I started playing golf a few years ago. Though frustrating at times, it can also be an exceedingly rewarding sport. Each bad shot is nothing compared to the exhilarating feeling of a good one, the ball landing precisely where you had aimed. My first few times on the driving range were spent missing the ball entirely and digging up grass and dirt instead. If I was lucky enough to actually hit the ball, it was anyone’s guess which direction it would go.
In an effort to improve my game, I started taking lessons. My instructor repeatedly told me that I was smothering the ball. I was trying so hard to control the ball that I would clench my muscles and contort my body in strange ways, leaving no room for the club to do its work. As a result, nine times out of ten, my shot fell flat. It was only after I learned to relax and trust the club that I started hitting better shots.
The way I approach my golf game has taught me a lot about myself. I “smother the ball” in many aspects of my life. I try so hard to control — even force — the outcome of some situations that I leave no room for God to work. And I usually end up making matters worse. I am understanding more and more that part of having a relationship with God is knowing when to let go. It’s having the wisdom to leave room for God to do what God does best — work for my good.
Scripture is full of people who gave up control in order to allow God to work in their lives and in the lives of God’s people: Noah, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Jonah, Mary, the first disciples. Moses helped deliver the Israelites from captivity. Joshua led God’s people across the Jordan and into Canaan. Jonah finally went to Nineveh. Each shows us the value of trust in God over our own limited abilities.
Throughout scripture we see how much God loves us and that God wants only the best for us. But this means that sometimes we have to set aside our own concerns, fears, and ideas so that God can work. Noah followed God’s command to build an ark — though without a drop of water in sight surely he looked silly doing it. Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord as she had promised, in spite of how difficult it must have been to let go of the son she loved so much. Such trust does not always come naturally to me.
One of the hardest lessons that I have had to learn — one that I am still in the process of learning — is that my ability to control many situations only goes so far. And in some cases it doesn’t go far at all. In such times, letting go is easier said than done; it requires practice and discipline, not to mention obedience and confidence in God. It is hard for me to imagine the courage it must have taken for Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land or the fear Jonah must have felt in the belly of the fish. Both Joshua and Jonah, however, ultimately set aside their own concerns so that God could work. In my golf game, I have to constantly tell myself to remain calm when making a shot. I remind myself to trust the club to finish the job, and then take my shot. When I do, the outcome is much better. The same is true when I am in a challenging work situation, having a difficult relationship with a friend or colleague, or struggling to make a decision. Putting more confidence and trust in God and less in my own abilities can make all the difference.
Several meditations in this issue address trusting in God. You may want to read again the meditations for July 9, 17 and August 4, 7, 10, 15, 31 before responding to the reflection questions below.
Questions for reflection:
1. When has it been difficult for you to let go of your trust in your own strength? What were your prayers like during this time? Why can it be so hard to let go?
2. Reflect on characters in scripture who were reluctant to accept God’s help. Why were they reluctant? How does their story end? In that situation, what would you have done differently?
3. Name three places in your life where you see God working for your good.
I could not have found The Upper Room Moments of Prayer (on Facebook Live) sooner. For it is during these moments of centering spiritual practices, meditating on the words of scripture, praying with and for the world, that I find moments of transcendence, hear whispers of peace and hope, see glimpses of truth and justice, behold visions of love and beauty amid all the stark realities that are around me.”