Keith, what if we have let God in our lives and into the driver’s seat and nothing happened?  I still have the same struggles that I have always had.  Is there ever a way out?  I am really wondering and feel as though I am constantly in a spiritual battle between God and the devil.  Thanks,  R.

This is a question that most Christians don’t have the guts to ask.  And yet for anyone who has consciously and seriously tried to put God in the driver’s seat of her or his life, it is the question to ask.

There are a couple of times Jesus dealt directly with that question.  “What’s necessary to put God in the driver’s seat where the decisions are made?”   One is recorded in Matt. 19.  A rich young man came to Jesus and told him that he wanted to quit being a listener and start being one of Jesus’ committed disciples—which in terms of our conversation would be saying, “I am ready to put the God you call Father in the driver’s seat of my life.”

Jesus said in effect, “Great, “If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”

The young man said, “What in particular?

Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”

(R., can you say that you are following what Jesus says?  I suspect you are from the tone of your inquiry.)  Anyway, the young man said in effect, “I’ve done all that.”  (I’ve put God in the driver’s seat and am willing to keep all his commandments.)

Then Jesus must have looked at the man and said, “This young man is a serious player.”  But then Jesus says something completely of the wall.  He asked the young man to give up the thing that was really most important to him that wasn’t even a “bad” thing, but was the thing that bottom-line motivated and determined his most crucial decisions (what was really in the driver’s seat of his life—but he had never seen it that way.)  Jesus told him that if you really want to trust God with your whole life, then, “go sell all your possessions; give everything to the poor.  All your wealth will then be in heaven.  Then come follow me.”

What I think Jesus is saying to the young man, and what I heard  him saying to me (that for years stopped me in my tracks) was that I already had a god sitting in the driver’s seat of my life—in fact several as it turned out–and until I was willing to see and admit that something or someone who was not God was the most important thing in my life (“in the driver’s seat determining my private decisions”), I could not really surrender my whole life to God at all.

The young man in the story’s response was: “That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so crestfallen, he walked away.  He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.[1]

What Jesus does still, it seems to me, is to help us see that when we come and want to follow God totally, we already have a god we do not realize is a trump card to our attempts to put God in the driver’s seat (or maybe several gods that we obey when they call.)  The young man’s god was his money, or possessions.  And until we see and admit that these gods which unconscious to us are already in the driver’s seat, we are not free to surrender our whole lives to God and are baffled that we are constantly in internal battles we don’t understand.

I was absolutely shocked when I tried to see what was really most important to me—because consciously God was number one.  Some of the things I have had to admit were keeping me from surrendering my whole life were—at different times—financial security, sexual fantasies or actions, the love of my wife or one of my children (more than anything), my vocational success, drinking too much, my reputation as a fine Christian man, and my writing and speaking ministry.  A mentor helped me realize that each of these things was at times more important than God, when I would spend time thinking about and doing one of them to the detriment of my clear duties as a father, husband, and Christian man “surrendered wholly to God.”  Many of these things were not even “bad” things, but they kept my focus on me and what I wanted, instead of what I knew was the priority of God for me, and were detrimental to my growing up to be the man God had in mind for me to become.[2]

But after many years of meeting with other men and women wanting to follow Jesus and be his people, I finally realized that although I can’t just “put God first,” I can tell him that I am willing to, and give Him permission to show me those things that I have consciously and unconsciously put in the driver’s seat of my life and relationships.  In fact working with individuals and small groups to help them –and me—to discover, confess and commit God those other hidden gods, so that together we can uncover and achieve the dreams and vocations God has for each us—this became my life’s work for God. 

These positive changes in direction came about when some bad decisions I made because of obeying some of the competitive gods I had not faced caused me such pain that I became willing to surrender my entire life to God, realizing that only He could give me the courage and insight to even want Him that much.

But the other part of what happened when I specifically set out to give God permission to sit in the driver’s seat in my life was that I agreed to start doing the disciplines that could help me learn how God wants me to live.  For me this has entailed learning all I could about what Jesus said the Father wants us to do in the new Kingdom (Reign) of God in his people’s lives.  I read the scriptures, concentrating first on the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-2), the parables, and the teachings of Jesus describing the character and purposes of God, realizing that God wants us to live out of these same characteristics.  That includes loving the poor and marginalized people, but also Jesus said people will know we are his followers by the way we (Christians) love each other.  (John 13:35)   And I prayed almost every day about what I was learning, asking God to show me where my life needed to be different, and to help me to stop clinging to my old ways of running my life as I learned how to let God be in control.

And when I saw how Jesus said God wants us to live, I examined my life and saw not only the false gods in the driver’s seat, but also self-centeredness everywhere.  And when I discovered I had hurt someone I had to learn to confess to God, then go and confess to the person I had harmed and make amends to that person.  All of this became part of a running conversation with God about the life of loving I was discovering that I’d always wanted to live but was afraid to try because I might look “pious” or “holier than thou.”  Now I don’t care.  I just want to love people and learn how to use the gifts God has given me in the process.

And all I can tell you is that what has happened to me has made me more loving, aware of my good traits as well as those which derail my best intensions and conscious motivations.

I started not to tell you all this, but since I found that God accepts us the minute we come to him in as complete trust as we have, I have discovered the life I always suspected might be out there somewhere for me.  I am still only a child trying to obey his intimate heavenly “daddy.”  But I also care enough about you to tell you these things, whatever you may think me.  And that—as anyone who has known me many years will tell you—is a real miracle.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

John 13:34-35

 The Message


“I am talking about a revolutionary way of living. Religion isn’t something to be added to our other duties, and thus make our lives more complex. The life with God is the center of life, and all else is remodeled and integrated by it. It gives singleness of eye. The most important thing is not to be perpetually passing out cups of cold water to a thirsty world. We can get so fearlessly busy trying to carry out the second commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” that we are undeveloped in our devoted life to God as well as neighbor”

Thomas Merton

A Testament of Devotion


“We live in a world of unreality and dreams. To give up our imaginary position as the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence…. To empty ourselves of our false divinity, to deny ourselves, to give up being the center of the world in imagination, to discern that all points in the world are equally centers and the true center is outside the world, this is to consent…. Such consent is love.”

Simone Weil

Waiting for God


“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.  We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.  We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.  Self-seeking will slip away.  Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.  We will intuitively know how to handle situations which use to baffle us.  We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises?  We think not.  They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.  They will always materialize if we work for them.” 

Alcoholics Anonymous

Third Edition, page 83-84


P.S. If you want to check out a way a Christian or group of Christians can use the 12 Steps as a guide to spiritual wholeness see A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth. 

[1] If you want to see a case in which Jesus did the same kind of helping someone see the ‘god’ that was already in the driver’s seat of her life, but upon seeing that god was ready to put Jesus’ God first, see the story of the woman at the well—and what happened to her life when she made the decision to put God before her secret god (i.e. Relationships with men—or sex.)  See John 4.

[2] R. – I am not suggesting that you have any particular ‘gods’—just sharing what happened to me when I faced this very question.

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