Steve’s Devotional – Neurotic and in Control: How to Let Go
APRIL 20, 2022
Let me state a truth: A lot of people are saved but they don’t "know" Jesus. Of course they are saved by Jesus—our salvation is through faith in Christ alone—but they don’t know him in the experiential or emotional sense of that word. That is the only way I can understand why people who believe and teach the doctrine of the sovereignty of God are so bent on controlling everything but him…and sometimes even him.
It is the only explanation I know for my condemnation, my arrogance and my self-righteousness. It explains why people talk about freedom yet live in a prison of guilt and fear. It helps me deal with those who talk about grace and give very little of it. It is the only way I know to understand why I, a teacher of grace, live a life that is sometimes marked by obsession with rules, being perfect and doing everything right. It explains why so many people have to be right and work so hard to appear to be good.
I don’t for a moment believe that I’m not saved. (Contrary to what some of you think.) And frankly, I don’t really believe that those who drive me nuts with criticism and condemnation of other Christians aren’t redeemed. I just believe that I (and they) are saved but sometimes don’t know Jesus.
You’ve probably heard of the “facts/faith/feelings” teaching about how one gets one’s feelings into line. There is something to that. The Christian faith really is based on facts. According to this view, once one determines those facts are true and “acts” accordingly, the feelings then follow.
But what do you do if the “feelings” don’t follow?
For many years, I followed Christ in a not dissimilar way to the way I followed the multiplication tables. I knew that it was true. It didn’t move me deeply, it didn’t make me “feel good all over” and it didn’t feel “warm and fuzzy.” During that period in my life, I simply didn’t understand those who had an emotional connection with Christ. I, from my arrogant, self-righteous and superficial position of intellectual commitment, felt that they “needed” all that but all I needed was the truth.
After all, once you see truth, you can’t unsee it. Only a fool, once seeing it, refuses to live according to the truth one has seen.
As I look back on it, the problem was that I tried to make the Christian faith into an affirmation of propositions. It was intellectual assent and I thought that was enough. It wasn’t…not nearly enough.
A man in Amherst, Massachusetts proposed to his wife this way: “I hope I have no foolishness called romance; I am too well balanced for that sort of nonsense. But we might look forward to leading respectable and useful lives and enjoy the respect of the neighbors.”
If you think that was good marriage proposal, there’s something weird and bent about you, and everybody knows it. But, if you believe something like that about your relationship to Christ (the Lover of your soul) and even teach it, making the Christian faith into a “respectable and useful” religious commitment, everybody will think you’re godly. You’re not. You’re neurotic.
I know. I’m not preaching at you—I’ve been there and, God help me, still live there sometimes. It’s having it in your head but having trouble getting it into your heart.
I don’t know if I have all the answers. I do have at least one of them though. If you sometimes have trouble getting what you know to be true—not into practice because most Christians live reasonably Christian lives in the sense that we aren’t serial killers, don’t rob banks and do pay taxes—into your heart, what follows might help.
With me, I think, the real problem was (and sometimes still is) control. In my need to control my situation, my church and all the circumstances of my life, I was saved but I didn’t know Jesus.
Jesus said about the scribes and Pharisees, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you [i. e. they have the propositions and the doctrines right]—but not what they do…They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders…You [the scribes and the Pharisees] shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in…You travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:2-4,13-15).
You see, you can analyze, teach and line up doctrines and propositions. There is something logical and proper about biblical theology. Apologetics will not only win arguments; it makes one feel secure in one’s “rightness.” On the other hand, what goes on in the heart/feelings can be quite wild and we must not have that. Trusting your heart, listening to your heart and acting on your heart’s “reasons” can get you into all sorts of trouble. Once you start going down the road to the heart, you can’t control what happens. Not only that, there is something…well…uh…you know…kind of crude about all that emotional stuff.
Am I saying that biblical doctrine isn’t of any consequence? Am I suggesting that what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth” isn’t true or, if it is, it isn’t all that important? Do I think that the eternal verities of the Christian faith are to be subjugated by the “things of the heart”? Are you crazy? Of course not!
I am, however, saying that all of those things have one purpose: to point you to Christ so that he will love you and empower you to serve and to enjoy him.
Do you remember when you first learned to drive a car? If you’re an old guy like me, you learned on a manual transmission. Do you remember all the hassle you had in changing the gears without stalling the car? Do you remember being at a stoplight on a steep hill and wondering how in the world you were going to get your foot off the brake and onto the clutch fast enough to keep from slipping back into the car behind you? Do you remember the efforts at keeping the car between the lines, not weaving? Do you remember trying to stop at stop signs and to start when the light turned green without looking like a fool riding a camel?
Were all those things important to learn? Of course they were. Somewhere along the line, though, you learned to drive without always thinking about the clutch, about the laws and about keeping the car in the right lane. Those things became a part of you. If they didn’t, you are probably miserable every time you drive a car. If “doing it right” is still how you drive the car, you never enjoy the scenery or listen to music. You are never able to relax. It takes all you’ve got to do it right. Once driving became a part of you, though, you were free to drive.
Let me give you the wonderful passage of Luke 9:57-62: “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”
Jesus isn’t teaching that there is something wrong with caring about having a “place to lay your head,” about burying your relatives or about taking care of your loved ones. Jesus is talking about control.
Of course, one isn’t going to let go of the control of anything until one can trust the One to whom one is giving control. And that’s why I’m always saying things like: God isn’t angry at you. He is quite fond of you. He isn’t a child abuser. Go to him and he won’t reject you. He’s not surprised at anything you do. It isn’t your sin; it’s your stiffness. If you never get any better, he will still love you.
How do I know all that? Well, of course, I know that because the Bible tells me so. I don’t really know it until I test it, though, and I have over and over again. Go ahead and test it.
For instance, go sin so that you have something to repent of and, when you sin, sin boldly. (And no, I’m not advocating sin…but you will anyway. Besides, those were direct quotes from Martin Luther. So, if you’re going to get mad at someone, get mad at him. After all, he’s dead and it doesn’t matter.) Then see if Jesus forgives you.
Make a fool of yourself at church; laugh at an inappropriate time; dance in a Presbyterian church; shout “Amen” in the middle of the Anglican liturgy; admit you’re wrong to someone who really ticks you off; offend someone with your views; love someone nobody else can stand; do something improper; cuss, spit and…okay, okay, maybe that is a bit much. You get the idea. Quit trying to be so right, so good and so…well…in control. You’re covered by the blood of Christ. The stiffness will kill you.
You and Jesus can’t both be in control. When I’ve been in control, he still loved me and I was saved but it felt like he was avoiding me. When I clung to my doctrines and my need to be right, good and in control, Jesus allowed me to do that. However, when I decided that I didn’t have to be in control anymore and, as it were, “let the dead bury their dead,” I found that Jesus came and spoke to my heart deeply and profoundly.
And not only that. When was the last time you were hugged by or danced with a doctrine…no matter how true it was?
Time to Draw Away
Read Matthew 23, Matthew 22:34-40 & Ephesians 3:14-19
Jesus was quite hard on the Scribes and Pharisees. What about in your life: does the truth point you to Christ to be loved and then to love others in return? Can you really trust God to be in control? Think about what it means to “let go.” Then trust God and let your heart take the lead. After all, you and Jesus can’t both be in control.