We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure — 2 Corinthians 1:8
I am presently unemployed. Before you fret too much for my financial well-being, I must explain that this is a common occurrence for me. I am an independent contractor, and this means that whoever I am working for — no matter how much they like me — will terminate my employment eventually. In fact, if I have done my job, termination is my reward.
Still, the process of being out of work can be stressful. No matter how many times I find myself in this position, the sensation is always the same: The awareness that I am absolutely powerless over my circumstances.
No matter how many times I find myself in this position, the sensation is always the same: The awareness that I am absolutely powerless over my circumstances.
I find powerlessness to be a strange thing. It rarely manifests itself on the surface of my consciousness. Instead, it dwells deep. It is like a nuclear submarine, giving up its position by a simple blip on the screen. I do not know I am powerless as much as I know that something is down there — and that it isn’t good. Uneasiness grips my soul.
And if you are anything like me, then the most natural thing to do in situations like this is to attempt to control the situation. I go into lock-down mode, instinctively beginning to apply all my energy to ensure the outcome. Which, of course, is difficult when you are powerless.
But that does not deter me. The more powerless I feel, the more energy I exert. I double — even triple — my efforts. I do everything in my power to restore my sense of well-being and personal safety.
Unfortunately, this has the unwanted side effect of controlling my environment, and that means everything and everyone in it. I become uptight. I need things to go my way. People are no longer a gift: They are merely a means (or hindrance) to the primary objective. I tell them what to do — or find a way to get them to do — exactly what I want. I do not necessarily want to control them; it is just that we are in crisis mode. I do not have the luxury at the present moment of thinking about anyone but myself.
And if possible, I will even control God Himself. Now, by saying this I do not mean I go out of my way to control the Creator of the Universe (which common sense would dictate is impossible). But you have to understand: When something precious to me is threatened such that I must protect it, everything — even God — becomes a means to that end. Controlling God is not necessarily advisable, but it is necessary.
Unfortunately, my attempt to determine the outcome has the unwanted side effect of controlling my environment, and that means everything and everyone in it — including God Himself.
Besides, if I am going to control anyone, who better than God? He is all-powerful and all-knowing. And he is ever present. If I can but get God to do what I want him to do, then I am good.
One might even argue God is not entirely above being controlled. At least, in the way I wish to control him. He is the one who says, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” And also, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” So in a sense, one might argue God wants to be controlled. He wants us to tell him what to do. Doesn’t He?
I suppose it is possible. It is possible that God’s greatest desire for mankind is that we be in control, and that in our efforts to control, he wants us to control him most. It is possible that the message of Christianity is that God, having rescued us from the ledge of eternal damnation, now has left us to our own devices — and he is one of those devices. Perhaps the goal of the Christian life is to control — our circumstances, our loved ones, even our own thoughts and emotions. Perhaps those who ascend to the heights of spiritual maturity are those who have mastered the art of taking matters into their own hands, the matter of God being chief among them.
It is possible, I suppose, that the message of Christianity is that God, having rescued us from the ledge of eternal damnation, now has left us to our own devices — and he is one of those devices.
Perhaps. But I am inclined to think that life is the exact opposite. That the true spiritual life is about God taking matters into his own hands, and when he does, we are what matters to him most. That God has not left us to our own devices, nor is he one of these devices; on the contrary, we are his.
As I sit here, I cannot help but recall a time not long ago when I was doing everything imaginable to demonstrate faith in God. But in truth, what I was really doing is everything imaginable to control God. This is because I was afraid. The message from God back to me (which, mind you, took a while to break the surface of my consciousness) was: “Sorry, I don’t do that. I am not into being controlled.”
The fascinating thing for me was realizing I am not, either. That is, I do not do control very well. Not at all. When I attempt to control my circumstances, especially God, I am actually at my worst. Because I was not created to control. I was created to trust.
I suspect for many of us, control has become a way of life. But control does not become us: It is not where our true strength lies. For this reason, finding ourselves powerless is often the best thing that can happen to us. It is often the calling card God uses to begin the journey into who we truly are.
Finding ourselves powerless is often the best thing than can happen to us; it is often the calling card God uses to begin the journey into who we truly are.
I think this is what Paul had in mind when he said about his experience in Asia: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.”
Granted, our job is not to go out seeking peril as a way of getting God to do something; it should be obvious that such actions are simply another form of control. Instead, our job is to trust, in whatever situation we find ourselves. It is when we fail to trust and mistake control for spirituality that we find ourselves in trouble.
Nowadays, I have a favorite prayer: “God, I am powerless over my circumstances. And unless you step in and do something, I am bound to screw this up.” I let the nuclear submarine come to the surface. I don’t even make it my job to keep myself from going over the ledge. I just remind God that if it is up to me, that is most assuredly where we are going. But when I do, it feels like I am my true self again. And God and I always have plenty to talk about.