Friday, August 8, 2014

Gripping Fire and the Futility of Excessive Control

Few things are as potent, useful and dangerous as fire. It heats, cooks, protects, but it can also destroy and kill. Using fire for our benefit thus requires a balance--just enough for the task. As a pyromaniac myself, I have danced along this line of balance and have nearly regretted some of my stupid, juvenile decisions.

Indeed, many areas of our lives remain juvenile, but perhaps one of the most pressing of these is the desire to control. Like fire, there must be a balance in how we control our lives. This issue is so vital to Christian life that I’m shocked to hear it so seldom from the pulpit. Missed opportunities, lost marriages, bitter children, and needless guilt are often the symptoms of too much control. When we want to control our lives to the extent that others suffer, we are on the path of destruction. 

Yet we can make control sound holy. I hear things like: “we must be good stewards of our finances,” “we are trying to be prepared for marriage,” “we’re teaching our children on the way which they should go.” These are Biblical and good, but they are often taken out of proportion. These goals almost become a god themselves. When cloaked in Biblical language, excessive control can look holy. It’s sad that human nature can take something so good and make it so hellish.

What about self-control? Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit for a reason, and it is needed if we are to love one another. It gives us the maturity to live lives of proportion and intentionality. We face a problem, though, when self-control is replaced with “other-control” and “life-control.” 

We must stop seeking to control how our lives pan out. It’s as foolish as the man who builds bigger barns to store his goods while neglecting the spiritual sustainability of his own soul (Luke 12:16-20). We may die tomorrow--or today--and no amount of control can save us from God’s plans. It is futile to think one can control life. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” No matter what we think we can do, God is the one who determines the course of life.

It is time to live life with trust. Abraham left all he knew to move across the world (it was the Middle East, but to them it was “the world”) because God told him to do so (Gen. 12:1-4; Heb. 11:8). Does trusting God mean, though, that no preparations are made? Of course not. There’s a reason “moderation” is in our vocabulary.

I think we ultimately have a problem with trusting God and letting him pull through for us. We want to play God and dictate what we do, where we go, when we go and how we go without giving God the first say because we’re afraid that he won’t bring us what we need (or want). Attempting to supplant God in his role is like gripping fire: it’s impossible and dangerous--it wasn’t meant to be done.

I know that risk can be an insurmountable wall that looms before a decision to trust God, but if risk is present in the choices we make, we can be sure that we are doing something right. Life with God requires risk because a risk-less life is a hollow life. A risk-less like is a far cry from the “abundant life” that Jesus promised (John 10:10b). Sanctification, or continual and progressive heart-change, is riddled with risk, since every move we make towards God usually requires us to forgo a sinful security blanket. In the mind of a sinner, it’s risky to give up those things that sooth our cravings, even if those things are utterly self-degrading, for the chance to draw closer to God. But it’s a risk worth taking. Everyone who has stepped away from self-satisfying security and stepped closer to God has not regretted it. C.S. Lewis said that we can be like a child who continues to play with mud-pies, refusing to go on a holiday to the sea because such a prospect is shrouded in mystery. We simply don’t trust risking anything mysterious, even if the God of the universe assures us that it’s worth it. 

We don’t know what God has to offer until we leave the dilapidated shelter of sinful control and venture willingly towards him. Control is as potent as fire, and it must be handled with careful balance. It’s good, but it can be very bad. Let’s take risks with God and let him take control.