Sometimes it feels like life is all about control. How much control do you have? What do you control? What controls you? I become a Christian, and then it’s about surrender. Surrendering control of your life to God but then still having self-control. To someone like me, who tends to overthink these sorts of things it can feel like my brain is breaking when I really try to think this through. My mind starts going in circles of maintaining control vs. surrender to the point my thoughts become like a skipping record and this is my attempt to get through the song.
Before Christ, I looked at control like an accountant looks at someone’s finances. The control you had were your assets and the control people or things had over you were your liabilities. The more focused and disciplined you were (self-controlled) the more you could achieve and the more successful you would become. “Whatever you set your mind to you can achieve” sort of thing. Then there are the people in life who take control to a whole other level and want to control other people as well. Whether they do this because they feel out of control of their own life, in perfect control of everything around them, or are just self-centered narcissists the results are the same; they treat the people around them with no love and little to no respect.
Being under something or someone else’s control was a sign of weakness, and as a Christian in some ways it still is a negative type of weakness. Before I began living out a positive relationship with Christ, allowing anything or anyone to have control over me was like losing a part of myself. There were somethings that I was willing to allow to take pieces of me, cigarettes come to mind, but my pride was in the idea that it only had control over me because I allowed it. I still have some of this rebellious spirit in me and find that as long as I focus on the Gospel the rebelliousness within me does not win the day. Feeding my thoughts about others starves my selfishness.
Now, as a Christian, my views on control have shifted pretty drastically. I no longer see control over other people in a positive light and understand that true self control is achieved by surrender. Now I see that God is in control, but only if I allow Him to “take the wheel”. I have heard many people say they do not believe in God because if God was really in control He would never allow bad things like school shootings to happen. The truth is they are right. If God was in control of everything then those types of atrocities would not happen. The problem is mankind. If every adult and child in a school was living a selfless life and surrendered control of their life to God, lived out the gospel then that school would have no bullies, no sexual misconduct, and no shootings. The sad state of the world isn’t that we are not in the garden anymore it’s that we would now rather live outside of the garden, than take The Way back in.
Control should be in God’s hands but I am supposed to exercise self-control. Wait, what? The thing is that while we are creatures of free will, our scope of freedom is really pretty narrow. We can obey God, or obey self. That’s really it. We obey God by loving God and loving people who are the made image of God. Hear this: We are made in the image and we are the made image of God. The word used for “image” in the creation story is the same word used for idol. So, we can Obey, worship, and Love God, or we can obey, worship, and be self-focused. Love God, love people, or love self only, sometimes these two overlap but the motivation of your heart is always visible to God. That is where the scope of our free will ultimately ends. The struggle here is that to make your allegiance with God is to choose the gospel in every moment and every circumstance you face.
So now I live in the paradox of self-control being the by product (fruit) of the Holy Spirit living in me, working in me, and me surrendering control to God. Our life and relationship with God is like a dance. When we let God do the leading our movements become a thing of beauty. The problem is that we tend to tell God that we want to lead. God being the gentle spirit He is, allows it, and we go off. We wander, we stumble, we trip on our own well-intentioned feet and if not too hard headed we go back to God and ask Him to take the lead again. We all have done it. We will undoubtedly do it again; and if we realize it or not, when we do take the lead, we are literally living in sin. Someone once told me that spiritual maturity is not measured by sinning less and less. It is measured instead by how long it takes you to go from sin to repentance. As you become more mature in the Spirit, the time you spend between “taking the lead” and asking God to take back control will become shorter and shorter. Occasionally this process of growth will take one step forward and two steps back but don’t lose heart. God’s love is greater than any step our little feet can take.
I want to encourage you, brothers and sisters, to not be too concerned over control. The only real control and act of free will we have is to obey God or follow our own agenda. To give God control or to keep it for ourselves. What better gift could we give to the one who sacrificed Himself for us? Nothing but the one and only thing we can really try and hold on to, control of our lives. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and what others will see in your life will look like self-control but we now know it’s not self-control at all it is surrender to the Spirit of God.