Craig Smith - Control Issues
Actually, some of the people it’s a little more evident and they’re a little bit more inclined to admit it, but I think all of us actually have control issues. And there’s good reasons I say that. First off, actually, the reality is that that our desire to take control is rooted in what it really means to be human. It’s interesting, I grew up in a church where I was told all the time, you know, “God’s in control. Our job is just to let go and let God. God’s the only one in control. Human beings don’t have any control.” But I actually don’t think that’s a biblical idea. In fact, if you go to the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, when God talks about the creation of human beings, he says this, this is Genesis 1:28, or we’ll start back in 27.
“So, God created mankind in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female, he created them, and God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Isn’t that interesting? God said that something is really closely connected to being in his image is that we’re supposed to subdue creation. We’re supposed to rule over it. That’s control. God actually made us to take control. Now, you may have never heard that in church before, but I want you to hear it from God’s Word. God actually created us to take control of certain things. That’s what it means to be human. And so, the reality here is, good news, if you are a self-identified control freak, that’s actually rooted in something that’s fundamentally connected to what it means to be human. Taking control was part of what God made us to do.
Here’s the problem though. The problem is that sin came into the picture. And sin is not creative. Sin doesn’t make up new things. Sin takes things God made and it twists them until they become something God never intended them to be. If you think about almost every list of sins that you can imagine, everything on the list, if you look at it, it’s probably ultimately a good thing that’s been taken outside of its parameters, it’s being used in a way God never intended. And that’s the problem with control, is that sin came in and it twisted it and it turned it into something it wasn’t supposed to be. And so God made us, let me be clear, God made us to take control of certain things that we can and should be in control of.
But sin has come in and it’s pushing us and it’s trying to make us take control of things that we can’t and shouldn’t be in control of. Things that are outside of our control. Things that are only God’s. And so what happens is sin causes us to try to take control of other people. Sin causes us to try to take control of our circumstances, our future, things that we don’t really have any control over, only God does. And sometimes, honestly, sometimes sin actually causes us to even try to take control of God, to manipulate God, to do what we want him to do. So those are the things that we can’t and shouldn’t be in control of. And that’s why I think we ultimately all have sin issues because we were all made to have a certain amount of control, but we’re ultimately all sinful and it’s kind of, it’s working out of whack now.
What I want to do today is I want to take you to a part of the Christmas story that God’s been using in my life to take control of my control issues. And here’s the good news. If you recognize that you have some control issues, here’s the good news, it’s actually connected to something God made you to be. It’s just being used in a way that God never intended it to be. And so, I want to take you to a story that I think shows us ultimately what happens when our control issues aren’t under control, not used the way God intended, but also what’s possible, what good thing is possible when we allow God to redeem our control issues? We’re going to be in Matthew Chapter 2 if you wanna follow along. Matthew Chapter 2, starting in verse 1, it’s probably a familiar story to many of you. And even if church is brand new to you, by the way, welcome. So glad to have you with us if this your first time with us.
But even if you don’t have much of a church background, you probably know a little bit of the story. There’s gonna be some very familiar characters. This is a very familiar part of the Christmas story. Matthew 2:1 says this, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, during the reign of the time of King Herod, Magi from the East, came to Jerusalem and they asked, “Where is the one who’s been born? The King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose, and we have come to worship him.” This is the story of the Magi. Okay? Now, by the way, if that’s a new word for you, you may have heard of the wise men, or maybe you sang the song, “We three Kings.” Christians love to change the name of these people. Wise men sounds a lot better, three kings sounds better than Magi.
And the reason is because magi is actually the root word of our English word magician. In other words, and we’re not talking, David Copperfield kind of stuff, we’re not talking David Blaine, okay? We’re talking about people who practiced occult arts. They did divination, they read tea leaves or the entrails of animals to tell the future. They practiced astrology and all these kinds of occult things that the Bible forbids. And so it’s very strange, honestly, that, whereas we’re going to see, they’re kind of the good guys in the story, but they’re not supposed to be the good guys. And so we tend to sanitize it and turn them into the wise men. But in fact, he says, they’re Magi. It’s a Persian word and it’s actually probably the best indication we have that they came from Persia. That was the part of the world that was east of Israel. And because this is a Persian word, that probably means it came from what was once Babylon. That area of the world.
But the main thing to recognize is they’re not Jewish. That’s really important. They’re not Jewish, they’re not Israelites. And yet it says they came “Because we saw his star rising. We saw a star,” and they associated that with the birth of a King in Israel. And they said we’ve come to what? Say it with me, “To worship him.” Now, when we hear the word worship, we kind of naturally assume that, oh, they must be coming to praise him or to bow down to him as God. But the reality is that the word worship doesn’t always have a religious connotation, especially in the ancient world. In fact, it’s interesting. The Greek that this was originally written in the main Greek word for worship is “proskuneo.” It’s two words there.
You don’t need to know proskuneo but it’s important to say there’s two words there. Pros means towards, and kuneo means to kiss. The Greek word for worship means to kiss towards someone or to blow kisses. And that seems like a strange word for worship, but you need to understand in the ancient world, everybody was on a hierarchy. Everybody was somewhere on the social ladder and one of the first things you did when somebody was coming towards you is you kind of assessed who they are and you ask the question, “Do they have some kind of control over me?”
Because if they had any kind of control over you, that changed the way you would greet them. If they were in the same level with you, they had no control over you, then you might kiss them on the cheek as a greeting. If they were a little higher than you, and they had some degree of control over you, you might kiss them on the back of their hand. On the other hand, if they had a lot of control over you, if you were truly under their control, what you would do is you would bow down and you’d blow kisses towards them. And basically, what you were saying was “I submit to your control. I recognize who you are. I know who I am in relation to you. And I submit to your control.” And in the ancient world, this is so important to understand, to worship is to submit to someone’s control. You hear me, church?
That’s essentially what it is, is to submit someone’s control. Now, here’s the good news. That means that we do a lot of things in our worship, that we don’t always associate with worship. We’re actually worshiping God a lot more often than we think we are. When we sing songs to God, we’re recognizing his authority over us. Of course, we’re worshiping, but also when we give, when we give generously and when we help others with the resources we have, God’s called us to do that, we’re submitting to his control, that’s worship. When we read our Bible as he’s called us to do, that’s submitting to God’s control. That’s worship. When we respond to the promptings or the movements of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we talked a little bit last week. When we sense God leading us to do something, whether it’s to say a word of encouragement or make a phone call or do something like that, every time we do that, we’re submitting to God’s control. We’re worshiping. So, the reality is a lot of us are a lot more common worshipers than we might otherwise think we are.
Now, the bad news is, if to worship is to submit to someone’s control, the bad news is we’re probably all worshiping some things that we have no business worshiping. We’re all allowing certain things to control us and we’re willingly submitting to that control, even though they don’t have the right to that control over us. But ultimately, worship is to submit to control. And so these Persians, these occult practitioners, these non-Jewish people come because they heard there’s a Jewish king being born and so they came to submit to his control. And that’s very important to this story. Now, those are the Persian, the non-Jewish people, and now we’re gonna get a chance to talk a little bit about King Herod. King Herod is the Jewish king. He is a Jewish person and the Jewish people at this point had been waiting for hundreds of years for this king to be born. They’ve been waiting for, in some cases, over 1000 years for the Messiah to arrive.
And so when these Magi come and say, “Hey, we’ve seen the signs that the prophecy has been fulfilled, that the Messiah is here,” what we expect is that all the Jewish people should rejoice. But Verse 3 says this, that, “When King Herod, heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.” Instead of being delighted, King Herod was disturbed. And this is really the first indication that we get that Herod was a guy with some control issues. So, here’s the thing. I’ve come to understand this in my own life. Maybe you’ve seen it in yours. The more we strive for control, the more we’re disturbed by change. Right? In fact, if you find yourself not sure if you’re a control freak, or if you have control issues, ask yourself this, how do you deal with change? And by the way, I’m not talking about changes that you institute. Like, those of us who love control, we’re happy to do changes. We just don’t like it when other people change things around us.
There was a book a few years ago called “Who Moved My Cheese?” Like, my cheese is supposed to be right there. That’s where it’s always been. I don’t like the fact that somebody came along… Because the thing is, like, when we have control issues, we get things organized the way we like them to be. Whether it’s our family or our kitchen or our desk or our office or whatever it is, we get things to the way we want them to be and when something else comes in and changes it, it’s disturbing to us because we can’t control it. We have to start over trying to get, “How do I get this exactly the way I want it?” Right? And the reality is the more we strive for control, the more that we are disturbed by change. This is our first indication that Herod has some control issues.
Now, it’s not the first indication for the rest of Israel that Herod has control issues. Israel already knew this because the reality is this, at this point in his life, Herod had already publicly executed two wives, a mother-in-law, and three of his sons. Publicly executed all those people because he thought they might not be loyal to him and he was concerned that they might be out to get his throne. Now, most of the ancient historians said there was no evidence for that. He didn’t produce any evidence. He just thought it might be the case and so he publicly executed them. I think if we had a scale of 1 to 10, Herod’s a 15 on the control issue scale. There’s no question he’s a control freak, and that’s probably why Matthew says, “When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.”
We can sort of understand why it is that Herod was disturbed, because a new king threatens his control. But why was the rest of Israel concerned? And the answer is they’re not disturbed that the Messiah might’ve come. They’re disturbed because they’re worried about what Herod’s gonna do. They’ve already seen what he’s capable of, and here’s the reality. Okay? The more we strive for control, the more we tend to produce chaos. Do you hear me church? The more we try to control things, whether it’s another person or our family, or even our environment or whatever it is, the more we try to control, the more often we end up producing chaos in the lives of the people around us. You’ve probably all experienced that and you may have all done that on one level or another.
Our attempts to make control happen produce chaos in the lives of other people. That’s why they’re disturbed, because they’re wondering what this is gonna do to them because it’s threatening his control. He says this, he says that “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.” And I think it’s interesting. It’s just when he called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he called together all the religious leaders and all of their religious scholars. And it’s interesting that Matthew says he called them all in. Because the reality is at this point, the Jewish people have been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds and hundreds of years. They’re all very well aware of the old Testament prophecies about the Messiah’s birth.
He only really needed one. Probably any of the chief priests could have told him where the Messiah was supposed to be born. Certainly, any of the religious scholars, the scribes could have told them where the Messiah was to be born. But he didn’t call one or two or three. He called them all. Which, it’s another sign of control issues, really. Because control freaks have a little bit of a tendency to overreact. Any overreactors? Any mountain out a molehill people with me? I am. I definitely am. And maybe even more importantly, here’s the thing. The more we strive for control, the more we make our problems everyone’s problems. What we’re upset about becomes upsetting to other people because we insist on involving them. Because that’s part of what it means to strive for control. To call them all.
And they answered, they said, “In Bethlehem, in Judea,” they replied. In Bethlehem, in Judea. “For, this is what the prophet has written.” This is the prophet, Micah, “But you Bethlehem in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah. For out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel.” And it’s such a powerful promise. There’s a picture being painted there, not only about where the Messiah is going to come from, but what kind of a ruler he’s going to be, right? It says, “A ruler who will,” what’s that word? Shepherd. A ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. It’s so powerful because this is an incredible contrast to the kind of ruler Herod was. Herod was a controlling ruler. Herod was driven by controlling people and building monuments to his power.
In fact, one of the things that Herod is known for, one of the good things, is he did all these big building projects. And in fact, during his lifetime, he did a massive expansion of the temple in Jerusalem, all of which sounds like a great thing, except that, and one ancient historian says the reason he did it was so that he could have a capital city worthy of his glory. It’s how the ancient people understood Herod’s leadership. It was all about him. He was about control. He was about power. But the Messiah says, there will be a ruler who will shepherd. And shepherds aren’t about control. Shepherds are about care. Shepherds are all about the health of the people that they rule. I think it’s so fascinating. I love it that later in this Gospel, Matthew records the time that Jesus in his adult life had begun to attract huge crowds.
And in Matthew 9:36, he says this, “When he, Jesus, saw the crowds, he had compassion on them. Because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” But he was the shepherd. He was the shepherd who came and because of his compassion for his people, he was willing to do whatever is necessary to serve them, to lead them to health. He said, “I didn’t come to be served. I came to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many, for all of the sheep,” so that we could be restored in our relationship with God. See, Jesus was driven by compassion. Herod was driven by control. And I wonder if in that contrast between these two we don’t see a very powerful principle that might help us to begin to deal with our own control issues. See here’s the truth. The more we’re driven by compassion for others, the less we’re driven to control them.
We don’t see in Jesus’s life, a desire to control anyone. To serve them, to save them, absolutely, but not to control them. And I wonder if that’s because he was driven by compassion. On the other hand, we look at Herod’s life and we see a man with very little compassion. Even on his own family, no compassion and yet a huge desire to be in control. And I wonder if what we’re seeing there is that compassion and control, they sit on opposite sides of the see-saw. Like, if you’ve got a lot of compassion, there’s just not a lot of room for control. On the other hand, if you’ve got a lot of control going on, there’s not a lot of room for compassion. Or maybe it’s like, you know, when control jumps in it smashes it down and compassion goes weee. It’s just out of the picture now. Right?
But it might work the other way around too, that the greater we grow in our compassion, the more we fling our desire and our need and our desperate striving to be in control out of the picture too. And so maybe, maybe rather than doing what I think we so often do, which is just praying, “God, make me less controlling,” maybe instead of praying, “God, make me less controlling,” we should be praying, “God, make me more compassionate.” Because I believe that as compassion comes in, it pushes control to the side and it’s only there functioning for those things we can and should control and no longer striving to control what we can’t and shouldn’t. So, if you feel like maybe control is something that you’re struggling with, maybe start praying for more compassion. Very hard to try to control somebody you’re compassionate on. On the other hand, it’s hard to be compassionate for somebody you’re controlling, so pray for greater compassion.
Verse 7 says, “And then Herod called the Magi secretly, and he found out from them the exact time the star had appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. And as soon as you find him report to me so that I too may go and worship him.” And even if you don’t know the story, you’re a little suspicious at this point, right? Like, “Yeah. I don’t know about that guy.” I mean, he says, “Hey, I want you to go and find this new king so that I too may worship him, that I too may submit to his control over me.” It’s interesting. As I was preparing for this message, I did some reading about what psychologists have found about control issues. And it’s fascinating to me, one of the clear associations they found in studies is that people who have strong control issues also lean towards using deception.
In fact, the more controlling people are, the more likely they are to be deceptive, to lie on a regular basis. Because the reality is that what’s happening is we’re using untruths to try to control people, to get them, to do what we want, because we know that if they heard our true motives, they saw our true selves, they might not go along. They might not do what we wanted them to do. And so deception is a very natural kind of parallel to this need to be in control. And certainly, we see that in Herod here. He’s lying. “But after they had heard the king, they went on their way and the star that they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. Now, when they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” And if you can, I want to encourage you to underline that word or highlight that word overjoyed. We’re gonna come back to it in just a moment.
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down, and they worshiped him.” They bowed down, they submitted to his control. One of the ways they did that, “Then they opened their treasures and they presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Now, when they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up,” he said, “Take the child, his mother, and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.” So he got up, he took the child and his mother during the night, and they left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.” And then Matthew says a fascinating thing, “And in this way was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the through the prophet, “Out of Egypt, I called my Son.”
It’s interesting. About 800 years before these events took place, the prophet Hosea had been given a prediction that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt, to come up out of Egypt. What’s interesting, of course, is that Joseph and Mary and their family, they’re not Egyptians. They don’t know anybody in Egypt. There’s no particular reason to be in Egypt. In fact, historically, Egypt was the enemy of Israel. And so why on earth would they go there? Well, they went there to flee from Herod because Herod was trying to kill them, so they had to get away. And how did they live while they were foreigners in a strange land? Well, they’d just been given very expensive gifts. Through the Magi, God provided everything they would need for their sojourn in Egypt.
And then when Herod had died, they got to come up out of Egypt, fulfilling the prophecy. But this is crazy, I mean, think about this. Mary and Joseph would never have gone to Egypt if it hadn’t been for Herod. So the prophecy was fulfilled because of Herod. Herod’s working against God’s agenda, but he ended up accomplishing God’s agenda. Is that crazy to you? And so, here’s the thing, the control issues that we have aren’t, again, they’re not just about going, “I’m not gonna try to control anything,” because God has made us to control some things. There are things we can and should control, but then there’s things that are God’s and we can’t and shouldn’t try to control them. The problem is that trusting God’s control is hard for us because trust doesn’t come easily for us.
To trust, we have to learn that somebody is trustworthy. To really trust, we have to become convinced that they can be trusted. So if we’re gonna trust God’s control, then we have to trust that he can’t be controlled. And in this, I see an incredible piece of evidence that we can trust God. And it’s this, we can trust God’s control because even the attempts to work against him end up working for him. Do you see that? Herod’s working against God’s agenda, but it ends up just checking off the boxes that God had already planned to have checked off.
And I don’t know about you, but I can say in my own life, I look back and so many of those times that I go, “This is not your will for me, God. This can’t be your will for me. There are things coming against me. There are things that clearly are working against your will.” And yet those become the very things that God uses to grow and to shape me and to make me into the man, the husband, the father, the leader that I’m supposed to be. I wouldn’t trade any of those things. I mean, I wouldn’t go looking for them again, let’s be honest, but I wouldn’t trade them because God was there… They might’ve been working against God’s purposes, but they ended up working for his purpose. How many of you have experienced anything like that in your life?
The Bible is filled with stories of that. And I think it’s for that reason that the Apostle Paul says this, this is Romans 8:28. He says, “And we know,” we don’t guess, we don’t hope, we know we see it throughout the pages of God’s Word, but we’ve also experienced it throughout our lives as we follow Jesus, we know that in all things,” not some things, not most things, in all the things, including the things that seem to be working against God, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose.” One of the best ways to begin to surrender our control or our attempt to control those things that we can’t and shouldn’t, is to learn that we can trust God. And in here we see powerful we can trust God’s control because even those things that work against his will end up working for it. Herod has a hard time with that lesson. Herod continues to try to take control of what he can’t and shouldn’t.
And verse 18 says this, “Now, when Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious.” And it’s interesting that Matthew says, “When he realized he had been outwitted.” Different versions translate the Greek word there differently. Some versions say, “When he realized he had been tricked.” The King James, interestingly enough, the King James says, “When he realized he had been mocked by the Magi.” And in that case, actually, the King James actually has the most literal. It’s interesting to me. At different points in time, different translations are more literal than others. People like to say, “Well, this one’s more literal. That’s not…” it actually varies all the way across all the translations. But in this case, the King James has the most literal translation that, “When he realized that he had been mocked…”
Which is interesting because I don’t think the Magi were, like, telling Herod jokes as they went home. Right? I don’t think they were coming up with ways to tear him down. They weren’t coming up with slick burns on Herod, right? They just weren’t. They probably weren’t much thinking about him, but from Herod’s perspective, “They’re mocking me.” From Herod’s perspective, “They’re making fun of me.” From Herod’s perspective, “They’re tearing me down to other people.” And you know what’s going on there? It’s insecurity. I mean, it’s insecurity that causes us to wonder if other people are talking about us. Does anybody else have this? Have you ever walked past a group of people, or maybe even just two people that are talking and you wondered, “I wonder if they’re talking about me.” Is that just me? It’s probably just me. Okay.
That fear that other people don’t think well of you. That fear that other people might be telling other people you’re not so great. That’s one of the most powerful fuels for our control issues. The reality is this, the need for control is often rooted in insecurity. We tend to think that our need for control is rooted in, you know, ego, right? We’re, you know, we’re just all full of ourselves. But it’s interesting, Quincy Jones, who’s a music producer said, and I love what he said. He said, “Ego is just overdressed insecurity.” We look at people and go, “They’re power-hungry. They’re just control freaks. They just want to be in control.” A lot of times, actually, it’s driven by an insecurity. I know in my life a lot of my control issues were driven by insecurity. I want to control this or that or these people or whatever it is so that people won’t get a glimpse behind the curtain and see that I’m not all I’m cracked up to be. And I’m not all that I hope they think that I am.
The reality is the need for control is often rooted in insecurity. And so, I’d like to encourage you to think about something for a minute. Think about a place in your life where you probably, if you’re really honest, have had some control issues. Maybe a place in your life where you’re a little bit more likely to try to take more control than you should. Maybe you’re trying to take control of something that you can’t, or maybe you’re not supposed to, that you shouldn’t. And then ask yourself this question, “What’s driving my striving? What’s driving my need to exert control where I can’t and shouldn’t have it. What’s driving my striving?” And you may very well find that there’s an insecurity there.
And the powerful thing about this is that when you can identify the insecurity, you can begin to ignore it. See, when we begin to understand where the voice is coming from, we can begin to go, “Oh, okay. Yeah, I hear you. I’m just not going to listen to you. I hear you, but I’m not going to give you the final vote in how I behave.” It’s so much easier when we can identify where it’s coming from, to what’s driving your striving in that area where you’re trying to be more in control than you really can or should. He had realized he had been mocked by the magic he was furious, “And he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
And then what was said through the Prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping in great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more.” I mean, what we have there is a powerful cautionary tale about what can happen when we don’t get our control issues under control. And again, I wanna remind you that the desire to control isn’t inherently bad. It’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image. The problem is that sin has twisted it so we’re not trying to control what we can and should. We’re beginning to try, we’re striving for control because of insecurity or whatever it is, we’re striving for control of what we can’t and shouldn’t have control of, and what we see here is what happens when that sinful twisting of this natural capacity is allowed to run its full course.
He ends up killing every boy two years and younger in this whole region. It’s a powerful cautionary tale about what happens if we don’t get our control issues under control. It’s interesting. Herod receives word of the birth of Messiah, the birth of God’s Savior, and there was no joy in that realization. There was only fear and anger and struggle and ultimately, pain. And he propagated hurt to more and more people, and yet, there was a group of people who had a very different response, right? I mean the Magi came to worship and they did. And I want you to go back with me. I mentioned it a little bit earlier, but I want to go back there. In Matthew 2, verse 10, we’re told something really interesting about the Magi. It says that, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” I love that word. They weren’t just joyful. They were overjoyed. And in the original Greek, it literally says, I kid you not, it says, “They rejoiced exceedingly with mega joy.” How cool is that?
“They rejoiced exceedingly with mega joy.” Like, I want mega joy. Do you want mega joy? How do we get mega joy? I was setting this passage and praying about it and I found myself trying to recall a time in my life where I had experienced mega joy. And there were two times that I think I came closest, and both of them were at the birth of my daughters. I remember holding their little bodies and experiencing two, what I thought were contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I felt probably least in control than I ever had at any point in my life because they were just handing me a human being. And they were like, “Hey, good luck with that.” And there was so little I could control. I mean, I couldn’t control the way their bodies developed, I couldn’t really control who they were gonna be, and there are things that I could do and I’m going to do them to try to raise them right.
But at the end of the day, you know, they’re going to make their decisions. And there’s so much that I can’t control. I can’t control diseases that might come in. There’s so much. And I remember feeling out of control and so unable to exert control and at the same time feeling incredible joy. And I looked at the story this week and I thought, “Oh, it’s so interesting.” The man who exerted or tried to exert the most control experienced no joy, and those who consistently submitted to God’s control experienced mega joy. And I thought, oh, I had a light bulb moment. I went, “Huh. I see what you’re doing there, Jesus.” Yeah. See, striving for control limits joy, but trusting God’s control, multiplies it. Striving for control of what we can’t and shouldn’t control, it actually limits our capacity for joy, but submitting to God’s control actually multiplies it. And that’s the key.
It’s learning to trust God’s control over that that we can’t and shouldn’t control. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it actually opens us up to an experience of joy greater than we have had before. So maybe you’re going, “Okay, I get it. I’m a control freak. I’ve got control issues. I understand how it can be really bad. I understand that it could be really good, but how do I get better at it?”
Let me give you a couple of thoughts. Number one is this, start off with just remember what’s at stake. Remember what’s at stake. Our attempt to control what we can’t and shouldn’t causes pain, it produces chaos, and it limits joy. Both in our lives and in the lives of others. So start with remembering why we want to get our control issues under control. Remember what’s at stake.
Second thing is this, is reframe letting go as opening up. We tend to go, “I just need to learn how to let go of control,” but there’s kind of a negative piece to that, right? Instead, maybe we need to be thinking, “What I need to do is I need to get my hands off of that so that I can reach out and take something else.” You’ve probably heard this, this is old, so I don’t even know if it’s true or not, but what they say is that the way they catch monkeys is they get a hollow log with little hole in it. And they put a banana in there. Monkey sticks his hand through the hole, grabs the banana, but then he can’t get his fist out because he’s holding the banana, and he’ll just stay there because he won’t let go. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know I’m like a monkey in that way a lot of times. And maybe you are as well. We get a hold of something and we’re so attached to it that we’re not willing to let it go and what has to happen?
Well, somebody needs to come along with a bigger banana, right? “Oh, I don’t want that banana. I want that one,” right? That’s a weird image. Let’s forget that. Forget that. But here’s the thing, what God is offering is so much better than what we’re trying to seize with our attempt and our striving for control. So maybe what we need to do is reframe it. It’s not so much about letting go of control, it’s about opening ourselves up for something so much greater that God has for us. And the third thing we’ve already talked about a little bit. Third thing you can do is identify and then ignore your insecurity. Identify that voice that’s calling you to exert control, identify what it is that insecurity is because then you can begin to go, “I hear your voice. I’m just not gonna give you the final vote in my behavior.”
And then just really practically, something I’ve been working on, start small and work your way up. Start small and work your way up. Don’t start with, “God, I’m just not gonna try to control anything anymore that I can’t and shouldn’t. I’m just done with all that.” That’s not gonna work. But maybe start with something that you go, “You know, there’s a place here where maybe I could control, but I probably shouldn’t. You know what I’m gonna…I’m gonna let go of that thing.” And what you may begin to find is as you do that, you experience a joy you didn’t expect, and it becomes easier and easier to deal with those other things. Those bigger things that we try to control, even though we can’t, and we shouldn’t.
Here’s a question to reflect on. Is there an insecurity that I can identify behind my control issues? Identify it so you can start to ignore it. And then what’s one thing…? I encourage you to find one thing this week where you can practice trusting God’s control a little bit more. Just one thing. I promise you that as you begin to let go of those things that God never intended you to have control over, you’re gonna experience peace and a joy you never thought possible. Would you pray with me?
God, we thank you for our capacity to control things. We recognize it’s a gift from you. It’s part of what it means to be human. It’s an honor that you would share some of your control with us who have been made in your image. But we confess that our sin has twisted that capacity into something it was never intended to be, and it causes a lot of damage. It limits a lot of joy, both in our lives and the lives of others. And so we confess to you all the ways that we have tried to control things that we can’t and we shouldn’t. We ask for your forgiveness and we’re grateful knowing that we have it in the person of Jesus. Lord, we invite you to teach us to surrender more control over the things that we can’t and shouldn’t be in control of to you. Give us a greater sense of confidence and as we trust you, Lord, would you give us mega joy?
Just take a moment right now, just pray over the God who is in control of everything. Pray to him and ask him not only to be working in your heart, but to be working in the heart of those that are listening to this message who don’t have a relationship with him. They don’t yet have a relationship that’s rooted in the trust of him. And if that’s you, maybe you’re listening to this. Maybe this is your first time in church in a long time. Maybe it’s your first time ever. And maybe in this message you’ve heard a reality that you can’t ignore in your own life, which is you’ve been striving for control over things and it’s caused damage, it’s caused harm, it’s caused pain for you and for others. And maybe you realize for the first time it’s because you’re trying to control things that you can’t and shouldn’t.
There’s a God who can and should. There’s a God who loves you and his desire for you to surrender control to him isn’t just so that he can control you, but so that he can bring you joy and peace. God loves you so much he sent his own Son to die to pay the price for every wrong you’ve ever done. For all the damage caused by our control issues and every other way that sin has twisted us into being what we were never intended to be. Jesus died on the cross to pay for all of those. That’s why he came. Three days later, he rose from the dead. After rising from the dead, he offers each of us a relationship with God. It’s a relationship that comes by faith in surrendering to God’s loving, shepherding control over us.
If you’ve never had a relationship with God, you could have it starting today. You can have all your sins forgiven, you can be promised a place in heaven, and you begin to live a new peace and joy that only comes from trusting in the God who loves you so much. I want to tell you how to do that. Here’s how you do it. You’re just going to have an honest conversation with God. You’re gonna tell him a couple of things. Here’s what you’re gonna tell him. Just say this after me in your own heart. Say:
God, I have done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. But thank you for loving me enough to send Jesus. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I believe you rose from the dead. I believe you defeated death so you can offer life. Jesus, I’m ready to surrender myself to you. I’m ready to submit to your control over me. Jesus, I’m saying yes to following you. And I receive from your forgiveness, new life. Jesus, I’m yours, for now, and forever. Amen.