Has there ever been a situation you’ve found yourself in where you are trying to keep control and you realize that simply is not an option?
I remember a time in the distant past (relatively speaking) when I was a junior on a high school trip to Hollywood. I was in the drumline in our marching band, and we were going to march in the Hollywood Christmas Parade. I had never been out west, and I had never spent this amount of undivided time with my friends. I was planning for a week of incredible memories.
As I look back, I do indeed have many memories, but the one that stands out most was one of the least enjoyable experiences of the trip. You see, I was the oldest of my friends that roomed together in our hotel room. I was the most experienced and most responsible of the bunch…
One very early morning as I lay asleep on the floor at the foot of one of the beds, I was woken up very gently by one of my friends. I heard him whispering to me but I could not understand what he was saying in my semi-unconscious state. I heard murmurs and I told him that I didn’t hear. I heard murmurs again and I rolled over and I said, “[name of friend] (redacted for privacy), I can’t understand what you’re saying…” All of a sudden, he yelled in my face, “Evan, I flooded the toilet and it’s going everywhere!” I leapt up from the sheets, made my way to the bathroom door, and in my horror, I saw less than desirable toilet water overflowing into my other friend’s suitcase (because he insisted that it was far easier to keep his bag in the bathroom).
It was a mess. Literally, yes, but very dramatically in figurative language as well. I was panicked. I was sleep deprived. I was in charge. Yet I was completely out of control and forced to witness a train-wreck commence before my eyes. And the results were disastrous… However, we did survive the day and I’m still here to speak about it.
We all know times like that where we wish so badly to remain in control, but there’s no way to do so. Some circumstances like the one I mentioned are less serious and more enjoyable to look back on, but others are far more serious and difficult to process. It seems that we see similar moments in our Scriptures as well.
Recently, I was reading Mark 8 and I realized how similar the Apostle Peter and I can be at times. In verses 27-33, we read that, “Jesus went out with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the road he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered him, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.” “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he strictly warned them to tell no one about him. Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke openly about this. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning around and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.”
A very memorable passage, and perhaps one that we don’t relish seeing ourselves within, but I certainly do. As they were walking together, Jesus posed a question to them about who they understood Him to be, especially in light of everyone else’s interpretations of Him. Peter answers correctly, “You are the Messiah.” Cognitively, he recognized Jesus’s significance, power, holiness, trustworthiness, and ultimately, God’s anointing over Him.
However, just after this conversation, Jesus foretells His death and persecution. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him because of the level of discomfort that comes with this idea. No one would want to see their leader and friend killed so brutally, especially in the midst of the story when His resurrection power was yet to be seen. Peter stepped into the seat of control and tried to convince Jesus that His death was not necessary. Jesus’s reply was that an acknowledgement of His identity and the worship that would come along with it but held in tension with desires for control and to override God’s plans, was – should we say – frustrating to Him. In other words, if Peter believes Him to be the Son of God while also believing that he could convince Him of a better plan that was more in line with Peter’s concerns and comfort-level, then he’s following the tempting of the devil.
That has me asking myself, “what’s keeping me from giving Jesus the control I know I can trust Him with? What is it in me that’s convinced I must still grapple for control when I know He’s in charge?” In modern-day America, we are constantly bombarded with the temptation to be in control, to make our dreams come true, to take the bull by the horns. Some of us are told that we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps – that our successes are due to hard work and our failures are because there’s something inherently deficient in us.
How easy is it to translate that universal cultural understanding into our faith? Not only do we believe at times that we must earn our salvation, but many of us also struggle deeply to trust God to be in charge and to enact plans that are simply better than anything we can manage. Many of us, myself especially, line up very closely with Peter in that we intellectually recognize Jesus’s divinity, and yet, in all practicality, we live as if we must step in because Jesus is being irresponsible by allowing things to happen around us that make us uncomfortable. What is happening in your family, in your community, in your workplace, etc., that causes you great anxiety? That is very likely an indicator that you struggle to give God control, just like the rest of us!
Peter seemed to be fearing that Jesus was missing the massive implications of what His death on a cross would mean. But to Jesus, those implications were the foundation of His ministry. Like Peter, we must recognize how little we know of the ways and plans of the eternal Father who created us. The details in our lives are infinitesimally small to the One who created all things and we can trust Him with it all – not only to be strong enough to manage them, but also to be good and loving enough to work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), even in the midst of what can make us so incredibly uncomfortable.
What makes you uncomfortable? What has become a burden for you to carry? Go to God today and give Him not only your worship, but also whatever very real and tangible trust that you can as well. May we worship Him in spirit and truth, with our heart and our heads, in our worship and motivations (John 4:23–24).
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff