King Asa wasn’t an idolater like his father. In fact, he did much to rid the southern kingdom of Judah of its pagan idols. Still, he was an idolater all the same. And he had the diseased feet to prove it. You can read the account for yourself in 1 Kings 15 and 2 Chronicles 16. Asa’s idol wasn’t Baal or an Asherah. It wasn’t Dagon, Ra, or Zeus. It was control. He neglected, and later refused, to seek the Lord for help in battle (1 Kings 15:16-22; 2 Chr. 15:1-9) and for healing from a severe disease afflicting his feet (2 Chr. 16:12). He used his own wit to get out of the sticky political situation; and he sought help from doctors, but not from God. Of course, it’s no sin to consult doctors. Medicine—whether ancient or modern—is a gift of God’s common grace. But Asa’s attitude of neglecting God show that he wanted to be in control.
Of course, it’s not just kings who worship this idol. You and I do too.
We’re wrapping up a three-part series on what I’ve termed the “root idols” of our hearts. (See the other posts in the series here and here.) While our hearts can turn any good gifts into idols, when we trace any of those surface idols down to their core, we’ll find one of three idols (or possibly a mixture thereof): approval, comfort, and control. In a way, this is good news. Three enemies are easier to keep track of than a hundred. But, it’s tricky as well because these idols are so good at cloaking themselves. They’re so ubiquitous in our lives and in our society that they can go undetected. Unless we deal with them at the root level, they’ll inevitably find another way to bear fruit.
Today we tackle the third in the list: control.
Chasing Down Control
Like its comrades, approval and comfort, control can bear many different fruits. To put it another way, two people equally devoted to the god of control may manifest that idolatry in completely different ways. This list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it will help you identify where you’ve been bowing to control.
- In your routine
- In your to-do list
- In your itinerary/agenda
- In the budget
- In the number of calories you allow yourself to consume
- In your workout regimen
- In car maintenance
- Fastidiousness (devotion to being neat and tidy, whether in appearance or housework)
- Disciplining children for being childish (but not necessarily misbehaving)
- Jealousy of those in leadership positions
- Tendency to manipulate or dominate others
- Trouble with worry/anxiety
- Fretting over decisions
- A critical attitude of those in authority
- Complaining or grumbling
- Helicopter parenting
- Making unreasonable demands in friendship or family
Any red flags go up in your mind? Mine too. Let’s think through what to do next.
God Is God.
The god of control is truly diabolical. I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. It is straight from Satan himself. Lucifer, the angel of light, aspired to usurp God’s position—to gain total control for himself. We learn this in Isaiah 14:
You said to yourself, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will set up my throne above the stars of God. I will sit on the mount of the gods’ assembly, in the remotest parts of the North. I will ascend above the highest clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isa 14:13-14)
Adam and Eve bought the same lie when they partook of the fruit that they could “be like God” (Gen 3:4-7). Speaking of this desire to rival God, Bible teacher Jen Wilkin says this:
“So the finite reached to pluck the infinite from a low-hanging bough, and human history began its corrosive pattern of God-rivalry, pitting and eroding every peak and crevice of creation with the relentless repetitions of that first grasping, the long-armed reach of the human aspiring to the divine. So it has been ever since: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God.”1
We want to be God. Frankly, we believe that we could probably do a better job if we were just given the chance—maybe not to rule the whole universe, but at least our own little corner of it.
This satanic attitude must be put to death.
As with all idols, a fundamental path to a renewed mind is to study God. To exterminate the idol of control, you must recognize the awesome sovereignty, immensity, infinity, eternality, and majesty of God.
- He is God. You are not.
- He created the universe and everything in it from nothing with only His voice. (Gen. 1)
- He sent rain upon the earth for forty days and nights. (Gen 7)
- He turned the longest river on the planet to blood. (Ex. 7:20)
- He parted the Red Sea, making the waters stand up like walls of protection for His people. (Ex. 14:21)
- He sent food from heaven six days a week for forty years. (Ex. 16:35)
- He stopped clothes from wearing out. (Neh. 9:21)
- He brought the earth’s orbit of the sun to a temporary stop. (Josh 10:13)
- He rained fire from heaven. (1 Kings 18:36-38)
- He deprived a power-obsessed egomaniac of his senses for seven years and then gave them back. (Dan. 4)
- He toppled the most powerful empire on the planet in a single night. (Dan. 5)
- He raised His own Son from the grave. (Luke 24:1-7)
God is God. I am not.
Jesus performed many miracles while He walked on earth, and I would love to have witnessed some of them. Whether a healing of a person crippled or blind for all or most of their life or turning water into wine or calming the violent sea, His miracles got the attention of the multitude. But none of the Gospel writers portray Jesus as a showman. They each portray Him as the Lover of Souls. The most remarkable thing about Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t His miracles. It is His love for people.
The idol of control twists people into obstacles and outcomes. They’re pawns and roadblocks to be dealt with. Jesus never treats people that way. He didn’t in the Gospel accounts, and He doesn’t today.
He never postured for control.
He noticed the downcast.
He moved toward the weak.
He invited the weary.
He bore the sins of the wandering sheep.
My friend, if you and I want to put the idol of control to death, we must stop treating people like hurdles in our path to success and start seeing them as eternal souls created in the image of God.
So, what now? Just reading these few feeble words will not suffice to smash the idol of control in your heart. At best, they’ll just bruise it for a little while. If you want to go after it with a sledge hammer, here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Repent. Ask God to change you. Implore Him to do the smashing. You won’t do it all on your own. In fact, trying to do so sounds a lot like trying to control the situation. Do this daily.
- Pray. By casting your cares on God, you’re acknowledging that He is God and you are not.
- Dive deep into Philippians 2:1-11. Memorize it, pray it. Listen to sermons on it. Read books on it. Own it in every way you can. Seek God’s help to weave its thread into the tapestry of your life.
- Serve in the background. Consider how you can love others in a behind-the-scenes, dirty-hands, thankless way. Then do it.
- Gaze at God. As you read Scripture, look for ways that God demonstrates that He is God, and the other humans in the account are not.
1 Jen Wilkin, None Like Him (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016), 23.