Craig Groeschel - When Life Feels Out of Control
It's my honor to welcome those of you from all across the world on this Easter weekend. Because it's a bit different, I wanna start a bit different. Today, I'm going to tell you about my breakdown. Kind of an awkward way to start Easter, but I'll tell you about that later. First, we're gonna celebrate some good news, and this is a message to those of you who might feel discouraged, overwhelmed. You're sick and tired of life being out of control. You might find yourself facing anxiety and fear and uncertainty. The title of this message is, "When Life Feels Out of Control".
So Father, on this Resurrection week, when we celebrate your Son, Jesus, we ask that the resurrection power available to us would conquer the fears that we have. For all of those, Lord, who feel like life is out of control, may we find the blessings, God, today of full surrender to your Son, Jesus, our King, our Savior, and our Lord. We pray this in Jesus' name, and everybody said amen and amen.
Man, thank you, guys, for staying to help me out today. I need all the help that I can get. We're gonna be in Matthew's Gospel today, Matthew chapter 26, and I want to try to set the context for you to give you a little bit of understanding. This was actually before the crucifixion, and the setting is what you might call the Last Supper, when Jesus was gathered with His most intimate friends. We could say He was kind of gathered with his life group around a table, and He was having a very, very, very heartfelt conversation with them, knowing what was to come, the agony that He would endure on the Cross, and if you can imagine, for 33 years, Jesus had been obeying the Father, and He knew the torture that was to come, and at that moment, He looks around the table with full knowledge that one of His closest friends, Judas, would actually betray Him.
And then He would take bread and He would break it, and can you imagine the emotion that He would have, when He said, "This bread is like my body, which is about to be broken for you". And then He held up a cup full of wine and said, "In this cup is the blood of the new covenant. This represents my blood, which will be shed for you. Whenever you gather together in years to come, do this in remembrance of me". Jesus knew what He was about to endure. Then He took His disciples with Him to a place called Gethsemane, which means the Crushing, and He said to His closest friends, "Hey, you guys sit here while I go pray. We're going to pray and we're going to praise. We're going to keep our guard up", and Jesus needed some intimate time with His Father. And He said this in Matthew 26, verse 38. He said to them, His disciples, He said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death".
I don't know about any of you right now, but you might say something like that. My soul is just overwhelmed with anxiety, with exhaustion, and Jesus uses the strongest possible metaphor. My soul, it aches. I'm grieving. I'm overwhelmed to the point of death. Another Gospel writer tells us that His brow, when He was sweating, it was mixed with blood. He's in pure agony. "Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground". So you can imagine Him going to His knees and into His face, and He prayed, "My Father, if it's possible, may this cup be taken from me".
Now, you may wonder, what is the cup? The cup was known as a cup of suffering. Make what I'm called to endure in the next few hours, would you remove that from me, God? I really don't wanna go through that. I know what's coming, God. I'm begging you. I'm overwhelmed to the point of death. Please, God, take this from me. He says, "If it's possible", and then He says, "Yet not as I will, but as you will". If and yet. "Then he returned to his disciples and he found them sleeping". I'm visualizing Jesus saying, "I gave you one job. One job, stay awake, and you couldn't even do the one thing".
Now, in their defense, sometimes it is a little difficult to stay awake when you're praying. I may have fallen asleep one time when Amy was praying. It might have been because her sweet voice lulled me into a relaxing state, or it might have been because she prayed for a really long time. I'm really not sure which one it is. But here, Jesus comes back, and He says, "I need you to be with me. Stay awake and watch. I gave you one job". And they let Him down.
What's interesting is Jesus could raise the dead, He could heal the sick, He could calm a storm, but He could not control His disciples. I'm curious today how many of you like to be in control? Type that in the comments. Just say, "Me, I like to be in control". Any of you all like to be in control at all? For those of you that like to be in control, this is probably a very frustrating season for you, and you feel like you're losing your mind right now. Some of you, Annette, you might say, "I'm not really controlling. I'm just aggressively helpful. I'm just thoroughly organized". No, you are so controlling, you make coffee nervous.
Some of you right now, I can feel you out there. You're trying to say, "I'm not controlling", but you are. What's interesting to me is I just assess all of the emotional disorientation of this COVID-19 season that we're all enduring across the world. There's frustration, there's anxiety, there's an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. I would also argue that there's a very real sense of grieving. Not just grieving the people that are sick, and grieving the people that have lost their jobs, and grieving those that we've lost, which is a real grieving, but I would say there are so many people that are actually grieving a loss of control. I'm used to being able to do what I want to do, but now I can't even do what I wanna do, and it's that, the list is innumerable, you know?
You used to be able to go to a movie when you wanted to, or go to prom when you wanted to, or now you can't even graduate, if you're a senior, or you can't have your wedding when you planned to, or you could have gone to a sporting event, but you can't now, or you had your perfect weekend getaway that you've been waiting for for weeks and months, or you can't even go to dinner with your friends. I know a lot of you are like Amy and me. We're grieving the reality that we can't even see our parents because we don't wanna potentially be a risk to them. On a time when we would love to gather with our most dear and intimate loved ones, we're isolating ourselves just to keep others safe and keep our own family safe.
I know some people, you're devastated because you can't get your nails done. Some of the really serious issues that are creating problems all over the world. We're still looking for toilet paper. I know of a lot of you are grieving the loss of control. Technically, we're not just grieving the loss of control, but technically, a UCLA researcher called it this. She called it the illusion of control. Many of us are grieving the illusion that we were actually in control, when we really weren't. What is the illusion of control? She defines it this way. "The cognitive bias that leads us to believe that we have control over an outcome when we really don't".
It's the bias to think that we control more than we actually do control. We over-estimate our ability to control what really is a bunch of uncontrollable events, and here's the big problem. I don't know if you deal with this, but the more that we try to control, the more we're afraid of losing control, and the more we're afraid of losing control, the more that we try to control, and the more we try to control, the more we're afraid of losing control, and therefore, the cycle continues, and I think there are many people today that are grieving the loss, just not just of real control, but the illusion that we're in control. And Jesus offers us a prayer before God that shows the most powerful words of surrender.
Verse 42 says, "He went away a second time". We're gonna see that surrender is not always a one-time event. Sometimes, you gotta go back to God another time to get it right. He goes a second time and prays, "My Father, if it's not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done". If we can do it a different way, I'd love to do it a different way, yet not my will, but your will be done. To those of you grieving the loss of the illusion of control, my fellow control freaks, I hope you'll embrace this truth. You don't always have the power to control, but you do always have the power to surrender.
I can feel someone typing amen in the comments right now. You don't always have the power to control everything, but you do always have the power to surrender. Through a season like this, the question kinda comes up to me, where is God in the middle of all of this mess? Where's God in COVID-19? In other words, did God cause this? Is this a punishment for what someone did? Did God allow it? Is God going to use it? Can I trust Him in the middle of this? Where is God when life is hard? Researchers did some studies on the younger generation's beliefs about God, the younger generation. How many of you are under the age of 30? Under the age of 30? Excellent. 30?
Okay. For those that are younger, this is typically true, not always true, but the researchers say that the default religion today in my country, for those who are younger, is something that they call MTD. MTD stands for moralistic therapeutic deism. The default generation. Just to a general person who's 18, 19, 25 today, will typically believe in some version of moralistic therapeutic deism. Now, what in the world is that? Let's break these words down. Moralistic believes this. It essentially equates religion with being good, moral, and nice.
So if you're in the younger generation, a typical belief would be, you know, if you're a religious person, you're just generally a good person. You're not gonna judge, you're not gonna be arrogant. You're gonna kinda help other people. You're not gonna be about yourself. You're gonna be moral and you're gonna be a nice person. Therapeutic believes that faith is a means to improve your life. In other words, if you're a religious person, then religion should make your life better. If I surrender my life to God, my life should be easier, and my life should be better. Deism is the belief that God is real but He's not really involved unless you really, really need Him. He's there, but He's not gonna get involved in your daily activities.
And so to summarize, what's the more common belief in the emerging generation is that a mostly involved God exists to make our lives better. So suddenly, we have a lot of people who are going through life believing some form of this statement, like, "My faith in God, because I go to church or read my You Version Bible app or do something good or help somebody in need or give something, my faith in God should help me have a happy, healthy, comfortable, trouble-free life". The problem is, if God wants me happy, and I'm not, then either God failed, or I did something wrong. If God wants me life to be better and easy and trouble-free, and suddenly, I've got obstacles, trials, and troubles, then either God's really good, God's not really involved. God let me down, or I screwed up something along the way.
That's why so many people would say, "Pastor Alan, I tried religion. I tried prayer. I went to church online one time. I tried church, and it didn't work. Life was still so hard. I tried to be a Christian, I tried to be spiritual, but life is still so difficult". What if I do surrender to God's will? Then what if he makes me single for five more years? What if I so surrender to God's will, and He doesn't heal my migraines? What if I am trying to seek God and follow Him, but He doesn't make my marriage better and my husband still seems like he's possessed with seven different demons? What do I do? If I'm seeking God's will, I'm trying to follow Jesus, I'm praying for His will and life is still so hard?
I hope that you'll understand, when it comes to God's will, God's will is rarely easy, but it's always good. It's rarely ever easy, but it's always good. It may not even feel good in the moment, but our God's working in all things to bring about good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. His will is rarely easy, but it's always good. In fact, it wasn't easy at all for Jesus. In fact, if you go back a generation, it wasn't easy at all for Jesus's mom, Mary. If you don't know her story, come back for Christmas. The Christmas story we see in Luke's Gospel, an angel appears to her, and says, "You're gonna be with child. You're gonna give birth to a son. His name is gonna be Jesus and He's gonna be the Savior of the world".
And she prays essentially the same prayer of surrender. Jesus said, "May your will be done". She prayed, "May it be done unto me according to your word. I surrender. Whatever your will is, God, I want your will". How easy was it for her? She was pretty successful. She gave birth to the Son of God. She raised Jesus and He was perfect. How about that? What was her reward? She watched her son stripped naked, suffering, for sins He did not commit, and watched her son breathe his last breath on a cross, and couldn't do anything to stop it. God's will is not always easy. But it's always good. Jesus, He never wronged anybody. He was completely without sin, holy and perfect in every way, and betrayed by one of His own, handed over, beaten without mercy.
Pastor Steven, when they would beat them, they would have big signet rings, and pound them in the face again and again, 'til His face didn't even look like a human being. They whipped Him on His back with a whip with glass and rocks in the leather, to where His organs would have very likely been exposed. With a loss of almost too much blood to stay conscious, they forced Him to carry a cross, drove stakes through His wrists and through His feet, stripped Him naked, and hung this innocent man, who did nothing but show love, on a cross, and then they spit on Him, and cursed Him. Interesting is Jesus did have the power to take control. He could have called a bunch of legions of angels.
Sam, if that'd been me, I'd have had 1000 of them wiping the place out, giving them hemorrhoids in their ears, something like, you're on 'em right now. He could have taken control, but instead He shows surrender, and what did Jesus do? When the creation was mocking the Creator, He looked up into heaven, scorning the shame of the Cross, and He prayed, "Father, please forgive them. They don't even know what they're doing". He said, "It's finished. I've done what you sent me to do". And in the ultimate act of surrender, Jesus said, "Into your hands I commit my Spirit". And He gave His life.
The world went dark. The earth shook. The temple veil ripped, and the disciples scattered. God's will is not always easy, but three days later, our God showed that He is always good. When some women went to check on the tomb, and they arrived, the stone that was meant to protect the body inside the tomb was not there. It had been rolled away, and when they looked inside the tomb, the body of Jesus, it was not in the tomb, because our God raised Jesus from the dead, defeating death, hell, and the power of the grave. Before there was salvation for us, there was the sacrifice for Him.
It wasn't easy, but our God is good, and why did God do this? So that anyone, and this includes you, wherever you are, could call on the name that is above every name, that name of Jesus, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. And what will our God in heaven do? He will forgive your sins. He will heal your brokenness. He will remove your shame. He will make you brand new. You're not just a better version of you, you're different. The old is gone because of the amazing grace of the goodness of God. Our God did something for you you could never, ever do for yourself. You couldn't save yourself. You couldn't be good enough, you couldn't be righteous enough, and that's why God sent Jesus, who was without sin, who became sin for us.
All I'm preaching, somebody help me, because sin for us on the Cross, and shed His innocent blood, that we could be forgiven. The church may not be able to meet physically, but we are meeting digitally. We are spread out around the world, as hope-dealers, light-spreaders, love-givers. That's what we are, because of the grace of Jesus. You don't always have the power to control, but you do always have the power to surrender. The question is this. What are you trying to control that God wants you to surrender? What are you trying to control that our God wants you to surrender? Is it a relationship? They gotta do what you want them to do. Is it your health? The health of someone that you love? Is it your finances? Your job? Your bank account? Your 401(k)? Is it your future, what's gonna happen? Where are things going, God?
What are you trying to control that's not yours to control? Your kids? One of the things I realized is that there's really no such thing as partial surrender. If you say, "I surrender", and there's a part of me that doesn't want to, there's no such thing as partial surrender. You can't say kind of like, "I'm 83.2% surrendered to Jesus". You know, either you are surrendered or you're not surrendered. You can't just say, "I'll trust you with some things, but I won't trust you with all things". Like, "I'll trust you to save me, but I'm not gonna trust you with my kids. I've gotta control my kids. I'm gonna trust you to get me to heaven, but I'm not gonna trust you with my job or my health or my loved ones".
You know, the key is found in two words in the text that we see Jesus praying. There's two words that are incredibly important. It's the words if and yet. If and yet. Jesus cried out to God, "My Father, if it's possible. If you could do it the way I want you to do it. May this cup be taken from me. Yet not my will, but your will be done". In other words, real faith starts between the if and the yet. God, if you can let me marry that really cute guy in life group, oh, I'll give you praise, God, if. God, if you heal me. God, if you give me a job with benefits. God, if you let me keep my job. God, if you do this. Yet, not my will but your will be done.
You don't always have the power to control, but you always have the power to surrender. Here's the problem. Everything in culture invites us, begs us, lures us to live in a way that's contrary to the Gospel. Culture tells us, you take control. You be in charge. You make it happen. But Jesus said this in Matthew 10:39. He said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it". In other words, to really follow Jesus is to surrender control. I'll tell you about my breakdown. It's been almost a year, about 11 months. It was after two international trips in a short period of time, producing two months' worth of content in a matter of a few weeks.
I won't bore you with the details, but my body just kind of shut down. Not like go to the hospital kind of shut down, but probably just about this close to it, and it was so alarming. I've done this ministry now for 24 years, and I've never had an episode or an incident like that, that I called a counselor to work with me, and one of the things the counselor helped me recognize is that in this season, besides working too hard, one of the things that I was doing is I was trying to control things that were outside of my control.
I was way up into too much stuff, and I was kind of worshiping what we might call the illusion of control. It had gotten so bad, I couldn't remember details from a period of about a week. He said my body was just trying to keep itself going and my brain shut down. I was trying to control, and so one of my assignments I've been working on for almost a year now is to do what I can do, and surrender what I can't. In other words, any place I can add value, any place I can make a difference, that I'm going to initiate and I'm going to lead, and I'm going to activate, but anywhere that I cannot control, which how many of you know is most places? I'm going to surrender control.
And here's what I found, is that surrender is not a one-time event. Surrender is a daily choice. And I have discovered that our God can do way more with our surrender than He can with our control. You don't always have the power to control, but you do always have the power to surrender. To those of you who try so hard to be in control, and you just don't know how to let go, you may be 20 inches or so away from full surrender. 20 inches or so away from knowing the peace on the other side of surrender. What is the 20 inches? Well, the way I guess and would estimate, for most of you, there's about 20 inches between your knee and the floor, and when you wanna be in control, you stand strong, but when you surrender, you bend your knees, and you bow before Him in the same way Jesus did in the garden when His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death, and He knelt down before the Father, and He displayed the greatest faith between the if and the yet. If you can and if you will, please do, yet I will trust you. And real faith starts between the if and the yet.
So during this season, I've been a little bit on the edge, just a little bit on the edge, and part of the reason is, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He's the Good Shepherd, but a metaphor for me as a pastor is I'm a shepherd of the flock, and although I don't know many people personally, I cannot describe to you the supernatural love that I have for you, and the fact that my flock is scattered right now is wrecking me. I want so much for you to stay connected to our Father, to not let the fears and the worries of this world distract you from the intimacy that you can have in Him. I'm so afraid that so many of you are losing the things that keep you spiritually strong, and it keeps me awake at night.
So what will I do? I will do what I can do. I will preach Christ and Him crucified, risen from the dead, and I will pray in great faith, both pray and praise, keeping my guard up, and ultimately, what I'll do is I release you to Him. Because God can do more through my surrender than He can through my control. Whatever you're trying to control that isn't yours, give it to Him. His will is not always easy, but He's always good. Jesus suffered, He died, and God raised Him from the dead, and because of that, I worship a good heavenly Father, who will never leave you and never forsake you. You don't always have the power to control, but you always have the power to surrender.
So Father, right now, as we celebrate your great Resurrection, would you invade our homes and hearts with a peace that goes beyond our human ability to understand. Living rooms, on the other side of computers, and phones and TVs.
You might even consider kneeling right where you are. Does it feel a little bit weird? Hey, scripture says we're a peculiar people. Might as well be a little weird and just kneel where you are. Those of you who would say, "I am, I'm grieving the loss of control. I'm trying to be in control", it might be a relationship, it might be your health, it might be your finances, it might be your job. Whatever it is today, whatever you're trying to control that God wants you to surrender, I would just invite you in this moment to fall down to your knees and maybe just lift up your hands in a motion of surrender to God, and say:
God, I offer this to you, this person, this relationship, this fear. I surrender. And God, I just acknowledge, and we acknowledge that life can be very, very difficult, but God, we also thank you, that you work in all things, in everything, even in this, God, especially in this, to bring about good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose. We surrender, God. We surrender, God. Would you do what we want? We ask, if you can, would you, God? But if you don't, yet your will be done. We put our faith in you today.
In living rooms and all across the world, those of you who would recognize, I don't have that peace, I don't understand that this, let me just tell you who God is. God is so good. He loved you so much that He became one of you. He didn't shout His love from heaven, but He showed His love on earth in the person of Jesus, who was without sin, perfect in every way, was obedient to His heavenly Father and gave His life on a Cross. He became sin. God poured out His wrath upon Jesus who died as the Lamb of God in our place, and here's the amazing news. Jesus did not stay dead on that third day. Our God rolled the stone away. Jesus is raised from the dead, so that anyone, this includes you, who calls on His name, the name of Jesus, you would be saved, you would be forgiven, you would be made new.
Those of you who say, "I want His grace, I want His forgiveness", let go of the past, surrender your shame, surrender your sins, surrender anything keeping you from Him. Your fear of what people would think in the day. Just surrender. Jesus, I give you my life. When you call on Him, He hears your prayer. He makes you brand new. Those who say, "I want Him, I need Him. I turn from my sins. I surrender". Fall down on your knees and give your life to Him today. Just say yes. Click right below me. Say yes, in the comments, Jesus, I want your grace. I need your mercy. I need your forgiveness. Our God will hear your prayer and He will forgive your sins. Just pray right where you are.
Heavenly Father, forgive me. Save me. Change me. Jesus, be the Savior of my life, the Lord of my soul. Fill me with your Spirit, so I can know your love, show your love, and walk in your truth. I surrender my life completely to you. In Jesus' name I pray.