaged in life, inwardly living on our knees in humble gratitude for God’s mercy and grace, and outwardly standing tall, drawing strength from Christ and God’s call on our lives. We will move forward to serve confidently and fruitfully, not because of our self-generated worthiness or greatness, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit who ironically works in and through ordinary sinners saved by grace to bring good into the world. The Spirit helps us to believe that God’s love and grace are so great that God can make something beautiful out of our lives, and can use us to bring love and beauty to others, no matter what our shortcomings or failures.

As Spirit-led people, we will increasingly see others through God’s eyes, and develop a greater ability to love them in their imperfection. We will learn how to let go of so much judgment and condemnation, and will develop a greater ability to see and appreciate God’s mark on each life. We will experience more compassion and empathy for those who suffer at the hands of others or because of forces beyond their control; and even for those who have brought suffering on themselves by their own poor choices and wrongdoing.

In the beginning, and in the end, the life God is calling us to is steeped in love. We are God’s children created from love and for love. In Jesus Christ’s life and death, we see the extent of God’s love, and we benefit from Christ’s sacrificial service in life-changing ways. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we can experience this divine love internally and in many practical ways through other people and in a wide variety of circumstances. God’s love continues to flow to others through us, as we learn to move out of our self-centeredness to reach out to those around us, through our smiles, generosity, kindness, service, understanding, forgiveness, and in a host of other ways as well.

The challenge for so many of us is to slow down enough and to quiet ourselves adequately so that we may connect to the divine source of love (the Holy Spirit)—to experience real inner change and to be freed from our own self-serving instincts and habits to become a conduit of that love. We develop spiritual practices to help us listen better to whatever the Spirit may be saying to us from moment to moment. Then, as we hear God’s voice, we must draw on that same divine source of love to find the wisdom, will, strength, and courage to follow the promptings.

How you get there

In this book, you will read about many ways to grow in your relationship with God and about what it looks and feels like to keep in step with the Spirit as a way of life. But be prepared for some surprises. Expect to learn more about yourself and to hear the Spirit’s voice revealing truth that you uniquely need to hear. For example, as we listen better to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we typically discover that it is not the failure of God to commu­nicate that keeps us from growing or knowing how god is leading. Rather, it is often we who are getting in the way.

Sometimes we are too passive; often too controlling; sometimes too fearful; other times too stubborn. Some of us are too cerebral, and we make life too complicated or get paralyzed by our need to understand everything before we can simply follow the prompting of the Spirit. Others of us are driven by our feelings so much that we too easily lose our balance or get off track, or we draw the wrong conclusions from what we experience. Too often, we don’t hear, let alone respond appropriately to, the Spirit, because, down deep, we don’t want to hear what God wants to say, or we are not disciplined enough to step back from our experience long enough to hear something that may not fit with our preconceived notions. We may be too attached to our own will or desires. We may want to hold on to our anger or resentment. We may love our way of life or our way of seeing things more than we love Christ. Whatever the exact reason, when it comes down to the real barrier to our growth, it’s often that we simply don’t want to change.

For others of us, trust is the key issue. We’ve been burned, disappoint­ed, hurt, or confused. We trusted god and things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would or should. Now we may be gun shy, and afraid to trust again. Or, we just can’t truly believe that God’s way is better than our way. Intellectually, we can easily affirm that God’s way is best, and we might even pray that God’s will be done. Yet, at our core, we don’t trust God enough to let go of our way in favor of following however the Spirit might be leading.

The good news is that the solution to most if not all these issues and challenges is much closer and more accessible than you might think. To create a better relationship with God, the most important thing is to look to God rather than yourself for the way forward. Rather than focus on learn­ing how to not be something (i.e., being overly concerned about being too this, or too that) or how to do more of something (e.g., have more faith, be more faithful), the key to keeping in step with the Holy Spirit is actually quite simple. It’s about reaching out to God, trusting that God will come near to you in response (Jas 4:8; Heb 4:16), and even trusting that god is the one drawing you in the first place. It’s about submitting to Christ again, especially in those areas where he has been marginalized or ignored, and asking for the grace to live first and foremost for Christ and his kingdom in every relationship and role that you have.

In other words, perhaps the best thing you can do right now in your spiritual life is to make it less complicated. Set aside all mental or emotional blocks that you’ve constructed. Take a few deep breaths—or maybe many deep breaths. Relax. Remember that your God is a loving Father, who wants to give you good gifts.3 turn your eyes upon Jesus, as the old hymn wisely advises. Open yourself to listen for the voice of the Spirit in a fresh way.

  1. See Luke 11:13; Jas 1:17.

Let the Holy Spirit lead you back to the foundation of your relation­ship with God—to God’s unconditional love, mercy, and grace; to Christ’s sacrificial love for you and the world; and to the cleansing, renewing breezes the Holy Spirit has breathed into your soul in the past. instead of working harder and harder to try to fix yourself and then take action, draw close to God so that the Holy Spirit may pour out God’s love into your heart in a fresh way. Ask the Holy Spirit to do in you what you cannot do for yourself.

The place to begin is where you would begin with anyone with whom you would like a better relationship. You engage the other person and focus on drawing closer to one another. You bring to mind why this relation­ship is important to you, and why you would like it to be better. You open yourself up to the other person. You commit yourself to being transparent and as honest as you know how to be. You are willing to talk about the problems, concerns, or questions you have that are interfering with the relationship. You make yourself vulnerable by expressing the longing of your heart, along with your hopes and dreams. If it is not too awkward or uncomfortable, you think and talk about love—how you would like to be loved by the other person and how you would like to express your love in return.

The Christian life requires learning how to say “yes” to god in every­day life, especially in situations that matter most but may be overwhelming or seemingly too difficult to handle. The more we learn how to recognize and rely upon the leading of the Spirit in all relationships and circum­stances, the more we can relax and yet stay focused on what matters most in the moment. We will feel freer, more whole, and greater joy and peace. Ultimately, our ability to love others effectively and serve Christ fruitfully will grow and grow.

How this book intends to be helpful

Helping you to better listen to and flow with the Holy Spirit is what this book is all about.

As such, it is a practical resource on how to get and keep in step with the Spirit. It is designed to make life-changing spiritual practices simple and accessible to both theologically and non-theologically trained individuals. It’s for all those who want to grow personally, relationally, and spiritually; and for those who want to follow a Christian path to do so. The book is especially geared for those who have faced their own limitations and even personal failures, and are looking for fresh insight and practical suggestions for how to move forward from wherever they find themselves, how to get unstuck, and how to climb out of the holes they may have created for them­selves. It’s a book both for those who feel eager and ready to grow in new ways and for those who find themselves at a wall, who may even feel that they are out of steam, ability, or insight to know how to take the next step.

This book is not at all about supernatural visions and ecstasy, moun­taintop experiences or great spiritual triumphs. it’s about learning how to hear and recognize the voice of the Spirit in the ordinary moments of daily life and to create a life that is one big “yes” to God. The spiritual practices discussed in each chapter will help you to see better how God is at work in your life and how to respond to God’s call more freely and fully. Saying Yes to God, then, focuses on helping you to go with the flow of the Spirit as a way of life, as you both humbly but confidently take responsibility for your life and rely on the grace and working of God at the same time. All the sto­ries in these chapters are taken from real life, and are drawn from spiritual life coaching clients and from others I have counseled or coached over the years. With their permission, I share them to illustrate how listening to and cooperating with the Spirit works in everyday life.

Saying Yes to God: How to Keep in Step with the Spirit is the third in a series of books designed to help readers draw on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in practical ways. The first one, The Spirit-Led Leader: Nine Leadership Practices and Soul Principles, focused on how to develop a more vital relationship with God and how to serve more effectively as a Spirit-led leader in a position of authority.

The second book, One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living, grew out of my family’s experience walking 500 miles across northern Spain on the Camino, also known as El Camino de Santiago de Compostela and the Way of Saint James. The goal of that book was to help Christians better understand and navigate their spiritual journey. In it, I identify various steps an earnest Christian pilgrim needs to take to move from a vague Spirit-led stirring to real spiritual growth and personal trans­formation. One Step at a Time also includes several chapters on how one might develop a deeper and more profound, personal relationship with each member of the trinity, god the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

This third book goes even deeper into the practical dynamics of listen­ing to, relying on, and cooperating with the Holy Spirit on a day-to-day basis. It is designed to help mature and maturing Christians better recog­nize the voice of God and grow in their ability to follow the Spirit’s leading in wide-ranging ways. It offers fresh insight to break through barriers and personal limitations in knowing, loving, and serving God. The ultimate purpose is to help believers live fuller and more fruitful Christ-centered, Spirit-led lives.

Saying “yes” to God

The book is divided into two sections, and each chapter offers specific ac­tion steps that you can take to get or keep in step with the Spirit. The first part focuses on the critical importance of learning how to listen well to God and how to cooperate better with the Spirit’s prompting. The second part focuses on how to keep in step with the Spirit, especially in the face of the many distractions, discouragements, and difficulties that threaten to derail your commitment, faith, and motivation.

Part I: Getting in Step with the Spirit

  1. Listen and cooperate. A Spirit-led life in its most basic form is sim­ply listening to God and cooperating with however the Spirit may lead. We should expect that the Spirit of God is speaking to each of us frequently, usually inaudibly and often quite subtly, but nonethe­less prompting us in ways that do not come from our own thinking or planning, and that sometimes even go contrary to our will or de­sires. our part is to listen and respond appropriately to whatever we hear—not by blindly following every idea that comes to mind, but by engaging the thought or feeling with a cooperative attitude, ultimately choosing a course of action that best fits with the flow of the Spirit and will of God as best as we can discern it. (Chapter 1.)
  2. Be humble and open. Practically, in order to become more comfort­able and confident as a Spirit-led follower of Christ, we need to put ourselves in a frame of mind and heart that is receptive to the Spirit. We need to humble ourselves before God. We must approach God from a place of honesty and openness to whatever the Spirit may want to communicate to us, trusting that God will respond to us in loving ways that fit with God’s good purposes for our lives. (Chapter 2.)
  3. Be discerning. No matter how inspired we may feel, Spirit-led living is not just proceeding on the basis of our feelings, hunches, and hopes; it often requires thoughtful reflection and choosing to exercise our freedom to make decisions according to godly values and priorities. a discernment process normally involves wrestling with what we are hearing and seeing, reflecting on how we are living our lives, ex­amining our motives, and finally making hard choices where we are genuinely free to choose among different options. By exploring issues, studying Scripture, clarifying our values and priorities, dialoguing with others, including those who see things differently, we grow in our ability to make wise, Spirit-led decisions and serve Christ as adults. (Chapter 3.)
  4. Commit to “yes.” When the Spirit starts prodding and stirring some­thing with us, we need to be responsive. We should take the prompting seriously, listen long enough to know what it is about, and determine what cooperation will look like. Once we are clear about the calling, we will not have rest until we put our “yes” into motion. “Yes” will look different depending on the prompting and circumstances, but it always involves commitment and action. (Chapter 4.)
  5. Join the sacred love flow. At the core, Spirit-led living is all about love. As followers of Christ, we are called to love others deeply, something made possible because God pours out God’s love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Whatever the Spirit says to you, and how­ever the Spirit may lead you, you can be sure it has something to do with love. The more we focus on living fully, loving deeply, and giving freely, as Christ defines these priorities, the more we will be in sync with how the Spirit thinks and is moving within us. (Chapter 5.)
  6. Don’t quit on love. Sometimes, loving others can be really tough. In fact, at times it may seem impossible. When we’ve been hurt, our re­lationship with someone has broken down, or there is a long history of tension and conflict, we may neither do not feel love nor feel any capacity to forgive or act in loving ways. Yet, it is precisely at such times that Spirit-led love is most needed. No matter how hard someone may be to love, we are commanded by Christ to love them anyway, and it is the Holy Spirit who can enable us to do so. (Chapter 6.)

 

Part II: Keeping in Step with the Spirit

7. Overcome evil with good. As the journey continues, we usually dis­cover that, at times, keeping in step with the Spirit gets harder, not easier. We may feel overwhelmed by the needs we perceive, and the extent of the evil and suffering in the world. Yet, at the same time, we will increasingly feel compelled to do something beyond whatever we have dreamed of doing before. In the face of great need, we must not focus on what we can’t do, but on the good we can do—or, even more important, on what God can do through us. (Chapter 7.)

8. Take sin and grace seriously. The greatest impediments to Spirit-led living are not the forces we meet that work against us, our lack of resources, or obstacles in our way. The biggest threat to our ability to fulfill our callings is within us—those attitudes, actions, and life habits that block or run contrary to a Christ-centered, Spirit-led life of love. In other words, to use traditional biblical language, sin in our lives holds us back and undermines our best efforts to reflect the light and love of Christ. Our only hope is to draw on God’s grace and the Spirit’s power in greater ways than ever before. We must ask God to help us face the truth about the darkness in our lives, and for power to come to grips with the moral, spiritual, and deeply personal issues that are alienating us from God and others. no matter how extensive our sins, painful our suffering, complicated our questions, or gnawing our un­fulfilled desires, the way forward is by drawing closer to the Spirit, not running away from God. We must take sin seriously, and take God’s grace even more seriously, in order to break through the barriers and stay in the sacred love flow. (Chapter 8.)

9. Be God-confident. once we become more confident and comfortable in getting in step with the Spirit and living in the sacred love flow, we must also do all we can to keep in step with the Spirit as the challenges and opportunities to serve Christ keep growing. At its core, keeping in step with the Spirit requires maintaining confidence in God on a day-to-day basis. We must rely on God’s work in our lives, pouring love into our hearts, giving us hope, breathing new life into our souls, and working through us in ways that fit with God’s purposes. We must trust that the Spirit will guide us, even if we are unsure at times about the signals and signs we are perceiving. We must order our lives on the basis of our faith and grow in our ability to see God at work in the world in the midst of chaos and evil. We must not shrink back as the call gets tougher or scarier. We must be bold and keep going with a self-confidence that is built upon God-confidence. (Chapter 9.

10. Keep the faith. As we take seriously the call to listen to the Spirit as a way of life, and to make love our highest priority, our faith will be tested. Spirit-led living will take us out on the proverbial limb to places we thought we would never go, or could go; but love has compelled us to go there. The scarier it becomes, or the more we feel threatened in some way, the more we might find ourselves hesitating and asking questions. Is it safe? Will God come through? Is it worth the risk? To continue on this Spirit-led path, in the face of our hesita­tion or fears, we will need to come to grips with whatever unresolved questions we may have about god. We may find ourselves suddenly wondering about God’s goodness, reliability, and involvement in the world and in our lives. Our suffering or the suffering of others may be stirring up feelings of anger, horror, or fear. We will need to find, or firm up, our faith, trusting that God is for us and is at work in our lives for good, even if we’re not always sure how. (Chapter 10.)

11. Ask for the help you need. The deeper we delve, the further we go, the more we step out in faith to serve Christ in concrete ways, the more we realize that we simply cannot fulfill god’s will for our lives in our own strength or by our own wisdom. We may have believed this intellectually for years, but experience has convinced us of our need for God’s grace and power along the way. So, we must ask for the help we need—be it for wisdom, understanding, courage, the ability to repent, strength, comfort in suffering, provision, or anything else. We must learn to pray as we breathe—all the time, for everything, in every situation, drawing on the Spirit to be able to do whatever we are being called to do. We must take initiative to draw upon whatever resources are available to us. (Chapter 11.)

12. Live your “yes.” Finally, Saying “yes” to God is not something we do once, or occasionally. Saying “yes” to God is a way of life. It’s a re­sponse of the heart, a commitment of the will, an attitude of the mind, and gut conviction that together keep us spiritually alive and always ready to move forward as the Spirit so leads. our goal is always to reach a point where being a Christ-centered, Spirit-led servant of God defines who we are as well as our vocation—not only in our minds, but increasingly in every aspect of our lives. (Chapter 12.)

 

It’s all about love

In the end, developing a better, personal relationship with god as a Christ-centered, Spirit-led servant of God often comes down to living in the sacred love flow more and more. This is true for God’s calling on an individual as well as for God’s calling for a church or any Christian community. Love is God’s primary way to relate to the world and primary way to transform it. Love starts with God, flows to the world in general, expresses itself preemi­nently in the life and death of Jesus Christ, fills the heart of each believer in particular, and then shines through us to one another. Those who are led by the Spirit bask in God’s love and mercy, and serve as conduits of God’s love to others. Spiritual growth is a matter of knowing God’s love more deeply and extending God’s love more fully and expansively to others in every possible circumstance of our lives.

Participating in the sacred love flow was John’s definition of being a Christian (1 John 4:7–8). It’s where we start when the Spirit leads us to faith in Jesus, and the way of love marks out for us the path forward. We are born from God’s love, we are reborn through love, and we are called to live lives of love, more and more over time. none of us does this perfectly, and all of us get tripped up by our own selfishness and unredeemed aspects of our personalities and ways of being in the world at times, yet God’s love is the beginning and end of our callings.

The apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians Christians expresses well this vision of a Christ-centered, Spirit-led relationship with god that is rooted in love and serves as the indispensable foundation for becoming more and more godly—literally, full of God, and thus full of love. His prayer is my prayer for you as you read this book:

I pray that out of [the Father’s] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16–19