God’s first act of control

Heard a wonderful message this past Sunday presented by Curt Hoke at the Y campus of my local Sulphur Grove United Methodist Church. Curt, a quadriplegic, shared his own marvelous testimony of Christian faith attributable to his acceptance of God’s control over his own life, using even the circumstance of his own spinal chord injury from a diving accident some two decades ago “for good” as promised in Romans 8:28.
In response to this great message of faith in God’s promises, I uttered this prayer silently in my own mind: “Lord, thank you for Curt Hoke. For his faith, for his surrender to your right to be in control over his life, and for the vast influence his testimony, like that of so many other friends of the great Joni Eareckson Tada and of Through the Roof ministries, is having in the lives of people here and now upon this earth. Lord, I believe his influence in our needy world is your influence. I believe your Holy Spirit is informing and influencing Curt’s decisions in ways that are going to make your Kingdom come closer than ever before to our world, closer than before his accident, and in ways far stronger than all the muscles in his own paralyzed body could ever do. Thank you for the very words from Curt’s mouth that carry more power and strength than all the muscles in his once very athletic body ever could in any lifetime. Thank you for his witness to your loving influence in our world. Please continue to use him for your own loving influence over our world. Amen.”
In response to my own prayer to God re. Curt Hoke’s ministry, I can imagine two rather different messages to me from God through His own Holy Spirit. The first would go like this:
“Thanks anyway for your prayer, Dan, but you need to understand that I have everything under control and I’m going to do what is best for Curt and for the world regardless of what you ask for. You can pray or not pray. My mind’s already made up. I’m always right. And, because I’m the One in control, it really doesn’t matter to me what you think I should do, or what you might ask me to do. Just remember, young man, that I’m the Sovereign God who is in control over this little world you live in.”
Here’s the second message I can imagine getting from God in response to my prayer. “Thank you for your prayerful request, Dan, concerning the future influence of Curt Hoke’s loving testimony of Christlike faith. Curt prays to me along the same lines, and I’ve always admired his own attitude of “not my will but yours be done” where his own life on earth is concerned. I really do agree with you that I should continue to use Curt to get my message of loving influence out to other people in today’s world. I just want you to understand, though, that my loving influence in and through Curt is a rather slow and gradual process. Love always takes a long time in its influence of positive change, whereas fear takes a quick and short-term approach to gaining control over others’ thoughts and decisions. Just remember, my child, that love — yours, mine, and Curt’s — really will win out over fear in the long run. And thanks, as always, for each one of your faithful prayers.”
It is your right, of course, to question or even condemn my own imaginings where answered prayer is concerned. People of equal faith can have strong differences involving God’s answered prayers or kept promises. But my point today is not just that God is capable of influencing and being influenced through our prayers. My larger point is that, yes, God is in control, but paradoxically God’s first act of control is to choose not to control our lives at all. Rather, God’s preferred alternative is to influence our lives, thus making prayer itself powerful. Influence always empowers others in the long run. Control always empowers ourselves in the short run. Love seeks out influence over others, while fear seeks out control. God is love. And there is no fear in love. I John 4:18.
Which brings me back to Curt Hoke’s wonderful testimony. God did not control what happened to Curt that day of his diving accident. But through Curt’s own prayerful surrender to God’s will, God has influenced Curt’s multitude of choices, informed his decisions, and thus used him to lovingly influence many others for Christ since that day. And it doesn’t get any better than that.

In my next blog, how does Jesus seek to influence the very people trying to control him? Who succeeds in the long run?


Is God really in control?

God is in control, but all IS NOT right with the world.
So be honest. Ever had this thought enter your mind before? If so, how has it affected you? Has it challenged your faith in any way? Has it in any way diminished your relationship with God? Has it possibly even become grounds for your divorce from God over the years?
Such effects are surely not uncommon even among people of faith, especially owing to the faith tradition of believing God to be a Sovereign Master of the universe quite capable of starting or stopping anything ever in existence. All in existence, according to such a theological understanding, is under God’s Almighty control.
Such a belief about God seems naturally to spark our human doubts about God. After all, how could a loving God allow so much pain and suffering to exist in our world? Worse than our doubts, this triggers our deepest fears of abandonment, leaving us with the logic that since God has failed at the control-switch, we must personally take over the controls in order to make right the many wrongs of this life, this world. As we then fearfully take the world into our own hands (some call this “stressing out”) we most likely come away either addicted to our own adrenalin should things seem to work out, and become “control freaks” in others’ eyes, or we become so filled with despair that we shame ourselves and blame others for the out-of-control wrongs yet in our world.
But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if faith doesn’t have to be this way? What if God doesn’t have to be this way? What if we who actually believe in God could let go of our old faulty theology of a controlling Sovereign whose hand is fearfully gripping the control-switch on our behalf?
My own faith story has arrived at this preferred alternative: God is influential, and all IS right with the world. God uses influence as an ultimate act of love to cast out our deepest fears of abandonment that motivate our own controlling, “stressed out” behaviors. Control is the behavior of deepest fear. Influence is the behavior of highest love.
To illustrate, let’s say you have two parents of equal power in your own life to whom you owe your own existence. One parent is motivated to influence you in becoming your best self, capable of managing your own life and exercising your own free will or self-control. That parent stands ready at all times to inform your decisions, but expects you to make your own actual choices, respecting your own boundaries in the process. Parent #2 is motivated to control you by protecting you from all harm, all pain, all frustration along the way. That parent stands ready to make your decisions, and expects you to comply always for your own safety and well-being.
So which parent in this illustration loves you most? The one who exercises control? Or the one who exercises influence? Which parent do you love the most? And which one are you most fearfully addicted to?
My faith tells me the following answers to such questions: God is love. God’s perfect love casts out all fear. There is no fear in love. Within fear there is our desire for control. Within love there is our need for influence. Within fear’s control, all IS NOT right with the world. Within love’s influence, all IS right with the world.
My faith tells me it’s time to lose control. Let it go, let it go. And hold on, faithfully, to love’s Almighty influence instead.

In my next blog: how can we use our prayers to best influence God, and how does God use our prayers to best influence us?