As 2019 comes to a close, we are saying goodbye not only to a year, but to a decade. The past ten years have been chock-full of learning, but as I cast my mind back over all those lessons, there’s one that stands above the others—perhaps because it’s a lesson that I continually need to remember and relearn.

We human beings are all addicts. Our addiction may not be to drugs, alcohol, shopping, or chocolate, but it’s always there, and it’s always got a stranglehold on our psyches. It’s an addition to control.

Like any addiction we might try to kick, it fights back with a vengeance. It morphs into different forms of the same thing. It tricks us into thinking we’ve conquered it, and pops up in an entirely different area, rubbing its hands in glee at our enslavement.

The irony is that, for the most part, control is an illusion. There is so much about our lives that we cannot control—the weather, the stock market, the emergence of cancer, the decisions of other people—that our psyches rebel.

I once read about a study [1] in which rats were pitted against humans to see who would be able to make the best decisions. Both were put into mazes. At each end, there was a light. One of the lights would go on after a random interval. If the rat/human was at the correct end when the light went on, a reward would be given. Unknown to the subjects, the light on one end of the maze was programmed to turn on 80% of the time, with the remaining 20% covered by the light on the other end.

The humans tried to find patterns in the lights:

  • If one end turned on twice in a row, would the other end turn on next?
  • If there was a delay of 10 seconds, instead of 5, was one end more likely to turn on?

In actuality, the lights were completely randomized. The only “rule” was that one end would turn on 80% of the time.

The rats soon learned to stay on the 80% end and received their reward most of the time. They beat the humans, hands down.

Perhaps the psychological mechanism that leads us to try and find patterns, even in situations that are completely random, contributes to the idea that we have more control over our lives and situations than we actually do. When the prospect of losing control looms, we panic and do whatever we can to claw it back and satisfy our addiction.

No matter how much we as Christians have surrendered to Jesus, there is always something more that we want to control for ourselves, that we hesitate to give Him. For every thing that we give up to Him, we also try to claw back something to keep for ourselves.

This became very apparent to me back in 2011 when I was bedridden with a back injury. I wanted control, but I was in a state where any illusion of control was laughable. I was dependant on others for everything.

My addiction became even more obvious when God told me to pray for His guidance before making any decision: when to turn on my side, when to lie flat on my back, when to go to the bathroom. Within two weeks of this level of submission, God greatly accelerated my healing beyond anything I’d experienced before.

When I was a little more physically able, I found myself rebelling. I wanted control back. I didn’t dare disobey a direct order from Him, so my sinful heart began to come up with creative alternatives. I would be tempted not to pray, because then I wouldn’t know what God would want me to do, and therefore if I did my own thing I wouldn’t be disobeying Him. My heart was disobedient. When God told me to do something that I didn’t want to do, I would obey, but stomp my spiritual feet in frustration as I did it.

I realized my prayers needed to change: “Lord, please give me a heart of obedience, not just deeds of obedience.” Eventually, He enabled me to be victorious over these disobedient impulses. This didn’t mean that I was always successful, but I now knew how strong those impulses were.

The lust after control is dangerous. It is very powerful and can be destructive, not only in the physical world but also in the spiritual one. You see, though ‘control’ is largely an illusion, our addiction to it can rob us of the joy and peace that should be hallmarks of our Christian life.

Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” [2]

I often think of this abundance in the form of a rich (abundant) banquet (life) that Jesus has spread out for us. Look! Over there are all sorts of wonderful, juicy, delicious fruits. There is no “in season” or “out of season”. They are all here.

Over on that table to the left, there is yummy roast beef, fish, all sorts of tender meats. To the right is an array of the creamiest of cheeses. (I like the mild ones best.) My favourite is the dessert table. There are the lightest pastries you’ve ever tasted, the fluffiest whipped cream, the richest chocolates.

Picture that banquet in your mind. What are the foods that delight you the most? They are there. Imagine them in plenty, flowing over.

God has given us an all-you-can-eat buffet, but when we grab control for ourselves, when we ration Him out, we spurn the abundance. We eat a grape, a kernel of corn, and take a tiny sip of Living Water. We declare, “I am full.” And we miss out on the good things that God wants for us.

Soon our spiritual selves begin to wither. Our cheeks and eye sockets cave in, our limbs become like sticks. Yet still we insist, “I’m full!”

We deny the power of God in our lives, and even try to control Him like a pet. We will only take Him out to play if He obeys our rules. But our God is no pussy cat. He is the Lion of Judah, the Creator of the universe, and will be caged by no one.

The only thing we accomplish in pursuing our addiction is damage to ourselves and those around us.

So let’s stop clutching after air, and give to God what is God’s: the trust and faith He deserves. He is the only One who has ever been in control. We can trust Him and His good plans for us. We don’t need power or fame, reputation or beauty because He has all of those things. We can trust in Him because He will use His resources to demonstrate His love not only to us, but to the whole world. And that is enough.


[1] Source unknown.

[2] John 10:10

(Picture source)