Tag Archives: control

Totally out of control

I have been off work for three weeks now. Although the gap between contracts was not something I chose, I knew it was coming, so I happily made plans and set goals for tasks that I hoped to accomplish during this time.

Since then, I have been finding that setting goals is one thing, attaining them is something else again.  I have met a couple of my goals, but I also have several significant goals which keep getting deferred as I experience one delay after another, one obstacle after another.

This morning at our church, Steve spoke about one of Jesus’ best-known stories, featuring a father and his two sons. Son #2 asked for his inheritance while his father was still alive. He then totally mismanaged his inheritance, and ended up with nothing. Steve described him at his lowest point as having absolutely no control over his own life. He ended up at a point where he had to humble himself and return to the father that he had previously spurned and rejected. He had become completely dependent on his father’s willingness to overlook his past behaviour and treat him with a kindness he did not deserve. The only thing he could do for himself was to humble himself and throw himself on his father’s mercy.

The description of the runaway son as having no control over his own life resonated with me because of my own recent experience. During this period between contracts, I have realized again that in reality, I also have very little control over my own life. I haven’t succeeded in getting myself a work contract, and I can do very little to speed up the process. I haven’t succeeded in fixing my Highlander (I tried to avoid an expensive repair yesterday by fixing the cabin heat control myself – a job that involved soldering a broken connection on a circuit board, a skill with which I have very little experience  – and was unsuccessful). And to complete my litany of woe, I haven’t even succeeded thus far in installing the latest release of the Oracle Enterprise database on my laptop.  For most of you, that last item may be totally meaningless, but I’m an Oracle professional so I ought to be able to accomplish at least that one item on my list!

Lest any of you start to worry that I’m really losing it, things aren’t actually as bad as I just made them sound. Putting it all in perspective, I do have several reasonably good work prospects, one in particular that has quite a good chance of materializing. I also have reason to expect that over the next month or so, a number of other prospects will surface. I’m pretty sure that finding work is mostly a matter of timing, and the Lord has provided Marion and me with a financial buffer so we are not under any immediate pressure.  As for the Highlander, I do have a feasible plan B (get a replacement component from a vehicle recycler and install it myself).  And as for the Oracle installation, this is a complex and notoriously trouble-prone  process, and each failed attempt teaches me something new, so I’m actually quite confident of eventual success.

We’re sometimes tempted to lose sight of the big picture when we are under pressure. But I am a man who is on a journey from despair to hope, and I am determined to hold on to God’s promises. Before surrendering control of my life to Jesus twenty-five years ago, I was plagued with many of the maladies that spring from pride and rebellion. My life was dominated by anxiety, fear, worry, and a critical spirit. God has been renewing my mind with His truth for the last twenty-five years with the result that today I am a much more confident and hopeful man than before. I have been learning to cultivate an expectant faith that looks for the provision of God in every situation. So, most of the time, when I face obstacles like the ones I just listed, I remember that I am not a failure – I am a chosen son of God who is going through a period of testing.

Most of us would prefer not to be tested. Still, there is no growth without testing. The purpose of this particular period of testing, I believe, is twofold. In part, it’s to train me to continue cultivating an attitude of faith and hope even when the circumstances don’t seem to be in my favour. But I believe God has another agenda as well. The testing is also designed to remind me who is really in control. God loves me too much to let me get independent. He wants me to be confident in His provision, but he also wants me to remember where it comes from. I am freshly aware that I am truly not in control of my own life. I do have a good Father who wants to bless me and intends to prepare me to carry an increasing measure of His glory as the end of the age approaches. I also have a good Father who likes to remind me every now and then – lest I forget – that despite the illusion of control, in reality I am not in control of my own life at all. The reality is that I am totally, utterly, completely, blissfully dependent on a good God who will not fail to bless me, but also will not fail to remind me where the blessing comes from.



It’s only money

I was meeting with my financial advisor over tea and chocolate chip cookies one afternoon a few years ago.  Jim was also a brother in Christ and a good friend, and we used to talk not only about investing but also about life.  During one conversation we talked about how to manage finances while keeping one’s heart free of worry.  I will never forget his comment :  “After all, it’s only money”.

How many financial advisors would tell you this?  Probably not many.  Yet Jim was right, and I’ve never forgotten these simple but powerful words.  Being a good steward (or manager) is a worthy undertaking, but in the end, when all is said and done, money is only money.   It is not God, and has no ultimate power over my life.

Psalm 112 is a tribute to those who have put their hope in God.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.
Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.
Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.
He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

I determined years ago that this is the kind of man I want to be – a generous man who trusts in God’s sufficiency and is therefore free enough to be gracious to others; a man whose heart is steadfast, with no fear of bad news, trusting the Lord.

I’ve had reason to remind myself of these things over the last couple of weeks.

Two days after Marion and I returned from our thirty-fifth anniversary road trip,  our son Reuben and his bride Jess borrowed our 2002 Toyota Highlander SUV for a road trip of their own.  The Highlander, although 9 years old, seemed to be in great shape and had been a reliable, trouble-free vehicle since we bought it last fall.  We were somewhat surprised to learn that the oil was quite low when we had it changed after our trip, but since we had never had problems with the engine, and had noticed no symptoms of burning oil, we agreed that it was probably OK for Reuben and Jess to go ahead with their trip.

Trouble began to surface on their second day.  The vehicle didn’t display any symptoms of burning oil, but they had to add a litre and a half of oil every day they were on the road.  Research revealed that 2001 and 2002 Highlanders had a history of developing problems with oil gelling.  At this point Reuben and Jess were in Thunder Bay, on their way to the West Coast, and they were getting concerned about crossing the Prairies.  By the time they had reached Winnipeg, we all reluctantly agreed that instead of continuing West, they would head south to Minnesota where our son Simeon lives with his wife and family.  They made it to Bloomington and the car went to the local Toyota dealership, where we learned that it would need a new engine.  Over a week later, they are still there, waiting for the repair to be completed.   So, Marion and I are dealing with a hefty financial hit, Reuben and Jess are dealing with disrupted honeymoon plans, and Simeon and Heather are dealing with much-loved guests who arrived a lot earlier than expected and have had to stay longer than anyone had counted on!

I have gone through a range of emotions and shifting concerns as I’ve processed these events.  I was briefly concerned about whether Simeon and Heather could handle an unplanned visit, but they rose to the occasion admirably.  My next concern was for Reuben and Jess, as it became clear that they would not be able to complete their planned trip to the West Coast.  At the same time, I was very grateful that they made it safely to Simeon and Heather’s place.  It’s not the Rockies – but it’s way better than being stranded!

Once we got the garage’s diagnosis and their estimate for the repair, my concern shifted to the financial impact of this situation.  As I began talking things through with Marion, we reviewed our options.  Should we have the SUV repaired in Minnesota?  Should we ask the dealer for a trade and get them home in a different vehicle?  We soon realized that having it repaired was our only option, since a US dealer cannot take a Canadian-owned vehicle in trade.  This was what we needed to do – but the price tag was high.

As I went to the Lord with my concern, He reminded me gently of Jim’s words : “It’s only money”.   It is so good to remember this.  Yes, we got an unexpected hit.  Yes, Reuben and Jess had their plans disrupted.  But in the end, these things do not need to define our lives.  How we respond – the spirit in which we choose to respond – that is what defines our lives.  I knew that I was able to respond with faith, because God is our provider and He is faithful.  So, my peace was restored.  Everything would be OK.

So we had a way forward.  The car would be fixed and Reuben and Jess would be able to continue their trip – no longer to the Coast, but at least they’d be able to get in a week and a half of camping before heading home.  Then we discovered that due to mistakes on the part of the dealership, the repair would not be completed on schedule.  The dealership had promised that they would have the SUV ready by last Friday, a week after they had first looked at the problem.  Now it appears it will not be ready until this coming Tuesday, four days later than promised.

When I first learned that there might be a further delay, I got mad. This wasn’t right!  I had been promised that  Reuben and Jess would have the car on Friday!  I left the service manager a voicemail message that was less than gracious.

Then I remembered that God loved this man.  I began asking the Lord for His heart and His perspective on this situation.  I heard back from the service manager – not once, but several times, even on his day off – who evidently felt very badly about the cascading delays which had been caused by several errors on the part of his staff, and offered to give us a discount (although the price tag was still going to be considerable).  In the end, I decided that although I might be able to justify tearing a strip out of him over these further delays, possibly leading to a further discount, God was giving me an opportunity to show him mercy so that I could speak to him about the kindness of Jesus and how He had shown mercy on me when I was far from Him.  This is what I plan to do when I talk with him one more time on Tuesday.  Compared to the eternal value of one man’s life, the cost of the engine repair is a small thing.

I have learned that as I go through life, things will happen that I cannot prevent or control, no matter how carefully I plan.  Life is full of upheavals of one sort and another that upset my carefully laid plans, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large ones.   In fact, events that we cannot control are one of the main tools that God uses to call our hearts back to himself.  What we can control – by the grace of God – is our response to these situations.  These events have reminded me that when I anchor my hope in God’s promises, he can establish His peace in my heart, and give me the ability to respond with grace and mercy even when things seem to be going all wrong.

We forget sometimes that God has a bigger agenda than we do.  He has made us for glory, and we’re not going to get there without being changed.  If I need to take a financial hit to grow in faith, I’ll take it.  God is well able to replace the loss – after all, it’s only money.  Every time I choose the path of faith, hope and love in the midst of unexpected troubles, I am allowing God to develop my capacity to walk in His blessing and give it away, and He promises to reward me with an inheritance that, unlike money, lasts forever and can never lose its value.  Sounds like a good deal to me.


So you’re a control freak?

So you’re a control freak?  Welcome to the human race.

“Not me”, you protest.  “You’ve got the wrong person.  If you want to see a real control freak, look at so-and-so”.

OK, so maybe you don’t think you have a problem with control.  My one-question test will prove you wrong.  Simply answer this question honestly:  Do you want your own way?   Of course you do.  Everyone does.   You, along with the rest of the human race, are a control freak.

As we grow up, we learn that controlling others is not socially acceptable.  That’s because the people around us are just as bent on control as we are.  We learn to work out compromises to keep from destroying one another, and we become more adept at various subtle and crafty methods for getting our own way.  That doesn’t change the fact that secretly (sometimes not so secretly) we still want to be in charge; we still want our own way; we still want to be in control.   The drive to be in control has been at the core of human nature ever since the serpent tricked Adam and Eve with the alluring but empty promise of becoming gods unto themselves.  This, of course, explains why human history has been so full of wars and conflicts.

We try to control others for various reasons.  Some people try to control others simply because they love power, but in years of ministry I’ve observed that the most common motivation for control is not lust for power, it’s fear – ironically, fear of being controlled by someone else.   We try to control others because we don’t trust anyone but ourselves.   After all, the people around us are just like us – they want to be in control too – so why should we trust them?

The problem with trying to be in control is that no matter how good you are at it, eventually even the best system breaks down.  And the more controlling you have been, the more lonely and isolated you will probably be when all your schemes finally crumble and you have to face the awful truth that you’re not God after all.

There is a remedy, of course.  It’s called the cross.   The blows we take in life are designed by God to lead us to this place of surrender.   He places obstacles in our path not because He hates us but because He loves us and desires our freedom.  When we’re finally willing to give up our illusions, He leads us to the feet of the One who is worthy to be in control — Jesus, the Lamb of God, who has demonstrated his worthiness by living a life in complete submission to the Father.  He does not break the bruised reed of our life – instead he gently and kindly restores our soul and teaches us a whole new way of living.

Ironically, the more we get used to walking this path of surrender, the more real influence we can have on the lives of those around us.  That’s because as our hearts are restored and the desire to obey God gradually replaces the desire for control, those around us find it easier to trust us and open up their hearts to us — and so we have the amazing privilege of planting and nurturing seeds of new life and hope in those who, like us, are discovering the bankruptcy of the world’s ways and learning where true freedom can be found.  This is a life-long process, and it’s costly – but it’s also wonderfully rewarding, both in this life and in eternity.

Control freaks of the world, surrender – you have nothing to lose but your chains.


Reflections from Minnesota – Day 2

Who does your life belong to?

Yesterday Simeon and Heather dedicated their new baby daughter to God.   Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends were there to witness the event and to pray for her.   Of course we prayed for her to be blessed.  But what does it really mean to be blessed?

Babies have very little control over their own life.   They are almost totally dependent on someone else to look after them.   Babies and young children also find it easy to trust.   I’m being reminded of both these facts as Marion and I interact with our baby granddaughter.

This morning Marion and I took Sophie for a ride in her stroller.  Eventually she became distressed and began to cry.   As soon as I picked her up and cuddled her and began to speak to her gently, she relaxed into my arms with a sigh and let herself be cared for – even though she barely knows me.  Jesus said that anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall never enter it.   I think he was onto something …

We tend to think that we are blessed when things go our way, but Jesus said that if we try to save our own life we will end up losing it.  He said the only way to find true life – the life that is worth living, the life that cannot be destroyed by death or “bad fortune” – is to give up control  of our own life and live for His Kingdom.   Little children instinctively understand the trust and dependency part of that equation.  But babies are also very self-focussed, totally absorbed with their own needs and desires.

Life with God – the only life that is worth living – requires us in a sense to be like little children, and in another sense to be mature in our choice-making.   It requires us to relax into God’s arms – but also to make the daily decision to leave behind our self-preoccupation and walk with God into the tasks and challenges that He calls us to take on as His representatives on earth.  It takes an adult to walk out the daily choice of surrendering the will to God and actively pursuing the life of a disciple.

That’s the kind of life I want for Sophie – and for myself.  Not necessarily the easiest life in the world, but the most rewarding – a life with eternity in view.   It starts when I realize that my life doesn’t belong to myself, but to the One who died for me so that I might live for Him and in Him.