I Don’t Let Go; I Don’t Let God

Most of we Christians understand “Let go and let God” as our #1 goal in life. We believe that the quality of our lives will be determined by the degree to which we are able to substitute God’s will for our own.

And it sounds so easy! “Let go and let God” makes it seem like substituting God’s will for our own is as easy as changing from our work clothes into our bathrobe.

But it’s hardly that simple a transaction, is it? It’s not because we need our personal, individualized human will, like we need our next breath. Our will is our life. We so need and desire our will that we’d fight to the death anyone who tried to take it from us.

God’s will is a wonderful thing, no doubt. But God is up in heaven, where needs are few if they exist at all. We, meanwhile, are down here on earth, where needs are many and never cease. All of our pretenses not withstanding, what we’re trying to do out here is survive. And surviving means getting stuff for ourselves. Food, water, clothing, shelter: securing such things for ourselves and loved ones means exercising our will, not God’s.

If we don’t work, we don’t get paid—and then everything for us crumbles. And God is not going to do our work for us. We must put our shoulder to the plow; we must bend our backs, and work. It’s our responsibility.

“Through painful toil you will eat of [the ground], all the days of your life,” said God to Adam.

I won’t ask God if I should work today, or get dressed, or take care of the house, or drive my wife to work, or fulfill my myriad obligations. None of us asks God if we should do the zillions of things we need to do every single day. We just do them. We can deny it as vigorously as we might, but the fact remains that God is peripheral to the majority of our lives. We can pray before we eat; we can give thanks afterward. But when we’re actually eating, it’s all us.

My point is not that, try though we might, we can never really give any substantive amount of our will over to God. It’s that we too often fail to realize what a monumentally cataclysmic thing it would be to do that. Yes, I can decide to let God’s will take over my own. But doing that means that I better be prepared to leave behind the life I know, and begin one of abject poverty, of attachment to nothing, of unending emotional and physical vulnerability. I better be prepared to have my life gutted, stripped, subject to ruination by any standard I know.

I better be ready to be lowered into mud like Jeremiah, to subsist on insects like John the Baptist, to live the agonizing anguish of Isaiah. Because those of the rules. If you offer your all to God, that’s what He’s going to take. All.

If I want God to take over my life, then I better be prepared to have me obliterated.

I’m not willing to do that. I’m willing to let God inform my life, but not run it altogether. I’m simply not brave enough for that.

Are you?

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  • *that was meant to be "God"

  • #1 goal: Don't forget. Death is coming.

  • Sarah

    Why would poverty be "evil"? We can't pretend to know what God's definition of our good is.

  • Did someone equate poverty with evil?

  • I think a lot of that kind of Christian verbiage is motivated by a desire to make our relationship with God sound interactive. If I talk as if God is interacting with me, then I feel like he is noticing me. That is my giving the benefit of the doubt explanation. On the cynical side, I think a lot of the talk gives an illusion of spirituality without actually doing anything productive.

    Unless God talks to me… I just have to move on through life as best I can.

  • Sarah

    Ah, good, John…it wasn't just me.

  • jennie

    Wow -A very honest assessment of the human condition. But, I believe our relationship with God helps enhance the human condition — nothing to fear! "He must increase, but I must decrease." I don't think you're obliterated, just allowing Him to increase in your life, making you an even better person.

    I so appreciate your honesty — how many of us do really think that way but aren't brave enough to admit it? But, i don't always do so well just being informed by God — I think I need Him to pretty much take over and show me who I really am and what my life is meant to be.

    Thanks John, for always making us think!

  • Tim

    On soooo many levels "I feel ya' dog!". But to be completely honest, the God that I worship made me to utilize my will where it applies to me living in an imperfect world. Of course I will muck it up and make mistakes. That is why He (Jesus) came to die in my place to cover those mistakes. THANK YOU LORD!!! I often pray that I might decrease that He would increase. I know that my will is not always going to be conformed to His. The spirit is willing but the flesh sucks big-time. I think what we DO get right, is simply WANTING our ways, thoughts, deeds and decisions to be led by His revealed wisdom and leadership. It isn't as much of an ALL OR NOTHING deal as you seem to project. It is human nature to make things harder than they really are. Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. And damn-it if I don't believe Him. Thanks for the provoking post. Have a good one, John.

    BTW, I gave the loki email a ration re: your pirated work.

  • Hmmmmm…I'm seeing this one from a different angle, I think. Eating, grooming, working, etc–when we do those things, we're working from the abilities God gives us. So the part about me being obliterated…is kind of dead-on, since our new identity is Christ-in-us—eg I am Christ-in-Skerrib. He gives us the freedom to take control of things we have control of…but only 'cuz he gives us that control, you know? The harder part sometimes is discerning what we can & cannot control.

  • Alan19

    When I read the part about allowing God control means a life…

    "of abject poverty, of attachment to nothing, of unending emotional and physical vulnerability. I better be prepared to have my life gutted, stripped, subject to ruination by any standard I know."

    …I couldn't help but think, "Then the people of Haiti must be pretty close to doing God's will now. After all, they're suffering terribly."

    It seems to me that Christianity has too great an emphasis on suffering, perhaps due to an early focus on martyrs. I don't think feeling terrible makes people better. It certainly doesn't make me better, only more angry and bitter.

    And it reminds me a little too much of salvation by works…ie "if you suffer enough you're a good Christian"…the kind of thing that Martin Luther opposed.

  • LIke Andrew, I think this type of "Christian verbage" is specious. At the risk of sounding cynical (ah the hell with it, I AM cynical!) I think this type of language is used to primarily promote some type of approved or favorable behavior. But approved by whom? (Is that right, "whom"?)

    My church is very proud (not a good thing IMHO) to be a "call based" church. God calls each and everyone of us to serve him in a certain way and if we are listening our response should be "I am here, Lord" and go about whatever it is that God thinks we are best suited for. Or so it goes.

    I doubt that God is such a control freak. I think God calls all of us -every man, woman and child on the planet- to do the same damn thing: Love one another and Love God. Can't do one without the other- it's the divine Beast with Two Backs.

    So what we end up doing, all of us, every day and every action, is something we CHOOSE to do because we WANT to do it or it is the only thing we are COMFORTABLE doing or perhaps it is because others have convinced us or forced us to do it. God doesn't care if we are washing lepers, feeding the homeless or sleeping until noon or selling smokes and beers at 7-Eleven. As long as we are keeping God, in some way, in the picture. "God walks among the pots and pans".

    Just my 20 cents.

  • onemansbeliefs

    "If you offer your all to God, that’s what He’s going to take. All."

    Oh, but what He gives in return is far greater than what you had to begin with.

    I know…

  • Diana

    Boy, did you touch a nerve!

    I think the reason why so many on this thread are arguing so vociferously is because you're right.

    It's been said that most of us "Christians" get just enough exposure to Christianity so as to inoculate us from catching the real thing.

    No wonder so many of the various people called to serve God in the Bible wanted only to run away. Even Jesus prayed "Father, take this cup from me," and Jesus was/is God.

    If even God can't handle his own demands without flinching, of course we're going to run away.

    Thanks for scaring me to death, John. I'm going to go bury my head in the sand now.

  • As long as God willed me to eat two cookies and a piece of cake at work today, I can rest assured that I'm 100% submitted to Him.

    But if that wasn't Him, then I guess I'm just a narcissistic sinner gaining mass by the minute.

  • (Hey, for what it's worth, I've way cleaned up the link I posted above; this one:


    The language I originally used was too abstract. I had to rewrite it quickly, cuz dinner's on, but … it should be clearer now.


  • wow! yeah if we let God take over our will, v better be ready for all of that and accept it if it happens- but that does not mean v shud be expecting it, Go isnt sittin there with a hammer to crush us when v surrender our selves – i mean what happened to “I know the plans i have for u, they are plans for good n not for evil, to give u a future n a hope?’

  • Of course, it's not possible for me to in any satisfactory way address each of these comments. But, by way of maybe clarifying what I meant to say with this post, here's something I just posted on (two-person) exchange about this post that's on my Facebook page:

    "No one's arguing that a Christian should do his best to as often as possible surrender his will to God's. But if you're honest about your life and relationship to God, you know that the maxim "Let go and let God"—which is to say the idea that if you were just godly enough, you COULD stop acting in "your own strength"—is absurdly … See Moresimplistic, and nothing near reasonable. You watch out for you own. You take care of yourself and your family. You make ten trillion decisions a day, and never for a moment consult God first. Because you don't have time. Because you don't REALLY feel that need. Because that's not the way it works. Never has. Never will. Isn't supposed to."

  • Oh, and here's something I once wrote about Christianity and suffering:


  • Stephanie

    I'm really glad to know it's not just me! I'd been tested to the extreme (in my opinion) and had my whole identity and belongings obliterated, leaving me helpless, hapless, and completely dependent on a Christian family's grace and love (and their space, and their mother having to bathe me everyday). I thought that was already very testing, because I was a prideful person and I would rather heave a cupboard up 5 flights of stairs myself than ask for help. Anyway, since that fateful near-death encounter last year, I'm closer to God (I hope) and I know He's capable of amazing love and providence. What I also have is that gnawing fear of being tested like THAT again, and I don't want it!! I know, that's not the whole aim of my trial, but anyway, God knows and He's dealing with me in His own way.

    … and I still don't want it.

  • Something else I just added to the little FB dialogue: Someone wrote, “I believe you go as far as you can go and let God carry you the rest of the way.” My answer:

    Yeah, that’s the way. What’s interesting, though, is the ratio of one to the other. Christians are pretty huge on the idea that they do, or certainly should, give over the lion’s share of their will to God–that over at least 50% of the will they exercise each and every day SHOULD be God’s, and not theirs. But even the most cursory consideration of the truth will show that, in fact, we very much operate as if we’re entirely autonomous, entirely on our own. And I think it’s very important that we begin to appreciate the degree and ways in which we really ARE on our own, and what that truth might mean to us relative to a truer understanding of our relationship to God.

    In other words, we don’t act autonomously because we’re weak Christians. We do it because THAT’S the system God designed for us. What’s interesting is why.

  • Claudia S

    This is so fascinating. I don’t know many Christians but I was under the impression that generally speaking most Christians do indeed ask God’s input all the time, in all areas of life. Moreover I was under the impression that they were suggesting I find a way to do the same.

    So you don’t really ask God about your job and your day-to-day responsibilities? You don’t need Him to tell you what, when, and how, all the time, every day? Or have I misunderstood?

    What I really want to know is: If you do ask Him something, does He answer? I’m not talking big-special-effects-budget, voice-from-the-sky type of answer. Someone once described it as “a still small voice” (and yes, I do know that that comes out of the Bible). Really? Is God really there, and does He really answer, even if only in your own heart/mind? The possibility is astounding to me, but maybe that’s just because I’ve never experienced it. Maybe Christians experience it often and are familiar and comfortable with it. How cool must that be?

  • Wendi

    How very sad that so many Christians still don't get it. I'm in my early 40s and God is still teaching me to trust Him. But one thing I have learned is that God's will is for my good as well as His. I believe Jeremiah 29:11 applies to all of us. I don't believe God wants to hurt His children any more than any good parent does. When I think of how much my earthly parents love me and have high hopes for my happiness and success, I am reminded of how much more my heavenly Father loves me, so He must want good things for me. His Word says He will not withhold "any good gift" from us. Do you really believe that God wants you to live in "abject poverty"? I pray that God will show you and others (myself included) who struggle with this issue that HIS will is ALWAYS better for us than our own – and not in the "eat your vegetables because they're good for you" sort of way, but I believe God's will working in my life will make me HAPPIER. Ultimately, it's about trusting God to take care of us. When we're not willing to let go, and let God we are putting all of our faith in ourselves and our own abilities, essentially becoming our own gods — that's idolatry!

  • Wendi (and others): I didn't say God wants anyone to live in abject poverty. What I said was that if I'm going to truly give my life over to God, I better be prepared to leave virtually everything I now know and own behind. How very sad that so many Christians still don't get that they shouldn't leap right into criticizing something they haven't first carefully read.

  • Kara

    I like this topic.

    It's always bothered me when people talk about how horrible it is to do anything "in your own strength". Every ability I have is God-given. Our relationship with God is designed to be a two-way relationship, not a one-way relationship. And obviously, I'm always going to be the one doing the living in this body God gave me. I'm not going to literally be possessed and taken over by God, at which point there will no longer be any "me".

    I'm very, very different from my younger brother. In personality, in interests, in skills. He's a Christian, I'm a Christian. No matter how much we let go, we're still going to be living from our strengths. Doing things that were in our power as humans. But doing things in our own strength when we can (full-knowing that God gave us those strengths) and turning to God for the things we can't do on our own, that seems like a realistic and reasonable plan to me.

    In my experience the whole "don't try to do anything in your own strength," bit usually seems to come from people who are stuck exclusively in a Potter/Clay mentality and can't see the Friend/Friend relationship Christ talked about. Humans are powerless to save ourselves. That doesn't mean that our strength is worthless. God gave our strength, our human capabilities, to us for a reason. To use for His glory. So I generally try to do all that I do for the glory of God and cast all my cares upon Him, instead of worrying about if I'm doing a good enough job at throwing my hands up and "letting God".

    I don't have the time to get into it now, but I think a lot of this also comes back to the age-old "we have free will vs. God has predetermined everything" debate that's so much fun. /sarcasm If you think everything's been pre-ordained by God, and that He chose every event that transpires, then you're more likely to focus on Letting go and Letting God. I'm a free-willer, myself. I think I have a responsibility in a lot of things, and in whether they go pear-shaped or not. I think God expects me to do my part, not ignore my responsibilities then say it must have been God's plan that it turn out this way.

    (Disclaimer: I'm not saying John made any of the points I'm arguing against. It's all about the topic in general, and points I've heard expressed explicitly or implicitly over the years. I <3 John Shore.)

  • Well said Kara!

  • Diana

    “What I said was that if I’m going to truly give my life over to God, I better be prepared to leave virtually everything I now know and own behind.”

    Yeah, that’s what’s so frightening. And you’re absolutely right and that’s why people are arguing with you.

    It’s not that God doesn’t have our best interests at heart. It’s that God has everybody’s best interests at heart and those of us who are older in the faith are expected to sacrifice more, just as more is expected of a 10 year old than a 2 year old. Jesus, the firstborn, went to the cross. And wasn’t it Jesus who said on several occasions “Take up your cross and follow me?”

  • Yeah, I mean … people can, as you note, get pretty weird around questions of relative adherence to God. I saw a bit (more) of that, for instance, when I wrote this piece:


    Anyway, thank you.

  • At the risk of seeming like … THAT guy, here's a thing I once wrote called "Free Will vs. Predestination: Can't Anyone Give Me a HARD Problem to Solve?" It's here:


  • Kara

    Concur wholeheartedly, John, and thanks for the clarifications. I especially agree regarding the reality that there are some things we're never, ever going to be able to fully understand. Just another area where I'll continue to do my best and seek Him, and know that I did what I could.

  • Kara

    Awesome article, John. I, uh, do have a few questions, though, if that’s okay. (If it’s way off-topic, or you’re too busy, or if you just don’t want to, feel free to tell me to go watch Chinese soccer.)

    God, knowing all, is perfectly aware ahead of time of everything that I’ll ever do, say, or think.

    See, I’m totally down with this part. Agree 100%.

    Moreover, he causes me to do, say, and think everything I do.

    I’m just not sure how we get from point A, above, to point B here. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying that this line here is the part that always confuses me when people talk about this stuff. God knowing you’re gonna imitate Daffy imitating RR makes sense. God making you do it… Not so much.

    It’s just this, I guess: If we have free will when we’re outside God’s purview, outside His grace, and don’t have free will when we’re with God… How do we ever leave God’s will? How do we “chose to be Fallen Independent Types”? Is it God’s will that we fall? Or do we always have the choice to sin or not sin; remain with God or choose to leave His will?

    My core issue with belief that God has predestined all my actions is this: Lots of my actions suck, and are bad. Every day, no matter how good or bad a day it is on the whole. And either that’s my failure, because God’s given me the choice to sin or not sin, or it’s not my fault, because God decides when I’ll sin or not sin.

    As always, I’m more than happy to be told I’m wrong or have misunderstood you if that’s the case. Or, y’know, to shut up and go upgrade my cable.

  • Kara: Thanks for your questions. You’re a careful reader. That’s great! For you, anyways. It’s pretty much pure torture for me.

    Har! Kidding! But if you could send me your home address, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

    Oh: if anyone’s still reading this chain, Kara above is referring to my post about free will and predestination.

    On that post added a line right after the one you questioned above. That passage now reads, “Moreover, he causes me to do, say, and think everything I do. Because if he’s all-knowing, then he must be all-powerful, since anyone who is all-knowing but not all-powerful is just … a nerd.”

    And I think that clears it up.

    Okay, fine. It doesn’t.

    I also changed the ending to that piece, which now reads like this: “You know, sometimes I think Preeminent Theologian Types really just keep pretending all of this stuff is so hard, so that they don’t have to go out and get real jobs. Then again, many philosophers and theologians were working before the invention of television. Clearly, keeping themselves amused was more of a challenge for them than it is for, say, me.”

    With that—and with the whole post, and particularly relative to the attitude I adapt of how EASY it is to answer this question—I’m really only meaning to convey how obvious it is that these questions—or certainly the specific question of where our will begins and God’s ends—are so far outside the realm of what our minds are designed to handle that even trying to comprehensively address them is manifestly absurd. No one ever has; no one ever will. One thing I wrote about this sort of thing which I really DID mean was, “Bringing your rational mind to an understanding of God is like bringing cement shoes to your sky diving lesson.” It’s just …. FAIL.

  • linklische

    This reminds me of something Buck O'Neill said about pray to God then get up off your knees and go do it ( or something to that effect) But,anyway, I try to ask for God's guidance and strength but I'm the one that has to provide the effort and work. Many times, I just do whatever and then try to thank the Lord after the fact.