Turn Over Control to God
How do we do that? How do we turn over the control of our lives to God as Jesus did, and as Jesus invites us to do? It’s not easy. I sometimes liken it to what trapeze artists do when they have to release their grasp on one bar in order to be caught by a partner swinging from another bar. There is a moment between the release and catch in which they have nothing to hold on to. But they’ll never cross from one side to the other if they don’t first let go of the bar.
The decision to turn control of our lives over to God — to release our hold on the illusion of control — feels a lot like being suspended in midair. We know we want to get to the other side, where life is better, but we have to let go of the first bar in order to reach out for the next one. When we’re stuck in a powerless place, we don’t mind change — in fact, we actually long for it. But it’s that free-fall transition between letting go and being caught that frightens us. And yet, having taken that flying leap myself, I can say that it is possible — and it is definitely worth the risk.
Even if you don’t feel ready to fully let go just yet, there are some steps you can take to keep moving away from fear and toward faith. To help you get started, here are three things I discovered that helped me in my journey.
1. Control What You Can Control
I admit it’s a little awkward to start here — to say that the first step in turning over control is to control what you can control — but it is important. God wants us to become vulnerable not to our circumstances but to him. We do that when we admit that our lives are unmanageable. Yet, the truth is that not every area of our lives is unmanageable. There are many things God has given us the capacity and responsibility to manage. We need to make a distinction between the things that are in our control and the things that are not. The need to make this distinction is at the heart of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
The things I cannot change or control need to be turned over to God. The things God has empowered me to change are the things for which I must take responsibility. Knowing the difference is extremely important.
Sometimes our life is out of control because we are out of control. If we want to move beyond powerlessness, we must first identify and refrain from stirring up avoidable storms. For years, I had a picture in my office of a man with his head bowed and his hands clasped, praying, “Dear Lord, help me meet this self-imposed and totally unnecessary challenge.” In other words, we often introduce difficulties into our lives by the choices we make or the things we choose to ignore. In fact, I’ve come to believe that we can avoid upward of 80 percent of the storms in our lives if we just exercise our legitimate control over some basics.
The book of Proverbs is a great place to start for finding the most basic and commonsense boundaries for our lives. Proverbs calls these boundaries wisdom and encourages us to pursue it like lost treasure. In order to secure the benefits of wisdom, we must consistently apply its counsel to our lives. That takes self-control. Listen to the wisdom writer’s invitation:
My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. (Proverbs 3:1-2 NLT)
Here’s a simple example of what it looks like to exercise this kind of self-control over the basics.
A number of years ago, every time I went to the doctor or dentist and they checked my blood pressure, it was elevated. I’d never had this problem before, so I thought it must be “white coat syndrome,” which is anxiety from being in the doctor’s office. I purchased my own blood pressure device to put my mind at ease. When my pressure was still registering high at home, I began to worry and have morbid thoughts: So, this is how it ends for me?
When I went to see my doctor for an extensive checkup, he didn’t start by writing a prescription for blood pressure medication. Instead, he asked me several questions about my general health and lifestyle, one of which was whether or not I consumed caffeinated drinks. The answer was most definitely yes — a fully loaded, bold Starbucks brew multiple times a day. “Why don’t you lay off the caffeine for a while and see what that does?” he suggested. So I did, and my blood pressure immediately went back to normal. I have been off caffeine for over six years now and haven’t had a problem with my blood pressure since. All it took was a little — okay, a lot of — self-control.
In the same vein, when I went to that same doctor a few years later to help me overcome my depression, he started out not by focusing on my depression itself but by working through a checklist of healthy disciplines in my life. He wanted to rule out the possibility that the issue was self-induced, just as it had been with my high blood pressure. Keep in mind that at this point I was clinically depressed. Even though I didn’t yet have that as an official diagnosis, I knew my situation was serious. I could have decided to roll my eyes in frustration or even to take offense that the doctor wasn’t taking my situation seriously. But I knew he actually was taking my situation seriously by first assessing the basics of a healthy lifestyle, all of which were within my control.
To be clear, I understand that whatever it is that has you feeling powerless is likely complex and potentially serious. I don’t mean to diminish that at all. And yet, I wouldn’t be serving you well if I didn’t at least ask you to take a step back and consider where you’re at when it comes to some of the basics — those things that are likely within your control and provide the foundation for a healthy and empowered life. For example:
- getting a good night’s sleep
- eating healthy
- practicing good personal hygiene
- having strong, healthy relationships
- nurturing your spiritual life
- getting an education
- going to work
- managing your money wisely
- avoiding unhealthy relationships
- avoiding drugs and illegal substances
Not surprisingly, people who practice these things consistently have less drama and trauma in their life.
Now, keep in mind that the focus here is only on the aspects of these things that are legitimately within our control, and not the bigger, more complicated issues outside of our control — specifically, the things that can enter into our lives and make us powerless to perform one or more of the basics. This was certainly true for me.
2. Anchor Your Mind in Truth
When our four children were young, we took them on a trip to the Cayman Islands with a number of other families in our neighborhood. On the first day, all the guys decided to take the kids out for the first of many snorkeling adventures. Normally, the waters of the Caymans are smooth and calm, but on this particular day the waters were very rough.
Nevertheless, we all got in the water and started swimming. About thirty yards offshore, I froze. I had this overwhelming sense that we were not safe. As everyone else, including my four children, kept swimming farther out, I felt this urge to swim back to the shore, and yet my children were out there in danger. I literally froze in place. As I did, waves of salt water kept washing over me, making the situation feel even more intense and dangerous by the second.
When I finally began to yell for help, the other guys ignored me. They knew I’d been on the swim team in high school and thought I was joking. When one of the other dads eventually did swim back to where I was, he assured me that everyone was safe and swam back with me to the shore.
Once I was on dry land, I just shook my head. The fear and anguish I’d felt in the water had been completely irrational. We were wearing all the right safety gear, all four of my children could swim, and we were all watching out for each other. Everyone enjoyed another thirty minutes of snorkeling before they returned safely to the shore to meet up with me.
At the time, I tried to shake off the experience as silly. Unfortunately, it didn’t shake off as easily as I hoped. Later that night when we were all in bed, I experienced that same overwhelming sensation that my children were in danger. Each time I got up to check on them, they were completely fine. What in the world was going on?
Even after we returned home, I couldn’t shake my fear. Trying to reassure myself, I made a bed of blankets on the floor of our bedroom for all my children to sleep on, safe within my sight. Since I let them fall asleep each night watching television, often accompanied by bowls of vanilla ice cream, they had no objections. However, when this went on for six months, I knew it was time to get some help.
With great embarrassment, I shared my dilemma with a Christian counselor. He quickly diagnosed my problem. In simple terms, he said that the experience in the Caymans had essentially reset the computer in my brain to process my circumstances differently. As a result, I could no longer distinguish an authentic threat from an imagined threat — so everything felt threatening. What I needed to do was to reset my mind back to a healthy setting.
He gave me a cassette tape (that’s how long ago it was) of a guy with a West Texas accent rehearsing a series of positive statements — specifically, what the Bible says is true about me, about God, and about the world around me. The statements emphasized two things: God’s love for me and God’s control over my circumstances. Frankly, I thought it was a bit corny, but I promised I would listen to it for thirty minutes twice a day.
Two weeks later, my children were back to sleeping in their rooms again. No one was more shocked than I was. When I had a follow-up meeting with my counselor, I asked him how that worked. “Psychotherapists call it neurolinguistic programming,” he said, “but I call it biblical meditation.”
The theological schools I attended had cautioned against the practice of meditation, thinking of it as an Eastern religious practice in which people try to empty their minds. And yet, meditation on God’s goodness and greatness was a strategy the psalmist often relied on to get him through the difficulties life threw at him.
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? (Psalm 77:11-13)
Day and night, the psalmist remembered, considered, and meditated on what he knew to be true about who God is. In so doing, he essentially reset his mind on the truth about his situation in light of his relationship with God. In the New Testament, Paul described this as the “renewing of [the] mind” (Romans 12:2). Meditating on biblical truth is an anchor that gives us stability in the midst of the storms life throws our way.
3. Transfer Control — Officially
We must surrender the illusion of control, but we can’t stop there. We must take one more step to turn control over to God, who can handle whatever it is we’re facing, no problem. And this isn’t something we do just once or even occasionally. It’s a discipline we need to practice daily, sometimes from one moment to the next.
Here is what I find helpful for my soul and sanity when I need to surrender control to God. I make the transfer of responsibility official with three simple movements in prayer.
- I clinch my fists as tightly as I can. Then I share openly with God the fear, the tension, the worry, and the anxiety I am experiencing. I lay my requests before him as honestly as I can, as he has asked us to (Philippians 4:6-7). With every request, I squeeze my fists a little tighter. The tension runs up my arms as my body connects with the brokenness in my spirit.
- I turn my palms upward and open them fully. I release the tension I have been holding and acknowledge my inability to deal with whatever I am facing in my own power. I take a deep breath and whisper to God, “I am powerless to handle this on my own. I desperately need your help!”
- I turn my open hands over, palms facing down. This symbolizes that I am letting go of all I have been holding on to. I have turned it over to God in faith. Then I whisper, “I am trusting in you and you alone to see me through ” I sit quietly, breathing deeply in and out and inviting the Spirit to confirm in my spirit that I am a child of God and that he’s got me (Romans 8:14-17, Romans 8:26-27).
It is a simple exercise, yet it has been profoundly helpful in training my mind and heart to turn away from fear and toward faith, to allow God to be God, and to live in the power that comes from trusting that he really is in control.
Excerpted with permission from His Mighty Strength by Randy Frazee, copyright Randy Frazee.
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In what areas of your life do you need to turn control over to God? How might controlling the things you can control help in that process? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!