As the pastor and director of Mended, a major part of my role is to lead and guide those who have committed to join in what we are doing. As exciting as this is, there are also challenges and pitfalls that I must be aware of. I’m not strictly talking about pitfalls with other people, although that is indeed a possibility, but I’m also talking about those that have the potential to crop up within myself. There is one danger in particular that I want to take a look at – control. I’ve noticed that the more a person is looked to for answers, the more at-risk they become to thinking they need to have all the answers. Either that or they feel the correct decisions can’t be made without their input, touch, or stamp of approval.
Control is the absolute killer of unity, and we don’t have to look too far to see its influence in a country, business, family, or church. I realize all these things have their complexities, but control’s influence is drastically amplified if the leaders or individuals within are vying for it. As people jockey for position, lines can be drawn based on personal opinion, and division begins to take place. As devastating as this can be in a group, I’ve also observed a very simple antidote, one that anyone can use, which will prevent or reverse the affects of control immediately.
This was highlighted to me last weekend as my wife and kids and I joined several other family members at a Mariner’s game in Seattle. When I say several, I mean there was 37 of us total! It was no small feat for my mom to organize, especially because half of us attending were a surprise to my aunt on her birthday. It went off beautifully without a hitch, but what you have to know is that it’s not uncommon for all of us, or some combination of us all, to get together like that frequently. We are a close knit family. But, why? Why does any country, business, church, or family become close and unified for that matter?
After the game I was reflecting on this very question, and I began to recall the face of each family member. As I did, I realized that at some point in my life, in a time of need, I had asked for help from each one of them, and they gave it without hesitation. On top of that, I know that every single one of them would say the exact same thing in regards to their experience with each one of us. The freedom to ask for help without fear of rejection breaks the yolk of control!
I recognized that if each of us had thought we needed to solve our problems by ourselves and never asked for help, we wouldn’t be as close as we are. I certainly think my family is special, but we’re not unique in the sense that no one else has figured this out. Take a look at any flourishing, healthy group that operates well together, and you’ll see this dynamic at work – guaranteed!
As I mentioned before, control and disunity go hand-in-hand, therefore as control is relinquished, unity naturally increases. Unity is an incredible byproduct of a group that openly looks to and relies on one another regardless of their differences. Experience backs this up too, because in my family we are not all like-minded. I would classify us as “similar-minded,” but not all identical in thought. If we were to spend enough time digging into our deepest worldviews with a fine-toothed comb, I’m sure there would be things that could spark some heated debates, but they would be momentary and irrelevant, because we’ve all been in a position of being humbled at some point, all needing each other’s help, and realizing it truly does take a village and not an individual to create something great.
So the big question: when was the last time you asked for help? If you don’t know the answer to this question, it may be an indication that control may have a slight grip on you. There is a story in the Bible that captures the importance of asking for help, and it’s modeled by someone you may not expect – a roman officer. Few people captured the attention of Jesus like this guy known as a centurion. In the story, the centurion’s faith is the most common issue focused upon, but something else stood out to me as well: his ability to put aside his position and pride to ask Jesus for help in a time of need.
“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I will go and heal him.’ The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’” Matthew 8:5-10
There are a few key things to focus on in this story. First, this centurion was accustomed to being in charge of many men. Historical record and his namesake indicate that he had 100 men under his authority. He was essentially paid to be in control of others! Secondly, he admittedly was used to telling people what to do and having it done, but he recognized his own limitations for the situation at hand. He simply couldn’t tell his servant to be healed, but he had heard of one that could – Jesus. Had he waited or tried to think of a way to take care of it himself, his servant would have surely died. Next, we see that the centurion was breaking through cultural barriers with his humbleness. Because he was a gentile, cultural rules prevented a Jew, like Jesus, from even entering his home. However, we see that as soon as he asked Jesus for help, the minute the control was laid down, Jesus responded by saying he would go to the centurion’s home. Immediately we see unity established between two culturally different people. Only then did the centurion understand that Jesus was willing to do anything for him, and he replied with, “Just say the word, and I know it will be done!”
As the story continues, we see that Jesus did indeed heal the servant with just a word but not until he had first declared how great the centurion’s faith was. All throughout Scripture we can see that faith is a key element within a vibrant, healthy relationship with God. Therefore, we can’t finish with our story of the centurion without examining why Jesus was “astonished” by his faith in particular.
The longer I am alive, the more I’m convinced that a life lived with great faith is directly proportional to the ability to ask God for help. The Bible defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1) Deep down inside, we all know that we cannot rely on ourselves, or even others, for all things. At one time or another, as we’ve hoped for something or been certain of something we thought we had control of, we either let ourselves down or were let down by others.
That is why we can’t put our faith in people; it must be placed in God. Faith is something sacred, set apart from people, and should only be reserved for God. He’s the only One that knows the beginning and end of our story, and as I’ve said before in previous messages, He always has our best interest in mind. Even though it’s crucial to ask friends, family, and co-workers for help in order to create unity, it’s a mistake to think they possess the same abilities God does when it comes to our future. It’s heartbreaking to me when I see someone’s relationship with God inhibited by their inability to place their future in His hands by asking for His help.
I encourage you to spend a moment and reflect on some of the groups you are a part of, even down to your own marriage or friendships. Categorize them in your mind as those that are unified with high levels of trust, and those that are disjointed or perhaps fractured. Can you see the correlation between unity and the common practice of asking for help? Next, be honest about your participation in this area. Have you taken away from the unity within a group because of your desire to maintain control yourself? Perhaps it’s time to ask someone for help this week and see what happens. Better yet, if you haven’t done it for a while, ask God for help and see what happens with the rest of your life. I’m sure the centurion’s servant would love to tell you all about it.