We’re Not in Control
MAY 24, 2023
A confession: I’m the adult child of an alcoholic...and I want to control everything and everybody around me.
I’ve learned to control people and circumstances with words. I’m so phony I can hardly stand myself…and it’s that phoniness which enables me to control and avoid shame.
I wince when I remember how many times and ways I’ve hurt people over the years. Frankly, it was easier to control them than to put in the messy effort at relationships.
I know you and you’re just like me. We are all, to one degree or another, into control. It’s all often used as a way of control: money, rules, worship, religion, civility and the list goes on.
As long as I’m confessing, I’m also stupid. There are two areas where control is next to impossible—God and the church—and I’m intimately involved with both. God can’t be controlled. God’s people can’t be controlled.
In John 3, Jesus talks about control (among other things). Nicodemus went to Jesus with his questions and Jesus told him that he must be born again. Then Jesus said something that almost seems like a non sequitur. The Holy Spirit is like the wind. It blows wherever it wants. You hear the sound of it but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes.
In Acts 2, the wind shows again and we have an illustration of John 3. It’s the account of Pentecost, what has been called the “birth of the church.”
At Pentecost, God moved in a mighty way.
Everybody was there for a religious reason. Nobody expected what happened. They were surprised. God showed in an unexpected way. God’s people reacted in an unexpected way. The world changed in an unexpected way.
The principle: Whatever you think God is doing in the world and in your life, he probably isn’t.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If you’ve ever stood before God and not been afraid and loved, then you’re worshipping an idol. And if you’ve ever stood before God and not been totally confused, then you’re worshipping an idol too. God does as he pleases and does it quite well. You can say whatever you want…but you just don’t get a vote.
So what happens when we try to control God and our life?
Credit is misplaced.
“And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4-5).
In Acts 2, God initiates everything and he gets the credit for all of it.
My beloved friend, Ben Haden, taught me a lot of things including the importance of being a strong leader. One time he had serious problems with the church treasurer and called him into the office. Ben locked the door and put the key in his pocket. Then he said to the treasurer, “We need to talk. Both of us can’t run this church. When this meeting is over, one of us is going to resign.”
That’s exactly what God says: “We need to talk. Both of us can’t run the world. When this meeting is over, one of us is going to step down.”
One of the reasons many people are angry at the idea of radical grace is that it implies that I’m a radical sinner and as a radical sinner I don’t have much to do with saving myself. That’s troublesome because, frankly, I want at least some of the credit.
So when I control you, my salvation or God, I’m able to garner at least a modicum of credit.
The fact is you’re a turtle sitting on a gatepost. And as one of my friends said, “When you see a turtle sitting on a gatepost, you know that he didn’t get there by himself.”
Astonishment is eliminated.
At Pentecost after the mighty rushing wind; the fire; the tongues, signs and wonders; and the three thousand people coming to Christ, Luke wrote that the disciples were in the temple praising God.
Worship is a response…not a ritual.
Annie Dillard in her book, Holy the Firm, wrote:
“The higher Christian churches—where, if anywhere, I belong—come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed….If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it at any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.”
Anne Lamott says that there are only three prayers: “Help” “Thanks” and “Wow.”
Religion can become a way of control if we’re not careful. When that happens, worship goes sour. It becomes just a dull habit.
Solemnity is overrated.
The people thought the disciples were plastered.
Paul wrote, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men…But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise…” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25, 27).
I was once on a plane that landed in the middle of a terrible storm. I thought the plane was coming apart. To make it worse, about a month before that same flight had crashed in a storm. I was scared spitless. What especially irritated me was that the woman sitting next to me stayed asleep the entire time…snoring. When we finally landed safely, she woke up and stretched. 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.”
There is a direct correlation between control and solemnity…when Jesus taught us that we are to become like children.
The lights go out.
The disciples had “favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
An English woman who was searching and asking all the right questions often attended the church I pastored. Once she showed up late to one of our mid-week healing services, walked about halfway down the aisle and just stood there looking around. Then she turned and quickly walked out of the church. I saw the woman later and asked why she left. She said, “Because when I came into the church something big was happening. I knew if I stayed I would become a Christian and I’m not ready for that yet.”
I pray for revival in America every morning. It hasn’t happened because you can’t control a genuine awakening.
So if we want to stop trying to control everything, what can we do? We pray a prayer of relinquishment.
Make a list of all that you’re trying to control and then pray, “Father, I give it all to you for whatever you want. And because the trouble with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar, I ask that you make this a formal contract between us regardless of my feelings and then please conform my heart to this contract.”
Then get out of the way.
Read more from Steve Brown here