A problem I have with my own faith, I find, is control. It may be a struggle for those around me too, in fact, I am sure it is. I know myself, that I struggle with those times I do not know exactly what is coming next. I cannot be the only one. Throughout my time here in Perth I have tried to plan ahead, it may not always look that way to those around me, but I try it. Those plans do not always work out the way they are supposed to and often they do not work out anything like they were supposed to, but I always have something I plan to do. The problem comes for me in the part I call the ‘in-between’ the part where I do not know if those plans will work out, if they have worked out, if they can work out. The problem comes when I don’t know whether the plan would be better if I went left or right, or chose that building or this building, or changed Bible study to this day or that day. Whether we should keep going the way we are or completely change everything. In those ‘in-between’ times, I know I cannot control the outcome of those plans completely, but I always wish I could. I wish I could grab every minute detail of every plan and go over it again and again to ensure that the plan is as good as it can be and is executed as effectively as possible.
But, life doesn’t really work out like that does it?
In fact, so often I have a plan to go from A to B. To travel in a direct line, a line as direct as a train track from where I am right now to the destination. I see the destination clearly in my mind, the next station I hope that we as a church of I myself can move to and yet, when it comes to reality, nothing is ever quite that simple. More often that not, my plans are, in big ways or small ways, derailed. Maybe the results are not what I had hoped they would be. And that problem of control comes back to me again, I wish I could just put a plan in place and have it work out perfectly as I had imagined.
But, life isn’t that way. For anyone.
Wanting to control things is not that bad in and of itself, I don’t think. All it means is that when things happen outside of my control, I can start to worry. And when I start to worry, my faith starts to flounder. When unexpected problems come up, when things don’t work like they were supposed to, when something blindsides me, my faith can fail. And when I stop asking God for guidance, I have nobody to turn to. It’s then that the problem of control becomes a bit more serious. When I get derailed and suddenly my trust in God, that He can come through and that He takes care of the things I cannot control, starts to falter, I need to let go. He is in control and that is for the best.
In the book of Jeremiah things had went a bit wrong for the people of Judah. They were going to go into captivity under Babylon and they were not going to enjoy it. Quite a big example of a derailment. But, in the end, there was nothing they could do. They were physically unable to change or effect their circumstances and, as such, they were completely without control. But, the prophet has a message for the people;
‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.’ - Jeremiah 29:11-14.
If they trusted in God, not in their own might or their own abilities, but His power to return them, they would return. This is maybe what is missing when I plan. I worry about derailment so much, because I forget who really is in control. And why not? During these last couple of years I have been in Perth I have seen some of my most well prepared plans ruined, yet with wonderful results. I have seen some of the most rushed, panicked planning, with constant derailments at the last minute yield better results than I could have gotten with years of preparation and planning. Rather, things would be better if I worried less about how I could control things and more about trusting in God and praying to Him.
I think a good application of this attitude to control and the things that derail our plans is in Matthew 8:23-27. The disciples climb into a boat with Jesus, who is exhausted after teaching and healing over the preceding days. Jesus promptly falls asleep in the boat, but, without warning, a huge storm arises on the sea and the 13 on the little boat are in serious trouble. Or so it would appear. One of this small band is not ruffled by the storm at all. The wind and the waves beat the boat and He continues to rest, sleeping peacefully. The disciples panic and yet He does not. Of course, it is Jesus who is undisturbed by the waves. He rises from His place. But, He does not immediately calm the storm. For an agonising few seconds (for the disciples) He looks at them and asks;
‘Why are you fearful, o you of little faith?’
Only then does He calm the storm that was worrying them so. Only then is it He removes the problem. Only after that does He rebuke the winds and the sea.
Maybe, Jesus is telling me something here. Something that would be useful to many of us. When we have a derailment or something comes up that we cannot control, we are often focussed on the result. Will this program be successful? Can I say something to help this person come to the Lord? Can I do/say something else/better? What is going to happen in my life next? These are the problems, the questions that are not wrong, definitely not, but can lead me to worry. And we feel like we have a good reason. The disciples had a good reason, they were afraid they might die on that sea, in that little boat.
But, while we focus on the outcome, what was Jesus more interested in? The disciples.
While the people of Judah thought more about coming back to their land, the outcome; what was God more interested in? Their hearts.
While we worry and we panic and we get derailed and we want to dive in and take more control, we are focusing on the results. When what is God more interested in?
If we seek God and seek to glorify Him and extend His Kingdom God will give the increase, He will care for us, He will watch over us. He is, after all, in control.
I’ve heard a phrase people use a lot when thinking of something they want to accomplish; ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,’ and while this phrase is useful if you want to run a marathon or build a new bookcase for your house or some specific goal like that, it doesn’t really apply to everyday life in my opinion. There are some things you just cannot prepare for. So, this phrase might have to change. For the Christian, the phrase may be better put; ‘Fail to pray, prepare to fail,’. If we pray regularly He will be with us. If we look to Him, return to Him, He will return to us.
In all of this desire to have more control through setbacks and derailments, through storms and winds and seas, I have found one constant truth; God is in control and I have nothing to fear.