Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.| Matthew 6:31-33
Control is a funny word. As Christians, we should definitely be in control of our actions. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Yet, as we saw in the sermon Sunday, taking full control of our life leads to sticky situations. So what gives?
The issue at stake is: what can we really control? The longer I live, the more that I realize that the circle is shrinking. I have no control over my wife, kids, my friends, my larger family, my neighbors…and beyond people, I have no control over the eventual outcome of my own decisions. This one has taken me a while to get to. We can certainly be wise over foolish – and should be – but we can’t guarantee that wisdom will lead to our desired outcomes. We can make goals and plans, but we can not assure the end. We need to recognize this, because otherwise the conclusion we aim for will control us. Controlling our life will become what we worship.
I think one of the best descriptions of this comes from author David Foster Wallace, who said this in his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College:
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful[I would disagree], it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
We are all wired to worship, but also, due to original sin, we are all wired to worship control. Whether that control is aimed toward beauty, wealth, intellect, or power (to use his examples), you will never come to a point where you feel like you have achieved them. Controlling outcomes is a prison because it is never satisfied.
The alternative to control is contentment; being willing to take any outcome and focusing instead on the one thing you can control: self. This is what Jesus points to in Matthew 6: Seek first His kingdom, trust in Him, act in obedience, and you will receive all these things. What things? ALL THINGS. This is not some Health and Wealth gospel that calls you to sow a seed in order to reap a better life; this is Jesus telling us that He will provide for us the perfectly ordered life we desire. That this whole mess of a world is moving toward a fulfillment of our deep-seated need for existence to make sense. This outcome is only possible through dependence on Him.
This is where control gets in the way. When we attempt to make ourselves happy, fulfilled, and at peace in this life, we change the means. God’s ways don’t seem to be working, so we compromise, taking on the methods of the world to achieve ‘success.’ The problem with these small victories is that they blind us to the reality of the web we have spun for ourselves (and continue to become more controlled by). Far too many people choose to live in a prison of their own making over trusting God to give them all things. These compromises change us.
We have not been promised a peaceful life (actually Jesus promised the opposite). The American Dream is not the aim of the Christian life. Instead, our life is about God changing our default settings to find our hope in Him. Let’s not compromise this for the short term ‘gain’ of control.