Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer, said:
'God does not want you to destroy yourself. Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God's will. God is gentle and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God's love. Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying, “Your will be done, not mine”'. (Henri Nouwen – The Inner Voice of Love)
So, here are my five tips I think would be good starters for how, as Christians, we can give our agendas to God (written by someone never as much in need of a personal disclaimer as now!)
GET YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT (Proverbs 3:5-6):
Do you have a general sense of malaise, guilt, or worry? First off, God doesn't want us to have these 'general', negative feelings. That's the starting point. So think: what am I actually worried/feeling guilty/rubbish about? Specifics. It may help to write them down. It may not appear any easier to digest straight off, but it'll help you to focus on dealing with them. For each one, you may pray simply, like this: 'Lord, I give/confess to you [xxx]. I can't deal with it on my own. I don't understand it. But you do. So here it is. Thank you Lord'.
This verse is helpful: 'Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.' Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV). That's the key bit here: in all your ways, acknowledge him. It's one of the more straight forward spiritual disciplines (to understand, if not practice) – just to say 'Lord, I give you….'.
This simple act can have truly awesome power – not just for our lives, but for those who we influence/minister to/work alongside. In a sense it 'resets' us, and brings to life our true, vibrant selves again. (More on resetting in tip 5)
Get proactive. Work out/write down what your issues are. Then give them the Proverbs 3 treatment to align yourself with God's agenda again.
BELIEVE HE WORKS BEHIND THE SCENES. (Galatians 3:2-3)
We don't have to keep track of where we think God is and what He's doing. He's more than capable of looking after Himself – and just as capable of looking after us. If He's set you on a path and is guiding and protecting you, which He is (Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd…), then you don't have to worry about him possibly having miscalculated the journey for you. He's God. Let Him take control of your life and direct your paths. As Nouwen says, by trying to manage our own affairs we risk exhaustion, burnout, and depression. Galatians 3 is key here (particularly in The Message):
'Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.' Galatians 3: 2-3 (MSG)
Trust Him. No, really trust Him. Do you pray but then insist on adding a bit of extra worry to the mix as you think it'll bend the prayer into a better shape as it fights to get through to heaven? Stop trying to manipulate God. You'll just be chasing shadows. 'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.' 1 Corinthians 2:16 (ESV).
If we're to give our agendas to God, then we have to trust Him with the intricacies and mundanities, as well as the big, grand events of our lives. 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) And we can ask God for more of it.
BE READY FOR 'NO' AS WELL AS 'YES' (Genesis 29:31-30:23)
Often it's very easy to come to God with our own plans and agendas without really realising. We often come with concerns about the details, just needing to check how we could get from point A to point B. But then we can feel discouraged by a lack of spiritual reciprocity. Our plans and agendas may appear 'holy' and 'righteous' but they may simply be wrong for us right now. Not necessarily wrong in themselves, just wrong right now. God may be saying 'no'. If so, He has better plans. Theologian Jamie Atchley points out:
'When God closed Rachel’s womb there was no divine message to her explaining why. But Genesis 29:31 tells us that this was the Lord’s way of comforting Jacob’s other wife, Leah, for the fact that Rachel was loved by Jacob and she was not. Indeed, opening Leah’s womb and closing Rachel’s may have been the only way to secure Leah’s conjugal rights, for Jacob needed offspring, and only the wife he despised could give him children.' When God Says, 'No' – Jamie Atchley
The ultimate conclusion here is that God may say 'no' because it's not what he wants. It sounds straightforward, put like that! But just have courage to accept His loving wisdom and direction. He has the best in mind, better than we could ever think or imagine. Damn it can hurt! But we need to have courage and be ready – ready for a 'no' as well as a 'yes'. And like in the story of Rachel, that 'no' can, in time, become a 'yes!' (Genesis 30:22-23).
CONSIDER WHAT YOU'D ENJOY DOING (Amos 5:4)
In John 10:10, Jesus says, 'I have come that you may life and have it to the full.' (NIV). In Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 Solomon said that we are to 'eat and drink and find satisfaction in our work. This too is from the hand of God for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness.' (NIV). And in Amos 5:4 God commands us to 'Seek Me and live' (NIV). This is key. If you're looking to give God your agenda, then it goes hand in hand that you're 'seeking' Him. And if we do that, these three verses from John, Ecclesiastes and Amos have good news written all over them.
But how do we know if what we'd enjoy doing is the right thing, and isn't sin?! After all there's much that us carnal humans can indulge in that isn't healthy. So, if we're out to seek God's agenda, and He wants us to have real life, then consider what would actually give you that sense of real life. What would you enjoy doing? Really enjoy. Then test it. Does it compliment or contradict Scripture? Does it make common sense and is in line with the calling God has given you, and the immediate practical needs and responsibilities of your life etc.?
Don't destroy yourself. Be a light on a hill. Even when we're fasting we're told to wash our faces and not trudge along (Matthew 6:16). Consider and dwell on good things (Philippians 4:8-9).
RESET YOURSELF (Luke 22:42):
Developing our own agenda can be an attitude that creeps into our lives without us knowing. So it's important to brush it off regularly. Remember: real life is to be had in doing God's will and His will alone (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Psalm 118:24 says 'This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.' At the very least we should thank God for the day, even if we bury ourselves in ourselves for the next 24 hours. Just as there's order in daytime and nighttime so this verse suggests God wants us to use the same principles of order with Him. One day at a time. 'True to your word, you let me catch my breath' (Psalm 23:3 MSG).
Breathe spiritually. In and out. Praying what comes to mind and tuning in to a sense of God's presence and direction (Matthew 6:6). And sometimes we actually have to 'say' prayers. Often we resolve to pray about something, even if that's only to pray silently, but never go ahead and pray that prayer. Yes, the Spirit can pray in and for us (Romans 8), but maybe prayer is more effective when we fire off our prayers deliberately. If you're firing something at a target, you'd aim first– wouldn't you?! Focusing our minds on God in intercession like this also helps us to cultivate and grow our relationship with Him.
Do what you have to do. Get on your knees, or open your hands out in front of you, or just sit still for longer than 30 seconds! Whatever. He longs to meet you, embrace you, and guide you. And the ultimate example is Jesus. If Gethsemane teaches us one thing about giving our agendas to God, it's Christ's blood-sweated words: 'yet not my will, but yours be done.' (Luke 22:42 NIV) Pray it as you go.