Are You a Control Freak?
JANUARY 26, 2022
My favorite quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Much of religion is an effort to make God safe.
I’m into control. I’m the adult child of an alcoholic and that’s our M.O. We know that every time we’re out of control we get hurt. So I learned to talk well because I could control people with words. I learned to be phony and to wear masks so I could control what people think of me. I learned to appear very strong and in charge because I didn’t want people to think that “the warrior is a child” and quite afraid. I learned to push back when people pushed me, to win arguments when I was challenged, and to “never let them see me sweat.”
I learned to talk well because I could control people with words.
I’m not very proud of that but I’m in good company. To one degree or another, you are probably just as much into control as I am. We all want to control everything in our lives in order to minimize the pain. Some do it by being nice and others by being mean…but the goal is the same.
If I were a psychologist in a counseling session, I might suggest some techniques of letting go. But I’m a dumb preacher. After all, I’m intimately involved in two areas—God and the church—that simply cannot be controlled.
Case in point…the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.
Picture it. Everybody had gathered in Jerusalem for a religious purpose—a nice, traditional and regular worship service. That’s when the real God showed up and he wasn’t what anybody expected…the sound of a mighty rushing wind filled the house, tongues of fire and miracles. Not only did God surprise everybody, the disciples’ reaction was a surprise too…people who were there thought the disciples were plastered. At that moment, the world changed in ways that nobody expected…3,000 people were saved, and signs and wonders abounded.
The result was astonishment, humility, worship and power.
That’s what happens when Aslan—who cannot be controlled—shows. It happens in individual lives and it happens in the church. And it can only happen when we give up control.
I suspect God, in effect, often says to us, “We can’t both be God. If you want to try your hand at being God, fine, but I’m leaving.” And when Jesus exits the building, religion becomes a dull, boring habit. There is no astonishment, worship becomes staid and comfortable, and we run short of signs and wonders.
So I gave up on control.
It’s not that I’m spiritual, wise and godly. I’m just not stupid.
You can get hurt trying to control a lion.
Trying to control God, other people and me is…well…impossible. Attempt to do that long enough and you either quit trying or end up looking really silly.
I was once on a plane and we went through the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced before or since. The woman next to me slept (and snored) through the whole thing. When we finally landed and she woke up, I told her that she almost slept through her death. The woman laughed and said, “I can’t fly this plane.”
So I gave up trying to fly the plane. Old habits die hard, but at least I’m learning to call out those times when I tell God to leave me alone and that I would rather do it myself. That’s the most important step. I must recognize the sin before God can do something about it.
And here’s the really good news. Once we accept the bad news that being God is way, way above our pay grade, what happened at Pentecost becomes more and more a reality in our lives and in the church. Giving up control is defined by astonishment, humility, worship and power. The more I let go, the more I find myself saying, “Wow!” I have to work at not being Pentecostal in my prayer and worship. I defend myself less and “cut slack” more for others.
I’m so wonderful that I can hardly stand myself.
Okay…maybe not…but it’s getting better.
You want to know how to do it?
Let me share something that has become a regular “spiritual discipline” in my life. I make a list of everything I want to control…basically everything that has anything to do with me. (That list is quite long.) It includes my family, my work, my friends, my sermons, my goods, my reputation, my public relations, my rights, my sin, my schedule, my…well…you get the idea.
Then I pray a prayer of relinquishment: “Lord God, I give everything on this list to you. I can’t keep all these plates spinning any longer, so I stop. I give it all to you for whatever you want to do with it and in whatever way you want to do it. And given that the problem with this living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar, please make this a formal contract before you regardless of my feelings or how often I try to take it back. Then please conform my heart to this contract. Amen.”
When we give up control, God always shows. And the outcome is always astonishment, humility, worship and power.
And God always says, “Laugh and dance! I’m here.”
Time to Draw Away
Read Matthew 6:25-34 & Acts 2
Are you a control freak? How’s that working out for you? In our attempts to control, we end up beating our heads against a brick wall, bloodied and exhausted. It gets us nowhere. And it’s impossible. The only One in control is God…and we’re not him. So give up. Pray the prayer of relinquishment over and over again. It does get easier. And in the process, you’ll discover that you really can trust God.