One of the things I love most about God’s Word is that it can speak a fresh and unexpected message out of a passage that I’ve read a hundred times. The scriptures are God’s “living and active” communication to us (Hebrews 4:12) any time that we open the pages and our hearts.
This occurred recently on a morning that I chose to listen to a Bible reading from one of my favorite bloggers. Out of an incredibly familiar passage, God spoke a very living and active word.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
The word came again, more personal:
If you will come after Me, you must deny yourself CONTROL. Deny yourself control and follow Me. Let Me lead, let Me control.
A desire to control the details and direction of one’s own life is the great spoiler of trust and submission to the Lord. The fear of not being in control can be a thief of contentment, joy, and peace. Control is often the master of illusion. How often have we thought we were in control, only to discover the opposite? How many opportunities and relationships have been strangled and suffocated due to the fight for control?
This is an area of extreme growth for me in the last 15 years. God has revealed that my intense desire for control comes from fear, and will continue to destroy my quality of life and faith unless I practice trusting and yielding to His control and sovereignty. God has been teaching me and stretching me to give up one area of control after another. He has led me to practice putting my full trust in Him. (Practice being the key word here!) While I used to spend much of my energy worrying and controlling, God has shown me how to put my greatest effort each day into trusting Him. I do this by acknowledging where I see Him working and leading each day. Of course, there are days that continually challenge my ability to let go and trust, but the Holy Spirit prompts me when I have fallen into my default setting of worry and control. I try to take those worrisome thoughts and turn them into prayers. When things are particularly challenging, I often practice saying aloud, “I put my trust in You, Lord.” Sometimes I must say it again and again until I begin to believe it and walk in it.
As I considered Matthew 16:24 and “control” in these terms, I began to sense that the Lord was trying to show me something more, something deeper. The word came again:
Deny yourself control… even over yourself.
Cue incredibly thick silence and conviction. Gulp. While my desire to control people, circumstances and the future is decreasing, I saw in this moment that I am exerting far too much energy trying to control myself. The struggle to get my weakness, my sin, and my brokenness under control is real. I realized that I am trying to do this in my own power to please God and to satisfy my perfectionist drive. I’m getting nowhere, to be honest.
We often work hard to root out the sin in our lives, without much success. We tear at the visible sin that pops out of the soil of our lives, rarely getting at the root. The sin emerges again and again, as we become discouraged and exasperated. We beat ourselves up, trying to demand submission from our flesh.
God whispered to my heart:
When it comes to your sin, and your weakness, you want control. You war with yourself trying to gain control. Yield control to Me. Let Me control, let Me lead, Let me fix what is broken. Submit yourself to Me. You cannot make your flesh submit to you. Your flesh can only submit to Me because I am Lord.
The futility of my attempts to control myself became so apparent in that moment. How often have I tried to manage my sin and only made things worse? The tighter I grasp for control, the more I seem to spiral.
I’ve been focused on the sin, while ignoring the broken places underneath. I had to consider…. how much of my sin comes from wanting to numb pain and disappointment? Or wanting to cover up weakness? How much of my sin is learned behavior of self-protection or self-sufficiency because I am afraid to trust and let go? How much of it comes from trying to position myself for things I don’t believe God will give me?
Your sin comes from brokenness. Your broken places can only be healed by Me. I am the Healer. Old patterns of self-soothing and self-protecting will not lay down or submit to you. You are a harsh taskmaster for yourself, but I am a loving Savior and even the most wounded and hard of hearts have submitted to Me. I bring healing, love, and mercy to your broken places and then they willingly submit to My loving care. Let Me lead, let Me heal, let Me reign.
We are demanding submission from our broken places, and frankly, it’s not working. Friends, let us open ourselves wider to receive His love and grace. Let us open our hearts and invite Him to reach the brokenness that drives us into sin and self-sufficiency. Let Him come in with His healing and transforming power. He knows what we need.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion.
10 He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
Let Him lead.
Let Him heal.
Let Him reign.
**bible photo courtesy of google images.