Living by the Spirit When Life Gets Crazy
- Jennifer Slattery JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com
- 2014 7 Aug
With summer nearing its end and I’m starting to dread yet another crazy school year. If only I could pack a few extra hours into each day—make that twelve—then perhaps I could maintain some semblance of sanity when everything around me turns chaotic.
Christ said he came to give me abundant life (John 10:10). He promised to grant me peace. So why do most days feel as if I’ve got one foot on a conveyor belt and the other on a treadmill—moving in the opposite direction?
I know my peace comes from the God of peace, but how can I live by the Spirit when life gets crazy?
One frantic morning, I woke up late only to rush headlong into one mess-up after another. I spilled coffee grounds on the counter, dropped my daughter’s lunch on the floor then stepped in it, effectively grinding banana goo deep into the tile. Before long, my surly mood turned contagious, and my daughter and I began to argue. It wasn’t pretty. Or Christ-like.
Grabbing my phone, a very unspiritual scowl etching permanent wrinkles in my forehead, I stomped toward the car only to find the tank was on empty. And I’d left my purse inside.
In more of a vent than a prayer, my heart cried out: Could this day possibly get worse, Lord?
God’s reply? Yes. But it can also get better, if you would but take the time to connect with me.
Spending time with God sounds counter-intuitive when the very thing we lack is time itself. And yet, attempting to navigate our day without the Holy Spirit’s help is like taking a road trip without programming the GPS. We might get on the road faster, but we’ll waste a great deal of time circling the back roads without getting anywhere.
Pause to consider the words in Psalm 139. Speaking of God and his infinite, intimate knowledge, David says:
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“You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say before I even before I say it, LORD. … You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day passed.”
In other words, God knows everything! Every hurdle or stressor we’re going to face and every callous or self-defeating word we’re going to speak. He sees everything before the chaos hits. Going before and following behind us, with his hand of blessing on our heads (vs. 5), he longs to guide us through it all. If we would but tune our heart and ears to his gentle, ever-present Spirit, so that, wether we turn to the right or to the left, our ears will hear a voice behind us, saying, "This is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21).
One day, when my daughter was young, I determined to follow every nudging I perceived from God. My goal was two-fold: To learn to discern God’s voice, something I believed would come through practice, and to discover and follow God’s leading in every area of my life. It seemed silly at the time, to ask for guidance on such trivial matters such as when to mop the floor or which grocery store to shop at. But I was learning to commune with God throughout the day, regardless of what lay ahead.
I found my two goals worked together. By intentionally turning my focus to the Holy Spirit’s leading, I better learned to recognize his voice. Similarly, by responding with surrendered obedience when I sensed his leading, I became more sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
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If you have accepted Jesus Christ into your life as your Lord and Savior, you already have the Holy Spirit living within you (Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:9 and 11). But just like that GPS sitting on our dash, to receive the utmost benefit, we need to engage. The problem is, when we encounter stress, anxiety, frustration, and the general chaos of living in the 21st century, we often spend more time chasing fires than connecting with and surrendering to our power source.
The problem is, chasing fires only works against us and leaves us feeling defeated. It’s like staring at a plate of cookies, telling ourselves again and again we can’t eat them. The more we think of the forbidden treat, the stronger its pull. To be victorious, we must allow something else to dominate our thoughts.
This is especially true in the spiritual realm. According Galatians 5:17, at every moment, we are either dominated by our sinful nature or controlled by the Spirit.
“The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17 NLT).
In other words, we can’t conquer our sin—our selfishness, angst, snarky and sarcastic responses—by trying harder. Rather, the chaos within is annihilated when we draw near to Christ, giving the Holy Spirit full access to the deepest, darkest, most frantic recesses of our heart.
In other words, we experience the peace and power of the Holy Spirit through surrender.
“So I say, let the Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT).
Ah, but now we’re back to our original problem! How can we take time to connect with the Holy Spirit when we hardly have time to brush our teeth?
The Bible is full of stories of overcoming the impossible. How could a group of beaten down slaves possibly escape a powerful nation intent on keeping them in bondage? (Exodus 1-14) How could the nation of Israel cross a raging river in the middle of flood season (Joshua 3)? How could a young shepherd boy defeat a mammoth, vicious tyrant (1 Samuel 17)?
How can we possibly take time for God when we have absolutely no time?
God’s answer to us is the same as it was for all the men and women recorded in the Bible. “It is not by force nor by strength, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Zechariah 4:6 NLT).
In other words, if we put God first, and allow him full reign of our day, he’ll take care of everything else. Time factor included. And we can do this at any juncture. While we’re waiting at the stoplight, rather than feeding our inner angst by fretting over every second lost, we can turn to God in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to replace our anxiety with peace. While we’re standing in the grocery aisle, fretting over the cost of chicken, we can pause to remember God’s faithfulness, asking him to fix our thoughts on those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely (Philippians 4:8).
Because here’s the secret—praise and chaos cannot coexist. When one grows stronger, the other grows weaker. This is more than just a mind-over-matter thing. There’s something immensely spiritual, Spirit-filled, about praising God. I believe Paul verifies this when he says, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-19 NLT).
Pausing to praise initiates a beautiful cycle. The more we praise God for who he is and what he’s done, the more our hearts open to the working of the Holy Spirit. The more our hearts are opened to God’s Spirit, the greater our praise until the peace God promised, the kind that surpasses human understanding, fills us our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6-17).
You see, it isn’t so much us getting more of the Holy Spirit. We already have that. It’s really a matter of giving him more access to us. I love what Francis Chan says on page 20 in his book, Forgotten God: “God is not just one thing we add to the mix called life. He wants an invitation to permeate everything and every part of us.”
The good news is, this invitation doesn’t take a lot of effort or spiritual gymnastics. Rather, it’s initiated by a simple prayer. Because as James 4:8 promises, the moment we take one step toward God, he’s already drawing near to us.
What are some ways you can center yourselves in Christ today? How can you pause to remember his guiding, strength-and-peace-giving presence amidst the chaos? Will you? If you do, I believe you’ll find it is possible to live by the Spirit, even when your world turns crazy. And in doing so, you just might find, he’ll turn your crazy into calm.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects, and currently writes missional romance novels for New Hope Publishers.
Publication date: August 7, 2014