Tim (not his real name) was not interested in change. I had a strong sense that this was the case early on, but when he started telling me what our counseling sessions were going to look like it was obvious. It wasn’t just that he was telling me how to do my job, that was annoying but I could have dealt with it. The real issue was that despite his admission of the need to repent, he was actually trying to control how he repented and how he was confronted. His controlling and manipulative tendency revealed that he really didn’t want to change. Control will always keep you stuck in spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth requires some level of humility. Spiritual growth requires confession, repentance, submission, and dependence, and the proud individual cannot adopt these characteristics. To put it in Biblical terms: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). There can be no spiritual growth when God “opposes” you. Humility is required.
Control is a manifestation of arrogance. It assumes that the self is the most intelligent, responsible, and competent individual. I must run my world. If something is going to be done right it must be done my way, and sometimes it must be done by me. Other times control feeds my sense of power and importance. If others must do what I say, or face the consequences, then it feeds my own self-importance. It allows me to guarantee the outcomes I want, but it also allows me to feel powerful.
In reality, of course, we aren’t in control. We have responsibilities, and we are able to make decisions and influence certain things, but ultimately we are not in control. We are not in control of our world, our futures, our securities, or our lives. God is in control and He does not give us the kind of power we want (1 Chro. 29:11-12; Ps. 22:28-29; Dan. 4:35;. He refuses to share this aspect of His deity with us. Instead, He calls us to submit to Him. To humble ourselves and depend upon Him. He calls us to trust in Him. Efforts at spiritual growth apart from humble dependence on God are efforts in self-righteousness, and these always fail to produce fruit – after all, it is called the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23).
The demand to be in control will keep you stuck. So, how do we fight against this desire for control? The Three R’s will be a good starting place: Reveal, Remember, and Restructure. Let’s look at each as we seek to break up this grace blocker.
Reveal –> Once you’ve begun to see hints of a controlling tendency in you it is of utmost importance that your reveal it. This means confess it both to the Lord and to another brother or sister in Christ. Confession to the Lord is important because our sin is against Him (Ps. 51:4). To be restored to quality fellowship with the Lord we must confess and seek forgiveness, and can be grateful that God delights to forgive and cleanse His children (1 John 1:9). We must also confess to others because God helps us change through accountability. If we are unwilling to confess to others our confession to the Lord is likely a weak attempt to appease a guilty conscience and not a real desire to fight sin. Submission to God often has an earthly face, and an unwillingness to confess it to others is evidence that we are still trying to control our world. Confess, expose, and reveal your sin of control. Counselor Brad Hambrick has brilliantly said, “You will never be more free than you are honest.” Keep that in mind as you strive to fight this sin.
Remember –> Recall often just how small and out of control you really are. Remind yourself of the truths of God’s omnipotence, power, and sovereignty. Remind yourself of your frailty, failings, and weaknesses. Live in that realm, at least for a season, of acknowledged incompetence. Without God you can do nothing. Jesus says as much in John 15:5; there we read:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Remind yourself in every way you can that you need to depend upon God. Remind yourself of how small you are as often as you can, and let that drive you to God, for, as Paul says, when you are weak then you are strong in Him (1 Cor. 12:10).
Restructure –> One way you can display your dependence upon God is by depending upon others too. Ask for help, let others help, give up authority in a situation, and surrender the “final say.” Confess to others that you are going to do this; make a plan to humble yourself and then make it public. Give others the permission to remind you of this commitment to give others the authority and control in a given situation. Restructure your life so that you are not always in authority and in control. Delegate, give freedom to others to fail or do things differently. Reorganize your life so that you are not the only one making decisions and so that you are affected directly by the decisions you allow others to make. This will be immensely difficult, but as you do it you will learn to humble yourself.
Humility is key to spiritual growth. Fight against controlling tendencies by cultivating it as much as you can. Control will keep you stuck, so humble yourself and find abundant grace for your life.