Some people need to have an inordinately high level of power and control, over their own lives and over the lives of others. We often find that such persons who don’t get those needs for power and control met in other places in their lives seek to have them met in churches and other voluntary associations. Their involvement in the life of the community of faith often becomes not only disruptive but also destructive. Out-of-control needs for control represent a common obstacle to spiritual discernment.
Look what happened to Moses when he showed off by striking the rock with his rod to make the water flow out. That isn’t how God told him to do it. His behavior interfered with his discernment in a way that suggested he was in control of the situation instead of God. Consider David’s affair with Bathsheba, which resulted in his scheme that got her husband, Uriah the Hittite killed. That was a very destructive expression of control on David’s part.
Jesus chided the Levites and the Pharisees for their need to control things and pointed out to them that their role as spiritual guides was misguided because of the interference of their control issues. Eventually, of course, it was their lust for control that put Jesus on the cross. Maintaining control was for them a life and death situation. The resurrection, of course, was the ultimate assertion of God’s control over life and death.
St. Paul certainly had a tremendous need for power and control. As a Jew who was devoted to the Law, he persecuted followers of Jesus. He liked to believe his motivation was driven by a vision of Judaism perfectly guided by God’s Law. Christians represented a threat to that vision. In Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ on the Damascus Road, he was blinded and lost control. This experience lasted long enough for him to have to rely on the inner vision given to him not just by Christ, but through an intermediary, Ananias. Paul’s control issues interfered with his ability to discern God’s true purpose in his life. When control was taken away from him, he experienced grace and was liberated from his obsession with legalistic control of his life and the lives of those around him. He became able to discern God’s purposes and his witness gave light and direction to the Church he had formerly tried to destroy.
In his farewell address to the disciples, Jesus promisee to provide ways to keep their need for control out of the way of true discernment of God’s direction of the mission entrusted to them. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them. He gave them the commandment to love one another. He told them that he is the vine and they are the branches. When a branch becomes disconnected from the vine, it ceases to be able to bear fruit, it withers, it dies, and is cast away - it's useless. Therefore, followers of Jesus must remain connected to him and submit to his life-giving control so their lives can be fruitful. He also reminds them, “You did not choose me but I choose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (John 15:16).
Placing ourselves under God’s control is a necessary element of spiritual discernment. It is a way of finding humility, getting ourselves off our hands, and becoming instruments in the service of Love Divine in our relationships with others. My prayer for you today as you enter into discernment is that you will surrender your need for control so you can draw life and love and strength from the Vine rather than attempting to distort discernment in ways that make you think you need to retain control.
John Greenleaf Whittier’s hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, reminds us to manage our need for control by surrendering to the One who can clothe us in our rightful mind.
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives thy service find,
In deeper reverence praise.
In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still small voice of calm!