I can be a bit of a control freak, but it only shows up in a few areas:
I can drive better than everybody else on the road and they should listen to me.
I have great kids, and if they do exactly what I say, they can pretty much hit perfection.
I know exactly what my favorite sport teams should do to be better.
Also, in every other area of my life, people should listen to me because I know exactly what should happen. Other than that, I don't have too many control issues.
Any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you may be a control freak, like me. Perhaps you were already aware of this, perhaps you're trying to avoid accepting it, attempting to will it away.
For me, this issue pops up everywhere, including in my relationship with God.
If God would just let me have some input, my life would be way better. Stuff like 'what should happen' and 'when it should happen'...you know, the basics.
That's why, I gotta tell you, following Jesus is just about the worst thing a control freak can do. At least, from the perspective of trying to pretend we're in control. From the perspective of becoming a healthier, more loving person? It's the only cure out there.
Having trouble following God when you're a control freak isn't a new problem. There's a story in the book of Exodus (see chapters 19-20) where God appears in-person, so to speak, before the nation of Israel, newly delivered from slavery in Egypt, at Mount Sinai.
God told the people he would be arriving in 3 days and had them make preparations. I bet they were so excited.
Now, a bit of context:
Every other people group in the area where Israel lived had idols. Wooden or stone or golden statues that represented different Gods. The people would worship these idols, even sacrifice to them.
The Jews were different. Their God was the creator of the universe, not some territorial middle manager, and therefore there was really no way to represent their God in the form of a small statue. But this was kind of awkward for the Jews, being different from everyone else.
N.T. Wright recalls the story of the Roman General Pompey pushing he way into the Holy sanctuary of the Jewish Temple to see what it was they were worshipping, he found it empty and dusty and sneered, 'Atheists!'.
So the Jews worshipped this invisible God while everyone else could display and show off their 'gods'. It feels kind of awkward, perhaps like going to a dog show and everyone is laughing at you because you've got one of those gag 'invisible dog leashes'. I'm not trying to compare God to a dog here, just demonstrate the feeling of being different than everyone else around you.
But all this was about to change - God was going to personally, physically arrive in the presence of the Jewish people. Finally, they'll have something to show off to all their friends!
When God arrives, however, it's not what they're hoping for. The mountain starts to smoke and lightning flashes around it thunder and the sound of a ram’s horn blast through the air. The people are terrified and they ask Moses to go and speak with God so they don't have to, otherwise "we're all gonna die".
In the midst of the social pressure to compare apples to apples - that is, show their God in the same way other cultures did, they found out definitively that God cannot be represented by such trinkets.
They thought they would finally get a nice presentable package which they could control, but instead they quickly learned that God cannot in any way be controlled, or paraded around, and they were very afraid.
In response, as quickly as they possibly could, while Moses was speaking to this wild, untamed God on the mountain for them, they constructed a golden cow and called it God. Because God had failed to meet the expectations they had thrust upon him, so they took the matter into their own hands. They found a way to give themselves control, or at least the illusion of control.
It's easy to look at that situation and say they were dumb, but I think I do this far too often. God is unpredictable and out of my control, so I seek to take the reins in my life.
Rather that patiently waiting and trusting God when I don't know what to do, I often make my own plans and schemes.
Here are a few ways I am working to make sure I'm not creating a God designed for my own comfort and benefit rather than worshipping the God who is creator of the universe:
1- Being okay with not understanding.
Part of my control tendencies comes from wanting 'the full picture' about everything. In areas where I don't have control, I can't know for sure what is happening. I have to embrace the fact that with God, I'm never going to understand the full picture. I can both fight this and drive myself nuts, or I can accept it and trust God.
From there, I can start to apply this in my own life: being okay with others not needing me to tell them what to do at all times.
2- Let go of the illusion of control.
Here's the thing: even when I think I am in control, and I work to gain all possible knowledge about a situation, I'm still not in control. God demonstrates his sovereignty on multiple occasions in the scriptures. Sovereignty means God is independent - not subject to any kind of control imposed upon him.
3- Let others use their gifts.
We may try to control the world around us for different reasons. I am driven nuts by inefficiency, so my control tendencies are all about doing things in the most efficient way possible. Yet there are other gifts which have no need of efficiency - compassion, encouragement and many other gifts which deal with interacting with other humans would be harmed by my efforts to impose control. My desire to control can actually get in the way of the Holy Spirit in another person's life, especially those closest and dearest to me.
God has not called us to understand everything about this world. God has told us he intends to make all of creation new again, and amazingly, God has invited us to be a part of it - not because he needs us, but because he wants us to be involved. At the end of the day, however, it's still God's plan.
My fellow control freaks, let us remind ourselves constantly with scripture of God's divine nature, uncontrollable - fearsome to all who encounter it directly and take joy in the fact we don't have to make everything around us perfect in our own eyes, for God who made the world and said it was good will make it good again.
Isaiah 30:15: "The Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “...Your strength will come by being quiet and by trusting.”
Psalm 46:10: "He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”"
These are just a couple of examples of scriptures we can focus on to remind ourselves that God is actually and totally in control, and what he does with that control is to bless and encourage us. When I seek control, it is rarely a blessing to others. May we be generous with our patience and understanding in a world of chaos and disorder.