We usually think of control as someone using manipulation or aggression to get their way, but there are many other ways control can creep in. Any time we take something off the Lord’s plate of responsibility and place it on ours, we are trying to control a situation or outcome. This comes from a place of fear in us; that He won’t fulfill His promises… that the circumstances are wrong or the timing is too slow, and it’s up to us now. We are called to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, self-control. Breaking partnership with control is essential to staying centered with the Lord, moving forward, and seeing dreams fulfilled.
What Does Control Look Like?
Control can take so many forms. Some are more obvious than others. Here are a few examples:
- Manipulating people or situations to get our own way.
- Over-analyzing prophetic dreams, words, or seasons to try to “figure out” what God is doing. Expecting to have all the answers for where we’re going.
- Avoiding the root issue through alcoholism, workaholism, or people pleasing to feel more in charge of ourselves
- Making expectations and demands, instead of coming to Him with expectancy.
- Doing more than God asked us to do, and trying to make the “big picture” happen when we’re afraid He won’t.
- Dreaming and planning within the boundaries of our own strength.
- Stubbornness or self-righteousness: Telling God that we’re incapable of change, because we’ve defined who we are instead of letting Him do it.
In all these examples, fear is at the root. It’s saying “God, I don’t trust Who You are over what is going on or what You’re asking of me.” We like guarantees and plans that make logical sense. But God can and will move outside of our logic. Building trust with Him is key. Graham Cooke says, “There is absolutely no security in what God is doing. There is only security in who He is.”
Whenever we have fear or begin to doubt God, we have a choice about what we are going to believe. We have a choice to trust the reality of who God is, or to trust the circumstance in front of us. God may not answer in the timing or way we expect, so trusting His character needs to trump everything else. We choose that trust over what our minds tell us would make more sense or feel safer.
As leaders, it can be hard to justify our present circumstances to our visions, our hopes, even our prophetic words. It can feel that the distance between where we are and where we want to be is too far or too mysterious. We rarely know exactly how we’re getting from here to there. But God is not waiting at the finish line to see if we can make it, He is running with us every step of the way.
Often what God asks of us has nothing to do with changing the entire circumstance. He asks for partnership with Him, not for us to take over. He asks us to trust Him; to prioritize our obedience to His voice and our connection to Him. In Genesis, God gave Abraham a promise that he would be a father of many nations. After years of waiting on this promise, Abraham and Sarah tried to produce their own solution by giving birth to Ishmael. In their fear, they produced a human solution to a supernatural dream. Control may feel like a shortcut to security, answers, or resolution – but it will never replace the reality of God’s goodness. And it will never fulfill the dreams God has put in our hearts.
When we choose trust over control, we make room for God to move freely. Getting rid of control always requires a shift in our perspective. Steve Backlund, a pastor at Bethel Church, leads an exercise of laughing at the lies we believe. He says, “To really laugh, you have to let go of something.” The point of the exercise is not just to laugh but to lay down the wrong things you’re believing with joy. And not only to let go of them, but to grab onto what God is saying and believing. To embrace the freedom He gives, over our illusion of control. God isn’t just the Giver of answers, He is the Answer. Breaking agreement with control means we’re making God alone our answer, above and beyond any solution we can come up with.
Getting rid of control may seem unsafe. Many of the reasons we keep control around come out of hard situations where it felt like the best tool we had. Letting God touch those areas with His love and assurance takes bravery and trust, and ultimately laying aside control requires that our trust with Him grows. Getting into His Presence teaches us who He is and what He’s like – and His perfect love casts out all fear.
Abi Stumvoll says, “‘I don’t know how’ is the breeding ground for the miraculous.” God is not asking us to play His part. He doesn’t expect us to be superhuman. All He’s asking for is our trust and self-control. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit: it’s not living without responsibility, or living in chaos or embracing disillusionment. Where negative control is motivated out of fear and a lack of trust, self-control is motivated by integrity, intentionality, and wisdom. Self-control says, “I don’t know how all this plays out, but I know how I’ll conduct myself.” Self-control comes from trusting we don’t need to play God’s part to see our desires fulfilled. It’s choosing to believe that operating within the boundaries He’s given us is what will be best for us, even when coloring outside the lines looks like a shortcut.
As you pastor students through their own breakthroughs with control, it’s helpful to have some questions to start conversations with the Lord. Here are some that will help get you started:
- What is my responsibility here?
- What is under my control? What isn’t? Should I worry about that thing?
- What are some unrealistic expectations I have for myself?
- What do You expect of me?
- What are some unfair expectations I’ve placed on You?
- Where am I shrinking my life to fit my capacity and resources?
- How do You want to supernaturally come through for me?
Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and unthinkable things, which you could not have known.” He wants to share His best with us, if we will tune to His voice and lay aside our own abilities as our best hope. He doesn’t want us to do this journey alone, and He doesn’t expect us to have all the answers. We bless you and your team to walk out the journey away from control, embrace self-control, and lead your students through their own breakthrough!