Hello, my name is Elihu and I am a control-aholic. It’s been 24 hours since my last surge of anxiety and 3 days since I felt the need to control a situation.”
I do not post the above to tease programs like NA or AA. Such programs wisely demand honesty, confession, and accountability. Accountability forces us to think twice about our choices, whether we wrestle with gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, pride, selfishness, anger, etcetera. Confession encourages repentance because we do not want to bear the shame of confessing the same failures again and again.
For control-aholics, the urge to regulate every piece of our world damages our relationships—particularly our relationship with the Father. Anxiety and anger become our constant companions as we fight to regulate every aspect of our life.
Self-control is different than being a control-aholic. Self-control seeks to discipline the mind and body so as to be effective in the service of the Lord. External control—that is, control of people or circumstances—seeks prominence rather than service.
There is an old prayer not found in the scriptures, but one that carries scriptural truth. It is called “The Serenity Prayer.” Some may object to memorizing and reciting prayers, but I have found prayers like this one helpful when I am at a loss for words. I also highly recommend memorizing certain Psalms and using them in our prayers. The Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers, so it is unnecessary to be eloquent. God doesn’t need perfect prose of the mouth; he desires perfect honesty of the heart. Praying Psalms and prayers do have a time and a place, however. When we find ourselves unable to focus, or perhaps our prayers are becoming dry or infrequent, such tools can help us to center our minds and hearts on following Christ.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
There are some key ideas in this prayer worth our examination.
What is serenity?
In our hustle to control the world around us, we create our own anxieties. God calls us to stillness of the soul, not swiftness to control. Paul writes:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~ Philippians 4.6-7, ESV
In this life, we inevitably face situations that create anxiety. Every person of faith within the Bible faced anxiety.
Abraham worried about Abimelech.
Moses worried about Pharaoh.
Elijah feared Jezebel’s wrath.
Esther feared facing the King Xerxes without an invite.
The Apostles feared capture when Jesus was arrested.
Paul worried over the fate of the churches to whom he wrote.
Anxiety will confront us, but it does not have to control us.
God calls us to tranquility, no matter how violent the storm. Lay your requests before His throne. Keep on laying them down and refuse to pick them back up. Continue laying them down until your soul discovers the unfathomable peace of God.
God-given peace provides protection from the enemy. Satan works diligently to draw us away from the safety of trusting in God, but we do not have to stumble into his trap. Find refuge in the Father. In His arms is life, peace, and safety.
We should be asking for the following three things each time we pray:
1. Acceptance of What I Cannot Change
About two years ago, one of my acquaintances encouraged me to listen to a particular motivational speaker. I listened for about 15 minutes until I couldn’t stand listening any longer. I shut her off after she mockingly remarked, “There is a place in hell for those sanctimonious people who say, “well, if it’s the Lord’s will…”
Her aim was to encourage people not to make excuses for their circumstances. While it’s true we can accomplish much when properly motivated, it is also true that we cannot control everything.
There is a huge list of things outside our control.
We can influence. We can pray. We can work. However, we will have more peace the sooner we accept that there are things beyond our control.
Acceptance is seeing the storm and trusting that somehow, God will pull you through it. When we accept the good and the bad and place it in the hands of the Lord, we have peace.
2. Courage to Change What I Can
One of the great ironies of humanity is the furious effort to control what we can’t while refusing to control what we can. We may not be able to control cancer, but we can control how we respond. We cannot keep an addict from their addiction, but we can choose to encourage them, pray for them, and intervene wherever possible.
I cannot control every circumstance, but I can control my every reaction.
Will I take my worries to God in prayer?
Will I trust Him with today just as much as I trust Him with my eternity?
Will I seek Him even when nobody else does?
Will I serve others even when nobody will serve me?
Will I stop letting anxiety rule my heart, or will I simply label myself as a victim?
We control our attitude, our actions, our reactions, and our words. May God give us the courage to change when we know we must change and to choose right even when it is much easier to do wrong.
3. Wisdom to Discern What I Can and Cannot Change
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
James 1.5, ESV
God promises wisdom to those who seek it. Failing to properly recognize what is inside or outside of our control is common. The control-aholic (and pretty much everybody in this world), we desperately need God’s wisdom. We will never find peace without it and we will certainly find joy with it.
Seek God. Seek His Ways. Seek His wisdom. It is only within the refuge of His everlasting arms that we will find peace.
This post originally appeared on Elihu’s Corner and was republished with permission.
Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at elihuscorner.com