Steven Furtick - When God Doesn't Take Control
When I started asking the question, "Are you in control, God"? I realized it's a complicated answer. Yes, he is sovereign. How can he be so sovereign and I feel so stuck? How can he be so sovereign and some suffer so much? How can he be so sovereign and some struggle so long? Of course, I'm not confident enough in my professional competence to answer that. That's why we're going to Paul in just a moment, but realize… Maybe I can give it to you this way. Here's the first thing you can write down. God is always in control, but he doesn't always take control. God is always in control, but he doesn't always take control.
It's like when I gained 50 pounds in the first 18 months of being married. God never took any macaroni off of my plate. He let me eat as much macaroni as I wanted to eat. I was thinking about eating, and I've said it a few times now, because I'm a little hungry as I preach, to be honest with you, but the real reason I thought of it was portion control. God's not going to control the portion of food you eat or the portion of news that you consume. Are you ready? He's not going to control the portion of the Bible you read. God will let you watch as many episodes of Outer Banks. Is that the right show? He'll let you watch every episode and not read your Bible one time. God will let you scroll Instagram until you throw up pictures of somebody else's vacation. He won't stop you. He's in control. That doesn't stop you from scrolling.
I remember the first time… I felt so pathetic when Instagram told me, "You're all caught up". I was like, "Facebook is trying to save me! They legally have to tell me I've seen this crap already". God doesn't stop you from scrolling. God is always in control, and I'm grateful, but he doesn't always take control. Isn't that what we really want? A remote-control God who we can tell what to do with other people and from his holy heaven he will make everybody do everything we want them to do? He is not a remote-control God. He is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us so that his Spirit could live within us. Maybe I could illustrate it this way. For everybody who is confused and uncertain, like Paul was in prison… I came out earlier, and I said, "Let's show them with the cameras to set up this idea of, 'Are you in control?'"
In the room right now, there are eight cameras, I think. Maybe more. I don't know how many hidden cameras or security cameras there are, but I think there are eight so that this message can be brought to you in high definition and high fidelity the Word of God in all of its clarity. Let's say the way it works is there are different cameras I look at. Here's camera one. I think that's Bowser on camera one. Hey, Bowser. He's taking a break from throwing hamburgers at Mario for a minute and running the camera. Jay Bowser everybody. That's called camera one. I don't know if they call it camera one because he's the most important one, but it is right there. If they put a Scripture up, I can see it. It's great! That's camera one. Then, over here on this camera, it's camera four or five or something like that. It doesn't matter. The point is who is running this one today? Abraham. Okay. Abraham. Abraham is over here.
If I go to this camera, you can see me now. I'm looking at the camera. This is the way God gave it to me, like a picture just to make it simple for what we're going to talk about over the next few weeks. If Abraham's camera goes out of focus… Go ahead and make it blurry really quickly. Sometimes this happens as I'm moving around. They have to focus the camera. You can't see me really well, and that's distracting. You're like, "That looks horrible! I was tithing to Elevation, but now I'm going to give it somewhere else. They don't have any money in the equipment". Then, I'm like, "Bowser"! I'm looking at the camera, but nothing changed. What you have to understand is he's behind the camera, but he's not controlling the camera. Furthermore… Let me come back over here where it's blurry.
See how you can't really see it (like how your life feels right now and how your plans feel right now and how your future feels right now and how the outcome of certain things in the United States of America feels right now and how what God is doing in the world feels right now). This is how it has felt for a little while. Bowser is on camera one. "Bowser! Come on, man! Do your job! I'm looking at that camera. Give me that camera," but he can't control that camera. That camera is controlled in another room. The name of the room is the control room. In the control room is somebody named Chelsea. Chelsea has a headset, and Bowser does not have the capability to switch to that camera without Chelsea saying the following words: "Take it". When Chelsea says, "Take it," there it is in focus. Now, he's on the camera, but he doesn't control the camera. If I'm over here… Make it blurry again. Make it really blurry, Abraham. Make it really blurry. I look over here and say, "Come on, Bowser! Do your job! Come on, Bowser! What's wrong with you? Come on, Bowser! Are you distracted? Come on, Bowser! Did you sleep in today or forget to show up for the run-through? Come on, Bowser! Let's go! Let's go"! I can yell at him all I want, but he's not controlling the camera until Chelsea says, "Take it".
Now, God says, "You can stay in a state of confusion…" Make it blurry, Abraham. "…all you want, and you can complain about me all you want," but God says… God can give you a promise, but until you take it… God can give you peace, but you will feel unclear until you take it. I hear the Spirit of God saying today, "I have given you redemption, restoration, and purpose, but you have to take it". Are you in control? There are three questions in Philippians 1 that I think will help us with our focus. For me, in the last six months, focus has been a matter of survival. For the first week of the global pandemic, I had news stations on all around. I had to turn them off, because I realized if I kept watching their news, I wouldn't be able to preach the good news (the gospel).
I found out why they call it breaking news. Because it will break your brain. Paul is going to talk to us today in a situation where it seems like God is maybe not in control. "Are you in control, God? Because here I am in prison, and here you are sovereign, and here I am stuck". This really helped me. Y'all pray for me that I can read the whole thing with no interruptions. How many believe God will give me the willpower to read all 14 verses and not stop or interrupt? I'm going to prove you wrong. How many of y'all want to chant, "Believe in me"? Say, "I believe in you, pastor. I don't care about these other people. Fire them all! Fire your staff! We believe in you. Believe in Steve". There we go! Philippians 1:12: "Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result…" He's not. Okay. Just one. He's not focused on the resistance; he's focused on the results. "…it has become clear…" Abraham. "…it has become…" Take it. "…clear…" "…it has become clear…"
The situation is uncertain, but my purpose has become clear. "…throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel [the good news] without fear. It is true…" Somebody say, "Facts". "…that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way…"
I've already given you the first question. There are three. I've already given you the first one. See if you can find all three. Two of them are right there in the text, and one is implied. He said, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…" I'll rejoice in my bathrobe watching church in my living room. I will continue to rejoice. I will rejoice without a job or cut back on hours. I will rejoice even as I wake up in the middle of the night in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. I will praise my way back to sleep. I will breathe my way into peace. "…I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two…"
I kind of want to get out of here. It's crazy. "…but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith…" Isn't it funny that he calls it progress while he's in prison? He must be measuring something. He must be asking a different question, and he does not give them any of the answers they would have asked for, because I'm going to tell you what they wanted to know. When are you getting out? The church at Philippi is like your kids in the car. All they want to know is, "Are we there yet"? How many think that's the second most annoying question your kids ask? You're like, "Well, what's the first"? For me, "Do we have to? Do I have to"? I feel the spirit of slap-your-tongue-out-of-your-mouth coming. "Do I have to unload the dishwasher"? Okay. No. You don't have to. I will rip the dishwasher out and throw it in the yard. You can wash it all by hand. Then, after that, your Mom will cook for me, and you will watch. You don't have to.
I used to hate it when staff members would say, "Do we have to come? Do we have to come to Saturday night service"? Sometimes the Lord just has to take stuff away for a minute for you to appreciate it to get it back. "Do I have to be there"? Now, it's like, "God, can I please come! Can I please"? That happens. That happens in our lives. The Lord was telling me there are some really bad questions that I ask, questions that either he doesn't want me to know… My mom used to always say, "If I had wanted you to know I would have told you". The way Paul started the text… Go back to verse 12 really quickly. He said, "Now I want you to know…" Then, he doesn't tell them what they want to know. "When are you getting out"? He tells them what he wants them to know. That's like God. He tells you what he wants you to know. God controls the flow of information to our lives, and he doesn't owe us an explanation for everything. My amens are fading fast. My amens are fading fast. My amens are shutting down right now.
I feel like I'm going to have to come over here and preach this to Jenna. Now, Jenna, I specifically asked if you could be out on the stage today, because I was watching you worship the other day, and I realized you are an example of someone who never really asks for the spotlight. That blessed me. It blessed me because a lot of singers want to know, "When am I going to get to…"? It's a dumb question. I realized the better question isn't, "When am I going to get credit"? It is, "What is God calling me to do"? Now, when God does not give you an answer… How many of you are waiting for an answer from God about something in your life right now? Okay. If he won't give you the answer, ask him for a better question.
Do you want an example of this? When Moses asked God in Exodus, chapter 4, verse 1… You remember. He is called by God. We discussed Moses a couple of weeks ago. I kind of finished my sermon talking about Moses and how the proof you have it in you is that he asked you to do it, because he won't ask anything of you that he didn't first put in you. I'm just reminding you of that. Remember, the first thing Moses said was, "What if they do not believe me"? talking about the Israelites.
Now, let's isolate those three words. "What if they…" That's a bad question. Any time your question revolves around other people it is outside of the realm of your sovereign control. "What if they…" I don't care what you say next. You can't control it. "What if they…" is a bad question. Watch what God does. He answers Moses' question with a question, but it's an upgrade. When I saw this, I shouted. Are you ready? Moses said, "What if they…" Look at verse 2. "Then the Lord said to him, 'What is that…?'" Let's go. Moses said, "What if they…" God said, "What is that…"? Moses is asking about what he can't control. He's asking about a hypothetical scenario that involves others, and God says, "What is that in your hand"?
God will always point you to what is at hand, and the more your questions revolve around hypothetical situations that haven't happened and may not happen the longer you are going to stand in the absence of an answer which you will mistake for the absence of God, but God asked a better question. It's not, "What if they…" It's, "What is that"? When you focus on what God has given you… I love this. I spent so much time asking the question, "What if they"? or "What if that"? or "What if this"? but God says, "I have already given you a that no matter what they do". That's an example of what I'm talking about with the power of a better question. The proof of my progress in my relationship with God is I have less answers and better questions.