Striving with God for sovereignty. When the control freak learns she’s a creature


I’m one of those people that like to be organised. I’m an anticipator, a planner who prizes efficiency and finds peace in predictability. I’m the one who googles everything, carries a spare, and has a mental contingency plan for most eventualities. If I do X, Y and Z then we’ll be alright. I like to think that if I plan well I’ll achieve my subconscious goal of a world which bends to my will. Such a world promises me safety and calm, if only I can create it.

What I really crave is sovereignty. I want to know what’s coming and have the power to control it.

I sometimes feel I’ve achieved this control over the tiny details of life: a well-researched route, a recipe followed, a child on reins. The problems come when my world rudely abandons my plans and veers off instead into the darkness of uncharted territory. A bone broken, a shattered dream, a life changing loss.

When the curve balls come my well laid plans turn out to be no more secure than a tower of Jenga with its pivotal pieces removed. That’s when the fear really sets in, when collapse threatens. I strive and struggle with God for sovereignty, continually tugging at control, but despite my best efforts, it’s always beyond my grasp.

I have a firm belief in God’s sovereignty, but despite this knowledge, I still feel my heart long after control it can’t attain. My mind’s eye wanders to the ‘what ifs’ of my future and I find myself fearful at my lack authority over what’s ahead.

Thankfully though, God’s not surprised by my cravings for control, and through David he penned Psalm 131 which speaks wisdom to a creature like me who foolishly covets the traits of her Creator.

‘O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.’

Perhaps we’re used to the Psalms encouraging us to fix our gaze high, to look to the hills and behold the Lord lifted on his throne. At first glance this Psalm seems to be encouraging something different. Speaking to the Lord, David says that he’s purposefully not setting his heart on things above him, and he’s resolutely preventing his gaze from wandering too high (v1). So what’s going on?

A measured perspective

Calvin said that knowledge of self begins with knowledge of God, and this is what we see in Psalm 131. David’s grasped the most fundamental fact of who we are in relation to God.

We’re creatures, he is Creator.

Seeing this, David begins the Psalm by acknowledging before his Creator that there are limits to his own capacity and understanding. Comprehending the vast gulf between himself and his God re-orientates David’s perspective and enables him to recognise his limitations. His capacity and his knowledge have boundaries, boundaries established by God’s good design. God has ordained that there are things his heart is not meant to go after, things his eyes are not meant to see (v1). David says these things are ‘too great and too marvellous’ for him. He understands that some things belong only to God.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law’.

There are secret things, things only God can hold together and only God can handle. Our job is to be wise in how we respond to what’s been revealed. It’s good to plan well, but we’re to acknowledge that God alone is sovereign, he alone is all knowing.

David submits to the fact that there are things far beyond him. But did you notice, this realisation doesn’t result in fear, instead it seems to bring contentment. So how exactly does that work? What’s happened in David’s heart to enable him to stand before God peaceful, in comparison to the manically googling mess I often see in the mirror?

Consider again v1-2. Firstly David speaks to his God, this is the key to all that follows. We need to talk to the Lord. David acknowledges before God the things that are beyond him, naming them and speaking to the Lord about them. In doing this he remembers who his God is and thus remembers who he is as a creature. With his limitations in mind he consciously sets his gaze in proportion to his capacity. He then entrusts what is too great and too marvellous for him into God’s hands.

But, how exactly? Because this is where I often get unstuck. I can talk to God about my desires for sovereignty and seek his forgiveness for my foolishness, but so often my fears still linger.

Seeking contentment in childlike faith

I know I need to stop striving with God for sovereignty, so is this where I’m supposed to just ‘let go and let God’?

Wonderfully no, because once again the Lord knows me far too well to call me to just let go. He knows that if I have nothing to hold onto my hands will all too quickly grasp after some other vain lie that promises me peace. If I’m to stop struggling with God for sovereignty I need to redirect my grip and instead of reaching after an attribute of my God, I need to cling to my God himself.

‘O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.’

David sets his hope in the Lord. It is in the Lord that he finds contentment. He brings to mind the image of a contented child with its mother (v2). A child who knows and trusts the kind provision of a devoted parent. David trusts his heavenly Father, and thus he exercises a humble childlike faith in response. He’s able to surrender what he cannot grasp into God’s care and take hold instead of the Lord  who’s proved to be eternally faithful.

A mature faith is a childlike faith, one which recognises our limitations and sets its hope firmly on God. This the secret of a calm and quiet soul. We creatures, we’re not in control, but we trust the Creator who is.

The cure for fear

The cure for fear

What’s the most common command God gives his people in scripture?

Do. Not. Fear.

Of all the things God wants to impress upon those who love him, this is the one he repeats most frequently. Why? Because if you’re anything like me, your heart naturally bends towards fear. We don’t have to work at it, it’s self-establishing, self-fuelling. Fear is a future focused emotion that comes instinctively to us because, if we’re honest, we’re attracted to the idea of imagining our worst futures. We play them out on the stage of our mind’s eye: all that could go wrong, everything we could lose or fail to gain. We love to paint our possible tomorrows because envisioning them gives us a tiny sense of control, of knowledge.

I recently heard Ed Welch describe fear as the prediction of a bad future. We know it’s foolishness really, if we think about it logically fearing the future doesn’t change anything. And yet there’s something so enticing to us about imagining the worst that tomorrow could bring. It’s alluring, even addictive.

So how do we stop it? What’s the Biblical cure for fear?

Well, I’m wondering if in fact the cure for fear, is fear.

Track with me a moment. Fearing the future is essentially foolishness, we know it changes nothing and does us no good. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold, nor do we have any ability to control it, and yet we allow the fear of tomorrow to consume us. Fear makes us into fools. And what’s the opposite of foolishness? Wisdom. And where does wisdom begin? With the fear of the Lord. Surely this isn’t a coincidence?  Proverbs 9:10 says:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.

So, there are two kinds of fear, fear that makes us fools and fear that makes us wise. When I indulge in foolish fear I’m allowing myself to envision a future where my good and wise God is largely absent, or where the true God of the Bible has been replaced with the vindictive cruel creator of my nightmares.

When my fears make me a fool I need my knowledge of the true God to fill my eyes so that I stand more in awe of him than my unknown tomorrows. This is the heart of the issue. This is the cure for my fears. Fearing God is the cure for all other fears.

So how does it work? How do I fear God more than an unknown future?

Thomas Chalmers talks about battling sin with ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’. This is essentially the idea that we need to love Christ more than we love sin. If our affection for Christ is stronger than our affection for our sins, we will choose Christ, because we do what we love. I can’t help but think that I need the expulsive power of a new fear.

When the Bible talks about fearing God it’s most often speaking of the sense of holy awe you get when confronted with the bigness of God in comparison to the smallness of you. It’s like a raindrop staring out at the vast ocean and recognising its own insignificance. It’s about orientating yourself. Looking up. Looking out. It’s about recognising who you are, and who God is by vast comparison. He is the creator, I am a creature. He’s all-knowing and stands outside of time. In comparison I am in every way limited by design.

Foolish fear makes me look down and in on myself, what do I think will happen, how will I cope, what will I do?

Wise fear makes me look up and out of myself, who is my God, what has he done, what does he say?

When I wisely fear God, I look at him, I recognise who he is, the all-knowing, unlimited God who stands enthroned outside of time. He’s in my past, my present and my future all at once. He holds it all, and he is doing good to me in it all. My fears for the future retreat when I recognise and respond to the truth of who my God is. I stand in awe of him, I love him, I trust him with my future.

A wise fear of God is the only thing powerful enough to expel foolish fear from my heart. I may have to stare at him a while in order to reach a place where wisdom defeats folly, but the truth of who my God is will always accomplish this. Gaze at him until your awe of him expels your awe of all else.