October 25, 2020

The Grip Is Strong

We are a checklist-driven people. Give us a list of things to accomplish, and we are driven to check off every last one. That’s how we were in school. I have to take algebra to get out of here? Fine, I’ll take algebra. Check. Now that it’s done, I never have to deal with algebra again.  Read Shakespeare? Check. Now I’ll never have to read Shakespeare again.

Somehow that attitude has made it into our spiritual lives as well. We hear a sermon on bearing fruit. Check. Now I know all there is to bearing fruit. Don’t bore me with the same message. Give me something new. (Actually, our only role in bearing fruit is being a branch grafted onto the vine. It’s the vine’s responsibility to bear fruit in us. We just need to stay attached. But that’s another story. Besides, you’ve probably heard it already.) We always want to hear a new thing, be challenged in a new way, have our ears tickled by a new feather. And when we read Scripture it seems to be so Johnny-one-note. Faith. Trust. Believe in me. We want a list of things we are to do so we can check them off. Faith? Sure, I read a book on that once. Check.

Only God won’t play that game. He knows us way too well. We want to swim on the surface, he wants to drag us underwater where we can no longer rely on ourselves, where we will thrash about wildly, eyes bulging, head spinning, until we finally give in, let out all of our air, and … find we are now more alive than ever.

Faith. It is—at least for me —going to be a lifelong lesson. It’s not a class we attend, get a passing grade, then sell our texts back to the bookstore and move on. Just when I think I have a handle on how I am to trust the Lord, another wave comes and knocks me off of my raft and pulls me under once again. So why, oh why, is it so hard for me to learn to trust the Lord?

I think I’m beginning to see why. The problem is Jeff Dunn. I want to keep my hand firmly gripped on my life. Sure, I’ll talk a good game when it comes to faith, but when it comes down to it, I still trust me more than this invisible God. Give me my checklist, please. I can do that. With one hand holding the clipboard, and the other holding tightly to myself, I can bring my thoughts under control, my words into line, my actions up to par. Check. Check. Check. Next?

Several years ago God grew tired of seeing me flounder around, and decided it was time for him to get me off of the surface and into the depths where he dwells. Wave after wave have come at me. Situations in my home. Situations in my work. Bills piling up, some with the lovely words “Disconnect Notice” across the top. Other events in my life that I cannot understand in any way, shape or form. Pound! Pound! Pound! Just how tight is my grip that the Lord has to hit me so hard over and over to get me to release it?

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do  (John 9:1-3, The Message).

I have searched my heart to see if there is some hidden sin in there somewhere, but what I keep coming back to is this story of Jesus and his disciples encountering the blind man. If my trials were caused by sin, why I could simply repent and things would get better, right? Once again, I would be in control. “No,” Jesus would say. “Stop looking for something you did to bring about these trials. There is no cause-effect in play here. Instead, look for what God can do.” And just what is he wanting to do?

He is wanting to get me to not rely on my own efforts or abilities in any way. He does not come and say, “Give it your best effort. When you’ve done all you can, then I’ll help you.” No—he wants me to abandon myself entirely to him and let him do it all. All. Everything. I know this goes against so much of what we’ve been taught. The fact that “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible doesn’t mean it doesn’t get taught in churches from coast to coast each Sunday. We’re told if we just give more effort, we too can become a man after God’s own heart like David. (These teachers apparently have not read Lisa Dye’s excellent piece on David and the rich young ruler. You, of course, have—haven’t you?) If we can give more money, God will open the windows of Heaven and shower us with riches. We need to become useful to the Lord. We—we—we, all the way home.

I want to be good. I want to be useful. I want to have a character others would say is good. I want to have a sterling reputation. I want to be Dave Ramsey debt free. But I’m learning God wants something totally different than I want.

God wants me to die. Jesus came for one reason alone: to raise the dead. And what isn’t dead can’t be resurrected. If I insist on keeping a firm grip on my life, how can I die so that Jesus can live his life through me? Maybe this is fundamental for most of you, but for one such as I who has heard since the beginning all of the things I need to do to be a “good Christian,” dying comes hard. How can I trust God to provide for me if I’m not out looking for a better-paying job? How can trust him for my health if I’m not following some Body-By-God diet? And how in the world can I trust him for something that is flat-out impossible?

I want to know the “how” and “why” before I commit to believing. But therein lies the rub. If I know how and why, then I don’t need to have faith. Why trust in something I can explain myself? Faith, real life-changing faith, is impossible for us. We will continue to struggle to reach back up to the surface and gasp air, not drown in water. But what is impossible for man is possible for God. Jeremiah writes, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose trust is the Lord. ” There are times when we can, on our own, trust in the Lord. Then there are times when the circumstances are too ridiculous for us to muster up even the tiniest speck of faith. It’s at that time when the Lord himself becomes our trust. In the end, the faith I have in the Lord is not even my faith. It is the faith of the Son of God living in me.

So forgive me if my knuckles are bone-white and the skin on my hands raw, but I have been gripping tightly to my life, and the Lord is removing that grip one finger at a time. You’d think I would have learned by now, but I am a stubborn cuss. Pray for me, will you?



  1. From one with a desperate grip to another. Am put in mind of Charles de Foucault’s prayer (of abandonment as it has become known).

  2. Thanks, Jeff. I can’t tell you how much I needed this this week.

  3. I’m back. Glad to see this blog didn’t go anywhere.

  4. Our grip is so often on our life..or our project(s).

    His strong grip is firmly on us.

    • Our projects… a lot of time that means our ministry. This is another place where we so often and so disastrously tighten our grip and insist on steering. All the while the Holy Spirit is waiting for the space we will not give for working through us in the lives of others.
      Thanks for the word, Jeff.

  5. “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
    Thank you for writing this, Jeff.
    Peace, Brian

  6. David Cornwell says

    ” Jesus came for one reason alone: to raise the dead. And what isn’t dead can’t be resurrected. ”


  7. Father, please give our brother Jeff ( and all the rest of us) the faith that, if we are underwater long enough, You will give us a set of gills. Amen.

  8. “I want to be useful…God wants me to die.”

    Jeff, if those words were the only thing you had written in this post, it would be worth reading over and over and over. Great, great post…

  9. Yes yes yes! Great post! We all need to hear this over and over.

  10. ” I want to keep my hand firmly gripped on my life. Sure, I’ll talk a good game when it comes to faith, but when it comes down to it, I still trust me more than this invisible God.”

    This is me – precisely! I just thank “this invisible God” that He has made Himself known to my trusting heart more than to my overthinking mind. My mind will never give me the peace that the Holy Spirit has given my heart.

    Thanks Jeff. This will be a continual struggle for me also here on earth, don’t feel alone.

  11. Jeff-

    I’m not trying to be difficult as I say this but for me you capture some of the problems that I have with faith. If God is love what type of loving God strings someone along and doesn’t communicate to him? Would you do that to your son? Why would a loving God ignore you? Why play that act? If God is everything that we are led to believe than he would communicate to you what needs to change, improve, sin going on ,etc.. Why beat yourself up over this issue. Especially if its nothing! Thsi is part of the concern I have about faith. You beat yourself up and manufacture guilt in the process. Please don’t add to your suffering by tormenting yourself in the process.

    • David Cornwell says

      Not trying to argue with you here, and believe me I understand what you are saying. And I know that this isn’t a satisfying answer. But some things remain in the category of great mystery, and ultimately the problem of evil in all of its forms is one of those things. It’s beyond our logic and understanding. It remains just outside our reach…

      • David Cornwell says

        I’m sure my reply here isn’t very clear, but I see the problem of a God who seems not to answer, who ignores our pleas, who can’t be found as in the same mysterious area as that of evil. Because it’s when trouble assails us, that we notice a God who isn’t here.

    • I won’t attempt to argue with you, either, for the issues you raise are totally valid, and the feelings those questions bring are totally reasonable to have. But I will attempt to offer something to think about…

      “If God is love what type of loving God strings someone along and doesn’t communicate to him? Would you do that to your son? Why would a loving God ignore you?”

      It’s easy for me to imagine that those were the same questions and feelings that went through Jesus’ mind on his way to and hanging on the cross. I think when he took all the world’s sins upon himself, he was totally separated in spirit and connection with his Heavenly Father. This leads me to two points:

      1) Through Jesus Christ His Son, God knows exactly those questions and feelings we have when we feel separated and disconnected from Him. He has lived as we have. That’s probably the main reason I have chosen to believe in the God of the Bible, New Testament and Old, because that God is the one who can totally relate to “What kind of loving God would string me along and ignore me?”

      2) Those questions all come about because of the broken-ness in the world and what sin does to our God-intended relationship with Him. I believe God’s intent was/is to have total and continual connection and communication with us. I believe sin destroyed/destroys that connection. Failure on our part does not make it a failure on God’s part.

      Just a couple of things to think about, Eagle.

      • Rick…I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m trying to get answers that I can believe. The trouble about the suffering of Jesus at Calvary is that it didn’t have to happen. God could have forgiven the world of all sin. Would that have been to hard for the God who created the earth, universe and all that is within? Plus I would think God would have wanted to do something like that so as to save his own son.

        I do agree with you on sin. When I look at the world I see nothing but sin today. The real question is why does it exist and what do you do with sin.

        • this reminds me of last weeks post from Craig Bubeck. I’m gonna revisit that one.

        • Imagine someone breaks into your home at night, and murders every one of your family members while you are away on a business trip for the weekend. You get a phone call of the news and decide to come home to go to the hearing at court of the man who was caught. After providing all the evidence that convicts him, the judge then announces, “Well since I am a loving and forgiving judge, I will let you go.” What would happen…you would demand for justice. Your heart would scream for justice that the law be upheld and this man be punished for his heinous crimes. There would be public outrage. You would write to local newspapers saying that there is a judge on the bench more wicked and vile than the people he lets go free. There is a convicted killer back roaming the streets who will no doubt do the same thing to another family.

          We as humans were created with a conscience, we have a sense of right and wrong. And because of that we have a sense of justice. If we demand that type of justice from our worldly leaders, how can we expect any less from God, who is INFINITELY just. God is 100% love for sure, but He is 100% every other good attribute (good, holy, righteous, all-powerful, all-knowing, etc). Simply from a logical standpoint, by saying “why couldn’t God be loving instead of just,”–you are implying that God’s love is unjust.

          We have committed crimes not just against another person–we have committed crimes against an INFINITE God. What we’ve done towards God is far worse than anything we could ever do to another human, since the object whom we’ve sinned against is God, who is perfect. If God is good then by definition He must be against that which is evil. If you love people, then by definition you must hate abortion. If you love Jews, then you must by definition hate the holocaust. And since God is good and loving and just, He simply cannot turn a cheek at what we’ve done. But the Good News is that He provided a way out!! (But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)).

  12. Thanks for this, Jeff. As someone who is witnessing some awful stuff at the church I attend, and who is seeing ungraceful actions on the part of Godly men and women, this is such a great reminder to avoid weighing in with what *I* want, and give it all totally to God. I am so disappointed and discouraged by my fellow Christian friends and leaders that I just want to cling to God and Jesus right now…

    • When I said, “I am so disappointed and discouraged by my fellow Christian friends and leaders that I just want to cling to God and Jesus right now…” I should make it known that I humbly include myself in with those I’m disappointed in and discouraged with. Why I ever listened to God’s calling for me to let my name run for our church Board, I’ll never know… 😉

  13. Amen!

  14. I will pray for you! And also, I appreciate your message. I have really been struggling this week with other sorts of things (basically just feeling unsure where to call home, spiritually-speaking, feeling scared/depressed, etc: the usual with ruthless introspective sorts like me!). But your meditation seemed oddly appropriate. Thank you for sharing it!

  15. From one stubborn cuss to another, Jeff — praying for you. Please do likewise for me; I’m learning the same lesson.