Steve’s Letter – July 2014
JUNE 30, 2014
Day before yesterday, I came into the office early in the morning and my computer wouldn’t work. John Myers (our computer guy) was on vacation which meant that I had to deal with it. I’ll spare you the details and the language, but I started fiddling with it. And guess what? I fixed my computer!
I have no earthly idea what I did or how I did it, but after I fiddled, it worked.
(Given that I just told you everything I know about computers, that was no small thing. In fact, when I get to heaven and God asks me why he should allow me in, I’ll say, “Because Jesus died for me…and…uh…I fixed my computer.”)
I told some of the staff (well, I bragged) that I had fixed my computer and kidded that while John was on vacation, if they had any computer problem, to let me know and I would fix it for them. One staff member (whose name will go unmentioned) said, “How did you fix yours? Kick it?”
My late mentor, Fred Smith, often said that if one doesn’t have a solution, one doesn’t have a problem…it’s a fact. He said that a big part of maturity was to recognize the difference between a problem and a fact.
Another friend of mine told me, “If I can’t fix it, it’s not mine.”
Jesus reminded me too. “Don’t worry,” he said (in Matthew 6), “you can’t add even one hour to your life with all your worry…so why not let tomorrow take care of itself?” You’ll also remember the incident (in Luke 10) when Jesus was with Mary and Martha. Martha became uptight trying to get dinner ready and quite irritated that Mary wasn’t helping. Mary was just hanging out with Jesus. Jesus said, “Chill out, Martha. You are troubled about so much and Mary has made the right choice.” Paul had the same attitude. In Romans 14:8, Paul said, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord so what the hay? Whether we live or die, we’re the Lord’s.”
I don’t know about you, but I like to be in control because, when I’m not in control, I have found that I can get hurt. That, among other things, is one of the issues of an adult child of an alcoholic. We learn to keep every button within reach, all people at a controllable distance, and every instance of life manageable. It almost killed me. In fact, I came close to the “wheels coming off my wagon” in the final weeks of my serving as a pastor. I was traveling 150 or better days a year, writing a book every year, doing five broadcasts a week, and trying to be a good husband and father, and a faithful pastor. I wasn’t doing very well with any of that and God kept only adding to it.
“What are you doing?” I would ask him. “I can’t do what I’m already doing.”
He said, not unkindly, “I know.”
I’ve been thinking about computers, people and life this morning and the problems associated with all three. I’ve come to the realization that I have very little control over any of them and never have. I continue to fiddle with all three, but it’s rare that I fix anything and, when I do, it feels like a surprising gift. At first, not being able to control much can be quite irritating. But if you pray about it long enough, it becomes part of God’s gift of freedom to his own.
Let me show you.
We Run to God
When we can’t control things after we’ve done all we can, it becomes the way God forces us to run to him.
The lady whose horse ran away with her on it said something most of us can say on more occasions than we admit. “I trusted God,” she said, “until the bridle broke.” The truth is that she wasn’t trusting God; she was trusting the bridle. When the bridle breaks, you don’t have any other choice but to trust God.
Abraham Lincoln once said that he often went to his knees because he didn’t have any other place to go. I’ve been there so often and, while I didn’t like it at the time, it became the only “safe and secure place” I had.
I think it was the late Ron Dunn who said it first and many other preachers (me included) have said it often since: “You’ll never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you’ve got. When Jesus is all you’ve got, then you’ll know Jesus is all you need.”
We Get to Watch God Work
But there’s another good thing about not being able to control computers, people and life. It’s there—and sometimes only there—that we get a front row seat to watch what God will do.
One time my late friend, Ben Haden, was in a hot disagreement with the church treasurer. Ben called him into his study, locked the door and put the key in his pocket. He said to the treasurer, “Both of us can’t run this church. When this meeting is over, one of us is going to resign.” (You can bet the house that, when the meeting was over, it wasn’t Ben who resigned.)
God says something not dissimilar to us: “We can’t both be God. If you want to try your hand at it, go for it.” I’ve tried and I’m not very good at it. When I return the control back to where it belongs, I’m always welcomed with great enthusiasm. But the “egg on my face” is still embarrassing. Because of what I do, people have a tendency to think I am more spiritual than I am and I do things better than I do. I want to foster that view but God simply won’t let me. When I can’t fix myself or anybody else, God asks, “You through?” “Yeah,” I answer. Then he sometimes does something I didn’t expect.
We Get Free
But there’s one other thing. When we can’t do the control thing and let it go, there is great relief. I spend way too much time trying to fix computers, people and life. When I give it up, I have far more time than I did before, feel far less guilty than I did before, and am far freer than I was before.
I may have told you, but I was once on an airplane that stopped in Pittsburgh on its way to Canada. We went through a terrible storm landing in Pittsburgh and I thought the airplane was coming apart. To make it worse, about a month before, that same flight had gone down in a storm and everybody was killed. Talk about being scared spitless. What really irritated me was that the woman sitting next to me stayed asleep the entire time. Not only that, she snored.
When we finally got down safely, she woke up and stretched. “Lady,” I said, “we almost died and you were asleep. You shouldn’t sleep through your own death.”
She laughed and said, “I can’t fly this plane.”
Good point, that.
Once you understand that God is sovereign, that he’s good and that he knows what he’s doing, you can (if you can’t fix it or control it) go with the flow. He always works out the circumstances for our good and his glory. When you know that, you sleep better at night. It doesn’t mean that you like the circumstances but it does mean that you can lean hard on him.
A number of years ago, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer widely used in AA circles, The Serenity Prayer. Let me remind you of it (the editorial comments are mine):
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change [which are far more than I ever thought they were], courage to change the things I can [which are far fewer than I ever thought they were], and wisdom to know the difference [and to trust you when I don’t have any wisdom at all].
We really can’t fly this airplane.
He told me to remind you. He also said for you to go get a milkshake.