I am convinced fear is one of the greatest factors that drive our need for control. I recognize it in others because I also see it in myself.
Fear can be a healthy response to certain situations. Fear helps us make good decisions, like not playing Frisbee on the roof. It also gives us the adrenaline fueled flight-or-fight response that can help you yank your toddler out of the way of the falling bookshelf or lift a car off an accident victim. But fear that moves us away from trust can produce a variety of unhealthy responses, including control.
Fear that leads to control is a problem because:
It drives me to put myself in God’s place. Fear can cause us to adopt the false belief that it’s my job to keep bad things from happening. When I believe it’s up to me to keep the world running smoothly, it pushes me to ensure everyone around me is doing things right. So I micromanage the project, demand people in leadership do things my way, and restrict my children’s choices to the one I want them to make.When I buy the lie that I can control outcomes and events, I have to make sure every decision and every process is done my way. Sometimes it works. If I’m angry, manipulative, or charismatic enough, I can get everyone around me dancing to my tune. But when the house of cards I’ve built comes crashing down–as it always does–I either have to face facts or find someone to blame.
It causes me to restrict other people’s power and freedom. God intended church to be a body, not a one woman show. That mean’s everyone’s voices and gifts matter, not just mine. But fear gets in the way. If I can’t trust God to do his job, how can I trust anyone else? My need for control can come out in different ways. Suggestions that feel more like demands. Punishing people for decisions I don’t like. A constant string of criticisms that wear people down. All these behaviors on my part can drive others to their own set of negative behaviors like rebelling, quitting, or shutting down. My need for control can rob others of their God-given freedom and prevent them from using their spiritual gifts. Healthy people can desire to see things done well but still honor other people’s freedom and power to make real decisions.
It keeps me from experiencing God’s freedom and blessing. I wrote a few months ago about our dog Summer, and how she was afraid to come into the house. Before she came home with us, Summer lived at a vet-run shelter and spent most of her time in the yard. They took good care of her, but she didn’t have any experience with things like carpet, noisy washing machines, or Christmas trees. She’s been with us about six months now. While she’s still fearful of new situations, she’s made lot’s of progress. Among other things, she’s discovered we have a couch. Instead of being afraid, she now prefers coming inside.
Fear-driven-control forces me to live in the safe space I can control. Like Summer, I want to live in the safety-zone of what is known, comfortable, and predictable. But in doing so I miss out on the blessings of love, intimacy, and adventure found in relationship with God. Faith involves risk, and without faith we can’t enjoy freedom.
So how do I silence the voice of fear?
- Celebrate God’s sovereignty. There is tremendous freedom in handing control over to God. Knowing and celebrating God’s sovereignty frees me from the burden of having to control every situation and prepare for every eventuality. Instead, I can fully enjoy each moment because God knows my future. Bad things will happen. Whether God delivers me from it or strengthens me to walk through it, I know God will provide for my every need when I need it. God’s in charge. I don’t have to be.
- Trust God’s heart. 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” When we love God and know God’s love for us, there’s no room left for fear.
- Invest in relationship with God. Summer overcame her fear as she learned to know and trust us. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. If we want to trust God more, we need to know him better. That means we need to practice the basic disciplines of faith. Reading the Bible expecting to hear God’s voice. Prayer that takes time for listening instead of just running down our wish list. Celebrating God’s character in worship. Participating in genuine community. Relationships are built with time and experience, and our relationship with God is no different.
Q: How does fear drive your need for control? How can we learn to live by faith instead of fear?
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