I wasn’t nearly as thrilled as my 22-year-old daughter when she informed me she would be bungee jumping off a bridge. But since she is an adult and can make her own decisions, I only asked that she call or text me as soon as she was done to spare me unnecessarily prolonged worry. She promised she would, just as she had when she and her best friend celebrated their high school graduation by jumping out of an airplane.
What will it take for us to gladly give over our desire (which we sometimes mistake for need) to feel we are in control?
The bungee jump was set for 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday when I was scheduled to speak at a church at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.. I thought about my daughter’s escapade on and off throughout the day, but especially when 4 p.m. rolled around with no phone call . . . then 4:30 and 5 p.m and still my frantic calls and texts were unanswered. Perhaps you can relate to my angst. At 5:15 p.m. it was time to speak again and I have to tell you, it was God’s grace that I was able to focus on that message. Imagine my relief when I received the text at 7:07 p.m.: “I’m alive.” She had been out of cell coverage until then.
I don’t consider myself a control freak, but like most people I don’t enjoy the uncertainty and fear that can grip us when we “feel” we have no control. Yet over the years I have discovered that, for the most part, the feeling that we do have control is simply an illusion. My passion for backpacking has really driven this lesson home.
When I go into the mountains I am completely out of reach of everyone but God and my hiking buddies. There’s always that nagging feeling, “What if something happens while I am gone?” And you know what? Sometimes things do. I was in the mountains when one of my dearest friends, Jhan Moskowitz, had a fatal fall in a New York subway. Just like that, he was gone and I never had a moment to hope or pray… I received the shocking news of his sudden death after it was all over. So what should I do? Stop going into the mountains? Believe me, I thought about it. But my ability to receive a phone call has zero effect on my ability to control events. Proximity does not equal control.
Wherever we or our loved ones may be, we have to exercise faith in God, knowing that He is control and we are not. It’s such a simple truth and yet we all struggle with it. A host of situations test our resolve to trust God.
One of our missionary couples was preparing to transfer to a different country. Obstacles cropped up, postponing their move until a yet-to-be determined time. The couple had done all they could do, but so many things were beyond their control. This uncertainty was breeding fear and frustration. I had no more control over the unfolding circumstances than did they. But God did.
I reminded the couple of Abraham and Sarah’s story. They went out, not knowing where they were going or when they would arrive; no Google maps available. They were not in control but they believed and trusted God, who was. The Scriptures say they “judged Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11). We can tell one another this until we are blue in the face, but unless or until we each exercise our own faith in God regarding these matters, we will continue to fear and fret. It’s crucial to remind ourselves of God’s care for us and His promises to us. Then, by faith, we can cede our own desire for control over to Him. So what are some of His promises to us?
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b)
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:2)
“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:9-11)
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
And on and on the promises go. What will it take for us to gladly give over our desire (which we sometimes mistake for need) to feel we are in control? What will it take for us to trust in the control of the One who made these precious promises?
Our faith in God is not merely a tool to help us cope with our circumstances. Trust in the sovereignty (rule or control) of our caring, omnipotent God liberates us! Suddenly we find we’re free to be courageous and take risks for Him. It’s not that faith makes us reckless, or leads us to test God. It’s what happens when we unclench our fists to let go of illusions of control. It’s so great to be free from those illusions, illusions that so often whisper false warnings, drowning out the true promises of God. Hearing and trusting His promises gives us the courage to live and serve with boldness and joy.
One of our Jews for Jesus core values is “stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God.” We can’t do it if we are grasping for control over our lives and circumstances. I want to trust God, not just when things are going well, but when I can’t see where I am going. I want to believe and trust God and take risks for His glory.
The risk my daughter took when she went bungee jumping is not exactly the kind of risk-taking I’m referring to. Still, the photo of her on my cell phone illustrates what I mean: her back arched, arms in the air, free falling from a bridge some 150 feet above a beautiful river gorge—it’s a picture of exhilaration and helpless trust. I find that picture so very compelling.
We don’t usually choose the circumstances of our lack of control. But we can choose to share that sense of joyful abandon and trust in God despite our lack of control. The choice is so much easier if we can just remember how much better it is for us that He is in control rather than us.
I have been inspired by the example of our Jews for Jesus staff in Ukraine. In the face of the violence and unrest that is plaguing their country, they have chosen to redouble their efforts to be visible, vulnerable and available for the glory of God.* When unrest and violence were exploding in Maiden Square, Kiev, they were there to give out the good news. When Odessa was in flames, they stood up and made known the grace of God, despite fears for their own safety. I am proud of their willingness to trust in the control of the One who called them into service. I think God wants us all to live like that. I pray for that kind of courageous risk-taking for all of us in Jews for Jesus. And I pray that for you as well, my dear Jews for Jesus friend.
*Also see David’s article titled, “No Martyrs” —a reflection on our final core value, “Stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God.”