I’m kind of a control freak. It’s the way I’m programmed. I’m sure everyone in my life gets annoyed with my micro-managing of the way I want things done (i.e. my perceived “right way” to do things). Well, any expression that’s ever had the terminology “freak” involved carries somewhat of a negative connotation with it. “Control freak” is no different. If you’re a freak like me, you know how frustrating it can be to feel the need to control everything.
The last great hurdle for me in this was when I first became a pastor. Go figure. Called to a congregation with a 50 year history and two established pastors, I recognized both of these aspects as blessings. However, it meant that I had less control. I would also learn that I was helping to manage a congregation of hundreds of souls that I couldn’t control. Also difficult. For instance, it doesn’t matter that every ounce of everything I ever learned in my 12 years of education in preparation to become a pastor says that “faith generated and is sustained by regularly hearing the message of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), because I can tell people this till I’m blue in the face, I can beg and plead and practically pay people, but I can’t “force” anyone to come to church. I don’t have that control. I can assign passages to learn, I can try to explain biblical concepts from all angles, I can love them like my own, but I can’t force a single one of my confirmation students to confess their Savior. I don’t have that control. I can walk people through Matthew 6 and tell them how Jesus himself PROMISES that he will provide for ALL of their needs – clothes, food, shelter, and our greatest need, forgiveness for our sins – but I can’t force people to not love or worry about money, let alone use it to spread God’s Word. I don’t have that control.
I guess none of that should have surprised me. Think of God’s people historically – the children of Israel had the presence of God himself visibly and tangibly in their midst. They saw his power. He was a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night as they wandered in the wilderness. He miraculously provided manna for them every day to eat. He parted the Red Sea for them and destroyed Pharaoh’s army. At times God sent down fire from heaven or opened the earth to swallow up those who openly practiced immorality or rebellion against him. However, none of it made God’s people any more faithful. The point is, if all that didn’t “force” people to give their hearts over to God, if all that didn’t force people into belief or faithfulness, clearly my flawed self can’t do it.
It’s a little frustrating for a control freak.
I don’t have any kids, but, in a strange way, regardless of age, I feel a little fatherish to my congregation. I can’t imagine what biological parents who are control freaks go through. Grades, proper diet, medicines, curfews, clothes, dating, college, etc.! I’m fairly certain I’ve already driven my non-existent child insane. I know a number of parents who beat themselves up because they raised their children in faith and they grew up and fell away. Well, no one is a perfect parent, and yes there are different degrees of faithfulness. That’s all true. But, the reality is this – your job as a parent isn’t to piggyback your kid to heaven. You don’t have that control. Spiritually speaking, a parent’s job is simply to give their child every opportunity to grow in faith (which, again, comes from being exposed to the message of Jesus).
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply push all the buttons and make the life we want – make everyone’s decisions for them – dictate the universe – play God? Well, in one sense, maybe. In another sense, probably not.
Surprisingly, one of the best illustrations of this I’ve ever seen was in the 2003 Jim Carrey film “Bruce Almighty”. Okay, so, yes, you can debate at what point it crosses the sacrilegious line. The role of God is a stretch even for Morgan Freeman. And Jim Carrey, well, let’s just say you only need to see a man crawl out the back end of a mechanical rhinoceros once before you begin to lose respect for his collective body of work (cf. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls — no, I don’t recommend it, and no, I will not provide a YouTube link.) All that said, it does a pretty remarkable job of making the profound point that we don’t truly want as much control as we think we want – that we should allow God to be God and that we should follow in faith, understanding that he’s in control, and understanding that he’s going to do what’s best for us.
And when we allow ourselves to “lose control” of the things that we don’t really have control of in the first place, it’s one of the more liberating feelings in the world. I have no idea where I’m going to be in 10 years. I have plans. I have goals. I have hopes. Ultimately though, I realize I’m not completely in control. I can make wise decisions and work hard and all of that is fine and good. It’s important. But there are so many variables that go into simply getting safely from my home to my work every day that I have to realize the small amount of control I really possess.
Some good wisdom literature from the Old Testament, Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” I wouldn’t want it any either way. A God who knows all things (John 21:17) and promises to work all things out for my good (Rom. 8:28)………I’ll take that any day over my own flawed thought process.
Country superstar Carrie Underwood won the Grammy for “Country Song of the Year” and was nominated for “Song of the Year” in 2006 with the hit “Jesus, Take the Wheel”. Beautiful as the song was, theologically, to be super nit-picky, it was a little inaccurate. God already has the wheel whether we “allow him” to take it or not. We can pretend like we’re in control and worry ourselves to death, or we can enjoy the freedom of not having to run the universe. We can let God be God and simply have the joy of a child – his child.