As human beings, our flesh craves a certain amount of control within in our lives. We like to feel like we have not only a say, but the power to make things happen as we wish. Maybe this is control over our occupations, our home, our children, our finances, control stretches across just about every worldly aspect. Feeling “in control” gives us a false sense of peace, of comfort, of trust that things will be ok. Why do I say it is “False”? I’m glad you asked. Because in truth, nothing in this life is truly ever within our control. For example, I could scrub my house from top to bottom so that everything sparkles, only to be disappointed when the rain starts pouring down and unexpected guests come over and track mud everywhere. I could have turned them away, you say? Well, yeah, but who does that? “I’m sorry best and dearest friend of mine, you are not welcome today because your kids will mess up my freshly cleaned house”. Really?
You can feel like you have complete control of your finances. You have a job, you’ve budgeted well and are looking forward to that vacation this summer that you’ve been tucking money back for, only, darn it, some major appliance breaks and dips into your savings. Or your car dies. Or.. well, you know the drill.
Being in control is actually stressful. If you manage the finances for the family, you are the one that stresses most about how far your paycheck(s) stretch. If you are in control of grocery shopping, you are the one stressed out when you wake everyone up one morning only to realize that the milk jug is empty. When you’re in control at work, you are stressed out that if the project isn’t a success, you will be the one answering for it.
Are you starting to see why I call it a “false” sense?
The fact of the matter is, “control” is not of God. Think about it. Our almighty God, who created all things, has the power to control us, control everything. Instead, however, he gave us free will. God proclaimed what we should and shouldn’t do, and no matter how much it pains him, he lets us choose whether or not to follow his advice. Like when you tell your teenager that they should be saving a percentage of their part-time check, but instead they blow every penny they make. Yeah, kind of like that. You know at some point they will be asking you for money because they didn’t take your advice, but you let them choose to learn the hard way. So, if God himself does not chose to control us, then why do we think that “being in control” is such a good thing?
We’ve all met that one person at some point in our life. You know the person that you say “wow, they are a control FREAK!”. These people always want it their way. They want their hands tightly gripping every detail of every aspect of everything. We find that annoying, don’t we? And aren’t these people the one’s who are usually stressed out? If I look back, the control freaks that I’ve encountered where not very happy people. I too have struggled with being the “control freak”, and I will tell you, those were my most unhappy times. There is peace in letting go. In trusting God. And when we focus on controlling things, situations, details ourselves, we forget to trust God.
The spirit of control is not limited to the overbearing control freak. No, this is a very sneaky little devil that worms its way through very subtle tactics. Sometimes it enters through personal preference. You know the “I like” or “I don’t like”. When that meets strong opinions, you get a wide open door for the spirit of control.
Quite often this sneaks in through the mask of responsibility. One of the hardest things I had to learn in the secular world was how to team build. I started out shorthanded, having to take on a lot myself. Then, when I did have help, sometimes it was “just faster to do it myself”. Plus if I did it myself, then it would be how I like it. Then, there was the “you need to delegate” phase, after all, these people were on the payroll. The answer? Micro manage and tell them to do it exactly the way I wanted it done. Hmm.. that wasn’t team building at all. It occurred to me one day that I can’t stand to be micromanaged, yet I had become a micromanager. Yikes! It was hard to break, and hard to let go at first, but I was so happy once I did. Coaching a team to be able to think for themselves and execute without me, made my work life so much better. And, it produced better results. Because surprise, surprise, I don’t know everything. I say that jokingly because I never “thought” I knew everything, but my behavior surely indicated that I did.
A lot of us struggle with this. We have an area of responsibility, often times as leaders, and we feel that it’s our responsibility to “Control” what is within our responsibility. Now obviously things need to be in control. Like driving, you must have control of your car at all times. But white-knuckle clenching the steering wheel does not actually make “better control”, it just stresses you out. When we “Clench” control of responsibilities, we often don’t build up others to contribute their best, which in turn, just puts more responsibility on ourselves.
How do we know if we are being responsible or living with the spirit of control? That can seem very tricky, especially if you are a leader. It’s your responsibility to be in control, right? Yes, but I riddle you this; “What are your emotions”? What I mean by that is, a level-headed, matter-of-fact “Feeling” when managing the control of a project is healthy. There will always be a touch of emotions such as excited, disappointment, frustration, determination etc. However, there is a healthy level for those. If you find that your emotions are elevated, heated, more powerful than if someone else was leading, then you should probably explore that in prayer. A good test is, if one of your team mates exhibited your behaviors, would it be justified? If a non-leader felt and acted out your level of emotions or orchestration (whether their ideas aligned with yours or not), would you consider that to be helpful? Or would you feel they were usurping your authority? Perspective is a very important thing to consider in all situations.
Another indicator is how you feel or react when people do not submit to your authority. As Christians, we all have a responsibility within ourselves to respect and submit to authority. That being said, if someone is not submitting to authority, leaders have a responsibility to coach or correct that person to help them grow. Additionally, the person may be removed from leadership positions or areas where their behavior is damaging to others in the body, either temporarily or permanently. However, the golden question here is “how does the leader feel”? Are they frustrated, angered or agitated that their authority is not being respected? Do they change their behavior as a result, perhaps shutting down, or grasping firmer for control? If that is the feeling, then beware brother or sister, you have a wide open door for the spirit of control. Doing what needs done, in this case, does not need any emotion, only love. If you find that in these situations you have emotions or reactions rather than love, then perhaps the spirit of control has been whispering to you without your awareness.
Our Pastor was once asked how he manages all the details of a small church and holds a full time (secular) job. His reply was “I set the women loose”. I don’t believe this had anything to do with gender, but rather, he (whether he realizes it or not) rejected the spirit of control that had previously kept women under firm control. By allowing women to rise up and flourish in the kingdom of God, the rejection of the spirit of control released God’s power to make things happen. And happen they did!
The fact of the matter is, we all struggle with the spirit of control in some way. Sometimes that is masked as responsibility, sometimes it is simply “how we’ve always done things”. Regardless of the mask, if we stop and see it for what it is, however, then we can guard against this nasty little worm that causes unneeded stress and heart ache.