The Guise of Control

I can count on two fingers the bad experiences I’ve had on a horse.  Once when I was at camp, I got bucked off my horse during horsemanship class, but quickly got back on to earn my winning team 10,000 whole points.  The second time was about 10 years ago when I was visiting some friends in lower New York state.  They allowed me to ride their horse with the disclaimer that it was an old farm horse that liked to run away given the chance; they did NOT tell me the horse might also run away WITH me.  This I had to find out the hard way.

I was given the strict instructions to hold the reigns tightly when opening the gate of the pasture where I was to ride him otherwise he’d bolt. I obeyed those directions to a tee.  However, once in the pasture, I felt comfortable enough to start a steady gallop along the pretty New York countryside.  We rode for a little while and all those years of horsemanship lessons quickly returned to my mind; it was fun…for a short while.  THEN all of a sudden, the horse, we’ll call him Doofus, saw a flock of seagulls on the top of the hill, and like a prisoner with new found freedom, charged them head-on.  Of course, I’m shouting, “WHOA, Doofus….WHOA!” I’m pulling on the reigns, sitting deep into the saddle and clenching my legs tight around him…nothing…still charging full steam ahead.  I was on a run-away horse and there was little I could do about it.  We reached the top of the hill where Doofus finally came to a halt and the birds scattered.  I swear he had a stupid grin on his face as I yelled at him making my way back down the hill.  When all of a sudden…another flock, err, herd…herd of cows appeared.  Doofus again set off on another terror-filled gallop as I bounced and bobbed, shouting the entire way.  I pulled out all the arsenals this time, even tried turning the reigns to move his course, but it was fixed steady on the immovable cows.  That’s when I saw it. A fence.  Between us and the cows.  Suddenly visions of Black Beauty kept entering my mind and my screams took on a desperate tone.  Surely this was how I was going to die, on a lonely hill in NY with Doofus drooling over me and my broken neck.  Finally for some unknown reason (other than the obvious God-intervention thing), Doofus stopped just 20 feet from the fence and 50 from the cows.  I was panting, my heart pounding out of my chest.  Doofus was…grinning….again.  I was beyond ticked.  I dismounted Doofus and jerked the reigns so we were nose to nose.  “WE (pant, pant) are WALKING back!”  As we walked the quiet trek back to the farm, I got to questioning everything I could have done differently.  I had the reigns tightly in my control the entire time, but I was not the one in control…clearly.

That’s the tricky thing about control.  Just when you think you should have it, you don’t.  There is a facade about control that evades us.  Like a mist, we try desperately to grab hold of it, only to watch it disappear in our hands.

We think control is something attainable;

when in reality, just when you think you are in control, you’re not.

In Genesis 16, a story is told of a woman desperate to control the outcome of her life.  Sarah was given a promise by God, a promise of a son…many, many sons, in fact (Gen. 12:2).  She was getting older though and, in her mind, the window of opportunity for God to work was quickly closing.  I relate to this aspect of Sarah’s panicked measures. I know God wants a certain thing in my life, for me to go in a certain direction, and instead of being patient for Him to work….I do.  I take control; I devise a plan; I implement a strategy.

Upon graduation from Southwestern, my amazing advisor printed off some old emails she had saved, correspondence we had shared before I was ever a student of hers.  Back then, I knew God was calling me to seminary, but none of the questions I had were answered: how was I to pay? Where was I to work? In which housing was I to live?  How was it all going to happen?  Someone told me that often times, a stepping out in faith is required before a confirmation of provision is seen, but that was so much easier said than done.  I had to move to Texas, with no job, no idea where I was going to land, no friends….NO control; and God was asking me to trust Him.

God was asking Sarah for the same thing: trust.  But Sarah couldn’t see how God was going to work out all the details of His promise, so she took control of the situation.  And did it turn out perfect?  How about “alright?”  Did it at least turn out alright?  No.  In fact, it turned out worse than she could have imagined. Notice the interesting thing about control here in Genesis 16: Just when Sarah thought she had control, she lost it.  And she had to fight for control again, only to lose it again, only to fight for it again, only to….you get the picture.  The guise of control is cyclical.  More often than not, as soon as you gain control, you lose it, only to fight for it some more.

We think control will save relationships; when in reality, it kills them.

So often when it comes to our relationships, women can be very controlling.  We know what’s best for that particular person and we set out to make it happen.  While many times our intentions might be good (we want our children to make only the wisest choices; we want the guy we’re dating to be “the one;” we want our husband to act a certain way or do certain things), the way we go about our relationships can be manipulative and controlling.  And in our endeavors to save our relationships, our control is actually killing them, stifling the relationships.

Sarah saw this first hand in her relationships with her husband and Hagar (Genesis 16).  Hagar didn’t respond well to Sarah’s control and she started having attitude with her, so Sarah started to blame Abraham for the problem.  And when that didn’t work, she started treating Hagar bitterly.  Eventually Hagar ran away only to be brought back by the Lord and His promise of protection.  Sarah sought to control her relationships, and because of it, they were threatened to be destroyed.

This is the guise of control.  People cannot be manipulated without it affecting your relationship with them.  The more you try to make someone do the things you want them to do, the more your relationship with them will suffer.  Granted as a parent there are rules that you set up in your household that should be obeyed, this is not what I am speaking to.  Rather if you have an adult child, there comes a time when that child becomes their own person, with their own lives to live, and mistakes to make.  The more you try to control them, the farther apart you will sever your relationship with them.

We think we have two choices: God being in control of us or us being in control of ourselves;

when in reality, our choices are God being in control of us, or the enemies of God being in control of us.

This truth epitomizes the guise of control.  When it comes to our own lives, we want to be the ones calling the shots.  We want to be the masters of our own destinies, sayers of our own truths. One of the biggest lies we are told by Satan is that we are the makers of our own stories. He started out in Genesis 3 with that lie.  He told Adam and Eve that God was just trying to control them, but that if they wanted, they could be the controllers of themselves; they could be free from God’s rule. And we have believed this ever since.   He wants us to forget that before a single day was lived by us, God had already scheduled our lives (Psalm 139:16).

Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.”  You see, even if you’re resistant to allowing God to have control in your life, it doesn’t mean that you are now assuming that role of authority, for you still don’t get to do what you want.  You are just becoming a slave to the enemies of God: the world, the flesh, or the devil.  “Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey —either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)  Those are your options: being controlled by God or being controlled by sin.  But either way…you’re controlled.  This is the guise of control.

When I was growing up, and there was an activity or event to which my parents required me to go, they used to tell me (half-jokingly), “You can go happy or you can go sad; either way though…you’re going!”  This is what Paul is telling us in Romans and Galatians, “You can be a slave to God or you can be a slave to sin; either way though….you’re the one being controlled, not the other way around.”


Control can be an appealing thing.  It appealed to Eve in the Garden, and it still appeals to us today. It can make us feel powerful, successful, and authoritative.  But those feelings are fleeting.  The fact is, control can be elusive because it’s like that mist that is hard to hold.  It can be cyclical and addicting, and in the end, we’re never really the ones in control.  And when you think about it, if your only choices are: to allow the enemies of God to control the outcome of your life or to allow God, a good, faithful and powerful God, call the shots; wouldn’t you rather it be the latter?  After all, John 10:10 tells us that God wants to give us an ABUNDANT life.  Ephesians 3:20 says that He “does exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think.”  I know His actual control is way better than my grasping at control any day!


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