The Struggle for Control
by Dale Sellers
Life is filled with seasons of discouragement, frustration and disappointment. Maybe you’re walking through one now. As I write this, we are six months into the life-altering effects of COVID-19, and if I’m honest, I’m tired of it. It’s been exhausting, discouraging and frustrating to have to make so many changes to our day-to-day lives without a clear end in sight.
Of the many things this season of life has brought to the surface, at the top of the list would be how most of us respond to the inconvenience of adjusting our normal expectation of instant gratification. The drive-through, microwave, instant-everything pace of life has been put on pause. We’re simply used to getting what we want when we want it. And when we don’t get what we want in the time we’ve determined to be acceptable, the ugly side of our personality often makes an appearance.
I believe the aggravation of having to wait is more of a symptom rather than the real problem. There’s actually a much deeper issue that needs to be confronted. The issue is that we seem to think we’re in control.
If you’re like I was for most of my life, you are going to immediately push back by telling me that God is in control. I get it. I would say the same thing. But the issue I’m addressing isn’t being able to quote a common platitude which always gets the nod of approval from our family and friends. It’s much deeper.
For so many of us, the desire to be in control has become a blind spot. It’s like the game of tetherball. The more momentum we create to establish control, the more tightly wound up we become to what is anchoring us…In this case, it’s the desire for control.
A quick search on Google defines “wound up” as: tense, strained, wired (slang), nervous, anxious, restless, edgy, jittery (informal), uptight (informal), on edge, jumpy, twitchy (informal), overwrought, fidgety, keyed up.
Several of these words could easily have described me as I initially navigated this change. Honestly, this is an issue that I have dealt with for most of my 58 years. It was easy for me to quote a Bible verse or a commonly “approved” Christianese saying. After all, I’ve been in the ministry for almost 40 years. Yet the person on the inside of me usually didn’t experience the confidence that the person on the outside was attempting to portray.
To be clear, I believe with my whole heart that God is in control! I also believe that God is good and has a wonderful plan for my life. However, I struggled for many years of my life with getting what I believed and knew to be true to become a practical reality of how I was actually living. Without a doubt, the most embarrassing prayer I’ve ever prayed was the day I prayed this out loud for the first time,
“Jesus, I thank you for my salvation. I believe that I will spend eternity with you when I die. But Lord, if I’m being honest with you today, I’m not sure I trust that You have my best interest in mind as I live out each day.”
It took a lot of courage for me to admit that to the Lord. Yet, I had to finally come to grips with the fact that He already knew that I felt this way. And maybe you can relate. I had no trouble believing I could put my trust in Jesus and be assured that I would spend eternity with Him in Heaven. But I somehow struggled to believe that He knew what was best for me here on earth.
I’ve spent a great deal of time over these past few months counseling and encouraging pastors and leaders of ministries throughout America, as well as in other countries. Many of the folks that I’ve connected with are tired, discouraged, defeated and, in some cases, depressed.
I wonder if you and I had the opportunity to sit down over a cup of coffee if you would be willing to admit that you are dealing with it too. One of the unexpected benefits to a season of change is that it affords us the opportunity to take the time to work through things that we have avoided dealing with previously. It’s possible to actually leverage a season of change as a chance to reset and refocus your life. With this in mind, let me offer three “Leveraging Lessons” that I’ve found to be helpful when it comes to really trusting Jesus with the control of my life. Maybe you will find them helpful too.
Leveraging Lesson #1 – Pray Honest Prayers.
In 1 Kings 19:4b, we read, “[Elijah] came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all – to just die: ‘Enough of this, God! Take my life – I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!’” (MSG)
This passage has always fascinated me. I can’t help but wonder why someone like Elijah who had just called fire down from Heaven and killed the prophets of Baal would run from Jezebel. There is so much to be explored in this story. But for our purposes in this article today, I just want us to focus on the authenticity of his prayer. The stressful situation Elijah had been in finally took its toll.
I take courage from seeing how God reacts to his prayer. God wasn’t mad at Elijah’s honesty. In fact, He responds to it by providing rest and nourishment for him right then and there. Later, God meets with him at an appointed place and listens to his heart, sending Elijah much-needed help and guidance.
God didn’t turn Elijah away for praying an honest prayer. He met him where he was.
Leveraging Lesson #2 – Discover Your Default.
Your default is the thing you turn to in a difficult situation that allows you to experience peace, hope and security. Most people believe that hard times DEVELOP character. In many ways, the experience of working through a difficulty gives us a point of reference for what to do the next time a similar situation arises. In a much deeper way, however, hard situations REVEAL where our trust is at the moment more than preparing us for the next situation.
I’ve seen this play out in unique ways with the churches I’ve worked with this year. So many leaders have been exhausted by trying to recreate what they have always done in a “COVID-approved” format. This rigid approach has created incredible stress for church leaders, partly because they were ambushed by the disruption, partly because of the expectations they have to manage throughout the congregation, and partly because they didn’t have a plan in place before life changed so drastically.
Don’t misunderstand the point here. None of us were prepared for a pandemic to hit. But this situation has revealed that many of us have our security in “where we’ve been” instead of “where we’re going.” There is security in defaulting to what we already know. But it’s this need for security that is keeping a lot of us from really connecting with the people in our community we’re called to reach. Defaulting to what we’ve always done helps us feel in control.
Leveraging Lesson #3 – Learn the Value of Lagging over Leaping.
A common statement we’ve all heard is that the Lord wants us to take a “leap of faith” when dealing with the unknown. It would be impossible to number the amount of people who have experienced the crash of reality after taking a “leap” of faith. If we think about it, the Bible actually encourages us to take steps of faith instead.
We read in Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” I like to envision His Word as a lantern that illuminates my path with each step I take. No, it doesn’t provide a powerful beam of light in one direction like a flashlight. But it does show me where I am at this moment and what things are around me, both good and bad. Therefore, I have found it much better to stay in step with Jesus everyday instead of giving into my tendency to run ahead of Him and place my trust in my own ability.
Proverbs 4:18 states, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” I want to encourage you to leverage your season of change as an opportunity to fully trust that Jesus is aware of where you are and completely capable of getting you where He intends for you to ultimately be. He is in control. Let’s be intentional to trust Him daily to complete the work He has already started in our lives.
Dale Sellers is the author of Stalled: Hope and Help for Pastors Who Thought They’d Be There By Now and the executive director of 95Network, a ministry created to support the 95% of churches under 500 in average attendance.
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