While preparing the devotion for our church’s recent Rejuvenate worship night gathering, I was thinking about the concept of rejuvenating and what it really means.
We go about it in different ways. For some it is hiking, for others it’s curling up with a good book or, perhaps, massages, pedicures, vacations.
In our spiritual lives it can look a lot like a worship night in which Jesus is celebrated with songs and candles. At home it could be hitting our Bibles, reading our favorite Christian author, connecting with a spiritual mentor. Although our approaches vary, there is a common denominator: We cast off something in order to enter into a place of refreshing. We empty out something in order to make room for something new and fresh.
Since our pastor returned from a month-long sabbatical earlier this summer, he has been sharing from the pulpit insights he gleaned from his days of wrestling with God. One of those was the realization that he was operating out of his own power; not relying enough on the One True Power. He also warned us that where the leader goes, so goes the body.
This is where my devotional becomes part confessional: My personal reality is that I, too, had been in the midst of my own wrestling match. It came during a recent bout with pneumonia in what became one of those dark nights of the soul. For days I had been hearing incessant phones ringing in my ear, a couple seconds on, a couple seconds off, non-stop. I was coughing, struggling for a clear breath. I had also been notified by one of my clients that my hours were likely to be cut—again.
This particular night, while physically miserable and coping with the phantom phone ringing. I wrestled until 5 a.m. with fits of how we could possibly “control” the loss of income, while the enemy began pinging me with echoes of “you will never be good enough,” “you’ve failed again,” “you will never get ahead,” “how much do you think you can endure? and “with this track record, who would want to hear your voice?”
Lies, all of them, straight from hell.
But in the wee hours of the morning, one truth did emerge: I too had been operating on my own power. I was face to face with the realization that my tendency to be a control freak had surpassed mundane household operations to also usurp God’s divine power for every inch of my redeemed life.
This revelation—this reality—explains why I’ve been tethered to a pattern of fits and starts, where I am rallied and motivated by great preaching, worship and divine insights from many of my church peeps, only to be stymied in the follow-through.
It’s like putting cheap gas in a Maserati.
It also occurred to me that the battle with control also inhibits the confidence that God promises to his people. Until we can truly relinquish control, we will never be able to walk in the radiant confidence displayed by Paul in Philippians 3:10-14:
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
But how do we move from our false, self-centered starts to a consistent confidence?
Blogger Nathan W. Bingham, who is director of Digital Outreach for Ligonier Ministries, offers his insights through his post “3 Ways to Crush Your Inner Control Freak.”
Remember the gospel
He tells us the first step is to remember the gospel.
He says, “Remember, the bad news of the ‘gospel’ is that you cannot save yourself. You are guilty before a holy God and are without hope within yourself. Redemption is totally outside of your control. However, the good news of the gospel is that another, God Himself, has taken control of redeeming a people for His glory. God is the One who is active in sending His Son to redeem a people. Jesus is the One active in the sense of willingly living, dying, and rising to redeem a people. The Holy Spirit is the One active, like the wind which ‘blows where it wishes’ (John 3:8), drawing a people to the Father.”
The blogger then goes on to say that we inherited this control mechanism from the Bible’s first control freak, Adam, who, once realizing that he was naked after eating the forbidden fruit, sewed fig leaves together to cover himself and then hid from God.
Genesis 3:8-11 tells us:
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’
“He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’
“ And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’” (NIV)
Bingham writes, “His instinct was to cover himself when he should have called out to the only One who could cover him: God.”
This passage reminds me of another biblical example of control interfering with our spiritual walk. We saw it with the Israelites after God told them he would provide their needs during their exodus by raining down manna from heaven. The first time it fell, Genesis 16:18-20 tells us:
“Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
“ Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’
“However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” (NIV)
Return to prayer
Bingham’s second step to crush our inner control freak is to return to prayer.
He writes, “If you don’t pray often, or at all, have you considered it may be because you don’t think you need to pray? In your mind you’ve got things under control. Your intellect, charisma, wealth, or whatever, will get you through the day. The act of stopping to pray is an external, physical, symbolic, yet real expression that you don’t have everything under control. Prayer is you saying, ‘I’m not a control freak! God, please sustain me today in Your grace.’
“Sometimes, one of the greatest blessings from trials and suffering is that it forces you to see your helplessness and it moves you to a deeper season of prayer.”
Rest in God’s sovereignty
The blogger’s third step to crush our inner control freak is to rest in God’s sovereignty. Bingham writes “When your energy (obsession) is to focus on controlling things, it’s a subtle attempt to be god. You might not be trying to control the universe, but you want to be the god of your own life, or the god of your office, or the god of your current major project. It can be a fine line sometimes, but there is a difference between subtly usurping the place of God, and ruling, managing, leading, serving, under God in the area in which He has placed you.”
As I work to better implement these three steps in my own life, it occurs to me that I am probably not the only believer who is caught in this tension between control and confidence.
Care to join me on this journey toward true freedom?
In the meantime, I am claiming the promises of Isaiah’s Invitation to the Thirsty in 55:8-13:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.” (NIV)
— by Lori Arnold
Lori Arnold is editor of Refreshed magazine. If you would like to share your thoughts on control and confidence, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.