“The Unmanageable Life: Letting Go” by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called The Unmanageable Life.

Life can sometimes feel like you are swimming upstream in a river capped with white waves. You come to realize that you can’t manage it. That realization is key. What must we do to realize that we can’t do life without God? How can we turn life over to Him to manage our unmanageable lives? How can we learn to let go?

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

“The Unmanageable Life: Letting Go” Next Steps

Message Video:

Message Notes:

So today we jump into what I think is the most critical step in our journey, and one that will actually enable us to find healing AND bring healing to our world.

How many of you saw the Titanic? Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not actually a story of Jack and Rose – Leonardo DiCaprio romancing Kate Winslett – and the famous bowsprit pose. It’s a tragedy, not a romance. But it was brilliant—the moviemakers tricked guys into watching a 3.5 hr chic-flic romance with the promise that everything would blowup and sink in the end.

But Titanic is the story of the world famous ship which was supposedly indestructible, that on it’s maiden voyage sunk to the bottom of the North Atlantic ocean after hitting an iceberg.

There’s been all kinds of speculation and conspiracy theories about Titanic:

  • The first was that wealthy banker JP Morgan had it sunk because his 3 richest competitors were on board— not sure how in 1912 you get hit men into the North Atlantic, did he hire evil Penguins to do the job? Of course, that wouldn’t work because Penguins don’t go north.
  • In 1912, The Washington Post ran this article titled: “Ghost of the Titanic: Vengeance of Hoodoo Mummy Followed Man Who Wrote Its History”—The Washington Post Claiming it was because this famous British editor on board who wrote the history of the hoodoo Egyptian Mummy, it was a mummies curse that sank the Titanic. Guess the mummy didn’t how its biography was written.
  • Recently it was proposed a Solar Flare disrupted communication and navigation, but I’ll stick with the movie.
  • In the movie, Titanic, the producers did a great job of showing the underlying sin of pride in the Captain that led to the ultimate destruction of the Titanic. Out to prove his own greatness and the indestructibility of the ship he Captained, he listened to no warnings, heeded no advice, but let his desire to play God of the High Seas dictate his decisions – and the result was the sinking of the Titanic.

Our lives, in many ways, are like our own personal Titanic. We play captain of our lives – fully believing that we know what’s best, we are masters of our destinies, unsinkable. But the truth is, our ship has hit a big huge iceberg that will ultimately sink us. It’s the iceberg of self-will and rebellion against our Creator – you may see the tip of the iceberg, like an addiction or a bad sin-pattern, or the inability to find joy or peace, or a failing marriage or two, but underneath the surface of the iceberg is this Control Disease we admitted in step 1 – Playing God of our lives and other’s lives – doing our will instead of doing God’s will. The bible calls this the Sin Disease. The condition is terminal-–our Ship is sinking.

The Bible says it this way:

“For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal.” Romans 3:23

“The wages of sin is death….” Romans 6:23

Spiritual death, separation from God, my will be done leads to a world of wills at war. It’s what’s wrong with this world.       So here’s what happens in this 2020 Titanic story of your life and mine.  God says we’ve run our lives up against this iceberg of our control disease – the sin disease that affects us all, makes it hard to admit somethings wrong and we need help–and now the ship we are on is sinking.

So in step one, we said “I admit that I hit this iceberg and it’s done some damage that I can’t repair, no matter how hard I try.” 

Step 2 we said, “I realize there’s got to be a Power Greater than me who can rescue me.” 

In Step 3, God makes a rescue attempt. 

As we are standing on the deck of our now listing Titanic, a basket is lowered down from above.  On the side of the basket it says “God’s Will.”  As we look up, we see God’s helicopter hover over us – and God says to us “Get in.”  Get in and I will save you – I’ll rescue you from the inevitable destruction coming.  Get in, put your will  and your life in my care, and I’ll take you off this sinking ship, and I’ll put you on a new ship with a new course for better waters than you’ve ever sailed before – a ship headed toward spiritual life, not spiritual death.

But you have to Get in the Basket.  Now, let me just say, it’s one thing to trust God in an area of obvious weakness – it’s another to yield my whole life and will into his care.  But see, we believe that God offers us a second chance – a chance at new life.  The second part of the verse on the screen says:

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  – Romans 6:23

So on the one hand, the iceberg of this control disease called sin has cost us our very lives—our ship’s going down in a state of spiritual death – separated from God.  But God offers us safe passage off that ship as a free gift, and he says all of our sins, past, present and future can be forgiven – You can start over on a new ship, with a new life that is eternal in nature – God’s kind of life. 

The truth is, we need this kind of assurance to grow – to take steps 4-12, because step 4 is a vigorous moral inventory.  And when we take an honest look at that, it’s enough to sink you if you don’t know that God doesn’t condemn you for all your past mistakes, that you’re not tied to the past, but has freely forgiven you past, present, even future.

It’s one thing to say, “O.K., I hit an iceberg – I’m taking on some water. I can’t patch the hole.  God, will you patch the hole for me.  But He says, no – I want you to abandon this ship where you’re Captain of life.  I want to put you on a new ship where I’m Captain.  That’s a whole lot harder to swallow – right?  But that’s what it means to get in the basket – this is the decision step.  Am I willing to get off this ship that’s all about My ways, My will, and put my life in God’s hands as the rightful Captain who can take me to better waters? 

The founders of the 12 steps realized they were on a sinking ship.  It was easy for most of them because the iceberg of alcoholism was destroying their lives.  Look how they put it in the Big Book

“Our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making.  They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.  Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness.  We must or it kills us!  God makes that possible…First of all, we had to quit playing God.  Next, we decided that hereafter in the drama of life, God was going to be our Director.  He is the Principal; we are his agents.  He is the Father, we are his children.  Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.  When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed.  We had a new Employer.  Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed his work well.  Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs.  More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter.  We were reborn.  We were at Step Three.” – The Big Book

Step 3 is radical – it’s talking about the beginning of a new life – a spiritual birth.  Jesus talked to a Pharisee, one of the pious religious leaders, about this very thing – this experience of fully yielding to God and experiencing a kind of spiritual birth.  His name was Nicodemus – he was a religious scholar, knew all the right creeds and statements, but he didn’t understand how God’s Spirit works.  So he comes to Jesus and says, “Look, teacher, we know you must be from God – how else could you perform such miraculous signs if God was not with you.”  And it says Jesus kind of interrupted and cut to the chase.  He said to Nicodemus,

“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Nicodemus didn’t get it at all.  He said “That’s ridiculous, how can a person enter back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time?”  (There are times when that sounds pretty appealing though –right.  Just curl back up in the nice warm womb and start over).  Then Jesus pronounces the spiritual truth that I believe is incapsulated in Step 3.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  John 3:6

Jesus says, Nicodemus – your mom gave you physical life, born of water, only God can give you Spiritual Life—born of God. The life God has for you is not just about knowing the right doctrinal statements or following religious ritual – it’s something so radically transforming, I can only liken it to birth.  To a whole new life – life not on the ship of merely flesh and blood – a ship that will one day come to it’s end.  But a life created by God’s Spirit – the birth of God’s Spirit in our spirit.  A life that is eternal.  And Nicodemus still doesn’t get it because he can’t control it.  Jesus says, “Look Nicodemus, you can’t control the wind – right? 

You can’t see it, you can’t grab hold of it, you can’t tell it where to blow or what to do.  But it’s still there, and you see it’s affects, and as us sailors know, you can feel it’s power if you align with where it’s going. (If you haven’t seen The Chosen miniseries which includes this story, I highly recommend it!)

This is the same with the workings of God’s Spirit – you can’t completely understand how God causes a person to be born spiritually, or how this unseen God leads and guides, but you can see the results.  And then Jesus tells Nicodemus how this happens. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save [rescue] the world through him.  John 3:16

So we’re standing there on the deck, our lives are taking on water – some can see the torrent of seawater rushing through the chambers of our lives – we feel the pain of so many broken relationships.  We see the damage our compulsion to control others causes.  We know the out-of-control craziness of addiction.  And others of us just have a slow leak – we worry constantly, we can’t control our thoughts, there’s no peace. 

But still, God lowers his basket down and says, “You’re taking on water. 

  • Your core problem is you’ve hit the iceberg of playing God – your will be done instead of Mine. 
  • But I’m not here to laugh at you while you sink. 
  • I’ve sent my only Son – to save you. And God says, Get In.
  • I’ve paid the price to clean the slate – to justify all your prideful mistakes and wrongdoings caused by playing Captain of the Universe. 
  • I won’t condemn you, I’ll give you a new life – a spiritual life that lasts forever on my ship. 
  • Get in.

Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our lives and wills over to the care of God

Step 3 is Decision Time. 

It’s the pivotal step of the 12 steps. If you haven’t worked 1&2, you won’t be ready for 3.  Step 3 is a decision of your will. It’s all about Your will or God’s will.

 It’s the step of complete surrender—that’s why it’s so hard to take. 

And let me warn you if you consider yourself a Christian—this step is not just a one-time prayer to ask Jesus to rescue us—that’s a start, but this is also a daily decision to surrender my life and will into God’s care to do His will only.

It’s a practice of actually living out how Jesus taught us to pray:

“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth [here in my life] as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

The recovery movement realized this is where power to overcome starts—when I stop fighting to get my will done, and I fully surrender to live to do God’s will—this moment, then the next, then the next.   

Jesus modeled it in Gethsemane “Not my will, but your will be done Father.”  Taught in the Sermon on the Mount: That’s living Step 3.

And addicts have to take it one day at a time–wake up every morning with “I turn my life and will over to you God, to do Your will only today—give me the power to do the next right thing.” They live what Jesus taught:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:33-34  

If Christians all across America did this like recovering addicts do, Christianity would not be so repulsive to so many people—people would be asking “what makes you so alive—so loving—so free—I want some of that.” These 12 steps are practices to actually LIVE what Jesus taught.

Jesus said a shocking thing to the most religious of his day:

“I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.” Matthew 21:31

Jesus revealed a God every person with an addiction who overcomes, discovers. A God who doesn’t stand ready to condemn us for our failures, but freely forgives all who admit they need forgiveness and God’s help.

It’s easier for addicts, thieves, and prostitutes to admit they need God’s help.  

The sins of religious pride or “I’m right, I’m good” are much tougher.

The Kingdom of God is Life where God’s will and God’s ways are done, and they set us free!

Step 3 is both a One Time Decision, and an ongoing daily decision. 

Here’s what I mean:

  • Because of what Jesus did on the Cross, God promises that all who turn their lives and wills over to His care—He will never condemn them.
  • You stand forgiven, right with God, at peace with God.
  • God puts you on His Ship headed to Eternal Life. That helps—cause when I fall or fail, I don’t roll in the mud of the guilties, feeling so horrible I just run from the Only One who can help me—I’m not condemned.
  • God’s like a good Father who picks me up and says—let’s start over—and next time, let me help sooner.

Do you know you’re eternally forgiven, right with God? 

If not, know it only takes telling Him once. 

And this is where Christians misunderstand Step 2&3 so consistently. We say, “I made a decision to give my life to Christ.”  So you assume you’ve done Step 3.  Yes, God rescued you off your sinking Titanic, brought you onto His ship headed for warm waters. And yet you spend most of your time angry, frustrated, and full of angst because you are still trying to do Your will rather than God’s will – You’re now playing Captain of God’s Ship, taking control and trying to steer by your will–and this is where Step 3 isn’t just a one-time decision. He puts us on a new ship headed for eternal waters, but our sin condition causes us to try to run that ship by our will and ways too—so it’s a lifetime growth in learning to Trust the Captain fully—it’s daily surrender, “I’m here to do Your will, not my will be done.”]

Step 3 says, I decided to turn my life and my will over to the care of God.  The living of that out means that I stop trying to blame others, or turn everyone else’s life and will over, and just take care of the life I’ve been given – that’s hard enough!

“To err is human, to blame someone else is even more human” right?  

It’s another subtle way to stay in control.  If you clearly see your condition, you realize that blaming others doesn’t help – it’s counterproductive.  But if you will instead surrender your will to do God’s will, you’ll start to see changes.

Overcoming a Fear of God Ruining Your Life

Many of us really don’t want to completely surrender our lives and wills into God’s care because we aren’t sure He really cares – or that we can trust him with our lives.  You know, I used to feel this same way – afraid that if I decided to follow God’s will He would take control of my life and make me do things I didn’t want to do, and ruin my life. I’ve heard many Christians admit to the same fear. I finally realized, this is absurd.  If the Creator of the Universe wanted to ruin our lives and make us do things we didn’t want to do, do you think He would need our permission to do that?  Of course not!  If God wanted to control us as we fear, he could do that easily – but that’s not what he wants.  What he wants is love. Loving trusting relationship.

You know, my deepest insight of God’s character came to when we had our first child (By the way, Kenny and Jeni Green welcomed their fourth son to the world this weekend. His name is Zion).

I was looking at our little boy Caleb who was sick and connected to all sorts of tubes. I stood there looking at him sleeping in his tiny hospital bed, and I imagined all of the fun we would have together as he grew up.  And my heart was filled up with love for him that’s indescribable.  And honestly, I never fully understood what that was like until I had a kid, it’s hard to explain.  But as I was thinking of all the good things I wanted for him and how much I loved him – I was suddenly struck with the realization:

 “God is not less loving than I am.” 

“My Father in heaven is not less kind than I am.” 

“He does not desire good things for his kids less than I do.”

Jesus said it best when he said:

“If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11

You don’t need to fear God’s will—it’s good.  My experience is He waits for my willingness, but when I’m willing to follow and seek His will, He leads me to good things—better than I could have imagined.

So let’s get really practical for a moment. 

Let’s put these first three dance steps together and see what they look like on the floor.  Because the way it really works is that you work all three steps together – in a moment – many moments throughout each day. 

You cannot just talk about it. Even though it is so awkward and clumsy at first, you just need to start doing it!

So you are struggling with drinking nightly or too much – you’ve already decided to take steps 1, 2 and 3.  And now you are at a work social, and the people all around you are drinking.  And you start to think “I can just have one drink – that won’t hurt.”  At the first thought – that’s where working the steps needs to kick in. 

Don’t try to do the steps with 3 drinks in you – it won’t work.  At the first thought, you go back to

  • Step 1 “I am powerless in this situation God.  I don’t have the power to resist.” 
  • Step 2 “God, I believe You have the power to restore me to sanity right now – I’ve got some stinkin’ thinkin’ going on here.  Give me your power to resist and think differently.” 
  • Step 3 “God, I gave you my life and will so that I can do your will.  Show me what you want me to do right now.”

Now, at that point comes the actualization of the decision of Step 3 – you bought the house are you going to live in it?  And if you are sincere that you are ready to do God’s will, he will nudge you in your conscience with the next right thing to do. 

It may be the thought, go talk to Susan. 

So you say “I don’t know if this is me or You God, but I’ll just do it – and you go talk to Susan.”  And Susan says something that reconnects you to sanity of what you really want – somehow, you find power to resist.  And that’s how it works. 

And it may not be 30 minutes or 1 hour before you have to do the 123 again.  But what happens in time, is it becomes easier, and the struggle is not quite so intense, until finally you actually experience spiritual freedom that once felt impossible.

Or let’s say for you it’s not an addiction, but it’s worry about your future (could be your finances or who you’ll marry, or any number of things).  And you know God wants you to be free of it, but it continually haunts you.  When you find your stomach twisting into knots with anxiety, you work the steps. 

  • Step 1 – God I admit that I cannot control this worry I feel – I try to but it keeps coming back. 
  • Step 2 – You are more Powerful than I am, and I believe You can take this worry from me.  I can’t control the future, but you are in control, and I trust You.  
  • Step 3 – God, I gave my life and will to you, to do your will only.  So now show me what You want me to do right now, and I’ll do it. 
  • And if you are sincere, you will know what you need to do at that moment.  Go do it. 

See the truth is, most of us don’t know how to do things differently. 

In taking Step 3, you are opening up your minds to the possibility that God does know and that he will actually help you. 

If you have to have all the answers before taking step 3, you’ll never take it.  Because it’s a process of learning how to listen.  Of letting down our defense mechanisms that keep us stuck, and learning to tune our thinking to the Spirit of God, so that He can direct us in line with the wind of His Spirit.



The reason you have 12 step groups is to check your discernment and learn how to really understand and do God’s will. 

  • That’s why honestly, if you are going to be serious about working these spiritual habits into your life, get in one of our Recovery Groups, or a Community Group, Life Group
  • Or find what we call a Spiritual Running Partner (1-2 people you will trust completely to run the spiritual race together in this season). 
  • Find someone whose been down the road before or wants to travel it with you. 

God’s love and Grace are so amazing—he meets all who are willing, right where they are. 

In our very first Gateway small group, was a man considered by our society as beyond hope.  Paul had been an alcoholic/drug addict for 30 years, and had lived homeless on the streets most of his life.  He went to treatment centers and through programs – trying to get sober, but to no use.  Until one night driving out on 360, he finally surrendered fully.  He finally let go and let God—he decided to give his life and will to God’s care.  That was the turning point.  He and his girlfriend he met in recovery got the postcard saying No Perfect People Allowed—they figured they’d fit—so they started going to our church, got in the first small group, came to faith in Jesus realizing he revealed the God who had given them power to get sober. John Burke married them, and for over a decade Paul worked in construction and served the homeless through our church.       

And I want to say to those of you today who feel like the path to freedom is just too steep to climb.  I want to say, Get In God’s basket, take it one day at a time – and you will find freedom. 

Decide today – “I’m gonna quit living to do my will, it doesn’t work.  I’m gonna learn to do His will.” 

But it begins with that decision: Are you going to give your life and will into the care of God – as best you understand Him right now? Seeking to do His will only. It’s the pivotal step to freedom that so many have found.

You may be here and you’ve never taken the step to Decide.  To Decide to turn your life and will over to God.  God promises eternal life – a spiritual rebirth to those who want the forgiveness Christ purchased on the cross.  It’s a free gift that gives us the assurance of peace with God – that the final question has been settled, so that we can trust Him to guide and lead our lives and make us whole.

And maybe you gave your life to Christ long ago, but the truth is, you’ve just gone back to doing your will.  Tell God – here I am again – Help me live this Step—daily living to do Your will only. 

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