Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Bringing Order to Chaos

Messy office

by Dennis Pollock

I sat in a men's Bible study recently which involved listening to a video series on Christian manhood. The subject of that particular evening was "the sin of control." The teachers emphasized how men tend to be controllers and how destructive and devastating this can be, calling control an idol, and suggesting that we must all repent of the sin of control, and learn to trust God in all things. I understood where they were coming from. Certainly some men, and women as well, do struggle with the issue of being too controlling. Husbands trying to control every aspect of their wives' and children's' lives would be an example of this, as would bosses who force every worker to do things exactly their way without allowing for individual initiative or creativity.

Still I was bothered by this study. The teachers spoke of control as totally evil and without the slightest redeeming feature. It was a simplistic approach to a complex issue. In truth, control, like nearly every other human attribute, can be very, very good or very, very bad, depending upon how far it is taken, and the degree to which Jesus Christ is involved. I was reminded of a situation I observed many years ago when I was teaching a second grade class in the Fort Worth school district. My class was situated in a mobile building which also housed another second grade class at the opposite end, with a separating wall between us. The teacher on the other side of me did an outstanding job with her students, and was a model educator. But during the year she got married and ended up moving away. While the school district searched for a replacement, they hired a substitute in the interim, who taught the children for perhaps six weeks.

angry childThe result was absolute chaos. This substitute teacher seemed totally clueless about teaching and managing a classroom of thirty young, energetic children. There was an almost immediate transformation in the classroom and in the individual students themselves. Some of them, who had seemed polite and respectful toward their previous teacher, now became little monsters who sassed, shouted, and fought with one another. The noise level in the classroom skyrocketed and the learning level plummeted. It became clear that very little learning or teaching was going on. I felt sorry for the kids and for the teacher as well, who was going through utter misery every day as she vainly tried to keep her class under control. Even on the playground it was apparent that these children were out of control. I was amazed to see children I had known through the early part of that year go through such a terrible and speedy deterioration of personality. Nice children became surly, and polite children became rude and rebellious.

Finally a new permanent teacher was hired. This lady, like the first teacher, was a professional and knew how to handle and teach young children. Again, there was a sudden and amazing transformation both in the class and among individual students. This lady wasn't about to put up with defiant students, and the kids soon realized they could not get away with their foolishness any longer. Party time was over; it was time to get back to work. The noise level went back down and education resumed. Within the space of two months I had seen order turn into chaos and then return to order once again. The new teacher brought desperately needed control to that classroom, and the students under that control were greatly benefitted by it.

God and Creation

God is in the control business, and He is very big on order, organization, and authority. When He first created our world, the Bible tells us that the world was "without form and void." Exactly what that must have looked like we cannot be sure, but certainly it wasn't a world fit for habitation. God immediately went to work to bring about order. The Spirit of God began to move. Oceans separated, land formed into continents, plants and animals were created to fill the earth, and fish filled the lakes and rivers. By the time Adam and Eve were created, the earth was orderly, beautiful, and fully prepared for its first human occupants. Chaos and disorder gave way to order and control. Adam was told to subdue the earth and take dominion over it. Like his Creator, he was directed to exercise control over this earth.

We have been doing it ever since. Every time we cut down trees and weeds to build a house, every time we mow our lawn, every time we kill a patch of poison ivy, build roads, plant crops, create national parks, or wipe out infestations of roaches or mosquitoes, we are acting as managers and conservators of planet earth, a position endowed upon us by Earth's Creator. The story is told of a farmer who had a beautiful and well-organized farm which was admired by everyone in the community. One visitor, seeing the cows grazing peacefully in beautiful pastures, the carefully manicured lawn, and the straight and weedless rows of corn and other crops growing in the fields, said to the farmer, "My, you and God have really done wonders with this farm." "Yes we have," replied the farmer, but with a wink said, "You should have seen what it looked like when it was only under God's management!"

That sounds irreverent but it reflects an important point that we all need to see. Sometimes we make too much of the idea of being "natural." We feel that if we can just get everything to its natural state, everything will be beautiful, everything will be pristine, all will be perfect. But if we mean by natural that we should leave everything alone and never put our hand to improve the earth, our life, or anything else, our lives and everything around us would be utterly dysfunctional. Instead of using wood, bricks, and concrete to build houses, we could dig holes in the ground with our hands, burrow like foxes in our holes, and pride ourselves on being so "natural." Rather than cutting, styling, and combing our hair, we could all wear our hair just as it appears in the morning when we first get out of bed, allowing it to grow longer and more unruly year by year. Instead of disciplining our children, we could allow them to grow up doing whatever they feel like doing, and giving vent to every desire that moves their hearts. CEOs of major corporations could instruct all their supervisors to allow their workers to show up whenever they want, and charge them never to confront anyone for laziness or incompetence: "Just leave it all in the hands of God, and whatever you do, by all means make sure you don't try to control anything."

The Problem with Natural

messy hairThe problem with overemphasizing the idea of keeping everything natural and de-emphasizing control is that we live in a dysfunctional, fallen world that is riddled with the deleterious effects of sin. Things are not naturally the way they are supposed to be, and if we refuse to apply control and transformation to the status quo, chaos and disorder will rule. When the kingdom of God emerges in a life, a family, a community, or a nation, God immediately begins bringing beauty and order out of that which was spiritually "formless and void."

It all begins with the individual. Before being born again through faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible says that we "conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Ephesians 2:3). Our natural state was one of greed, selfishness and lust. We were totally out of control. Our desperate need was the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of eternal life, and Someone who could bring control and order to our restless, disordered, uncontrolled lives. All of this was provided us through Christ Jesus. Not only were we forgiven and made citizens of heaven; we received the Holy Spirit who came to live inside us and to begin God's project of transformation. Chaos must give way to order, selfishness must yield to love, and passion must defer to self-control. The Bible says that we are being transformed into the image of Christ from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Extending Control

God not only wants us to work with Him in controlling our own lives individually; He also wants to extend that control in our families, churches, and even our nations. His love for order is one reason He is so big on the idea of leadership. If you didn't know better, you might suppose that the ideal group would be one in which no leader was necessary. Everyone could have an equal say in every decision. That may sound wonderful, but in truth it has never worked: not in families, not in companies, not in churches, and not in nations. And God who is the ultimate realist, knows this full well, and for this reason has always placed leaders over His people. His servant Moses was constantly challenged by the Israelites and criticized for taking too much authority for himself, but God vindicated Moses over and over again, even to the point of having the earth open up and swallow the rebels. Even in the small unit of the family God has placed husbands as leaders and instructed wives and children to submit to that leadership. And leadership implies by definition exercising a measure of control over those being led.

God used Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, as an example, saying, "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice…" (Genesis 18:19). God does not say that Abraham should suggest or ask that his family follow God's ways. Abraham is to command his children and household to follow God. This friend of God must lead and control his household with a loving but very firm hand, that they may love and honor the God who has become the Lord of his life.

Authority with Love

The church was certainly never intended to be a leaderless entity. Wherever Paul established churches, he appointed elders to lead the local assemblies. He encourages Titus, "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15). Paul tells the young man the reason he was sent to his present location: "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city" (Titus 1:5).

The safeguard which protects leaders from over-controlling is love. When the love of Jesus is fully operative in those to whom He delegates authority, the danger of micro-managing and ruling harshly is minimized. No one carried more authority than Moses as he ruled over millions of Israelites. And although he was frequently accused of being too authoritarian, in truth he was the best friend those stiff-necked people ever had. Many times the only man to stand between them and complete annihilation by an angry God was Moses, as he fell on his face and interceded fervently and passionately for the contentious and stubborn people God had entrusted to him.

Just like His Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ is in the business of bringing control and order to that which was chaotic and formless. And once He lives in us, He calls us to be His instruments toward that end. To be sure we can take this too far and become "overcontrollers." But far too many people are "undercontrollers." Their lives, their children, their finances, their sexuality, their emotions, their habits, their language, their passions, and their use of time are all out of control.

The answer is not a determined vow to do better, but an abiding relationship with and confidence in Jesus Christ, the One who "is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:21).  Through Him and His mighty indwelling Spirit, we can live controlled lives, enjoy families filled with peace, harmony, and order, and bring the grace of Jesus Christ into our churches, jobs, and businesses. God will use us to fulfill that famous prayer which asks, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

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