“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” -Colossians 1: 15-17
Autumn has arrived and I’m reminded of a story I once told my youth group. It seems appropriate to tell it now, as it supports the context of our discussion.
Kelly (our main character) is visiting a Fall Festival with a group of her friends. They had already spent a while meandering through the vendor booths, so they made their way toward the food and entertainment. The sun had ducked behind the horizon, but the festival was still in full swing. Rounding the corner between the caramel apple stand and the hay maze they saw it… the “Haunted House.” Kelly’s friends broke into a run and made their way toward the entrance, much to the her dismay. She never like to be frightened, but at the risk of being left out, she reluctantly followed. There was a man standing on a wooden crate, directly in front of the entrance. He wore a large top hat and a torn suit jacket and his mustache was curled up at the ends. He resembled a weathered ringmaster from a long forgotten circus. Reaching out his hand he spoke in a sly voice, “Tickets… please,” and one by one he collected their stubs, breaking into a speech as he did so...
“Inside this house you will face many things. Troubles, woes, dangers and fears. I assure you, you are not alone in there. The darkness is thick. Do not trust your surroundings, only the path ahead. Rely on your senses in the blackness. I implore you, please take the hand of the person before you and behind you and DO NOT let go until you exit the house. We wouldn't want anyone getting… LOST... Enjoy!”
At this, he heaved open the giant metal door directly in front of the girls. It creaked with the rust of age. Kelly took a few steps back, opting to be the last one in line. Perhaps it would better prepare her for what's ahead if everyone else went before her. She watched her friends enter the house, one by one, grasping hands as they vanished in the darkness. She was the last to step in and grab for a hand as the chain of friends pulled her deeper into the unknown. Seconds turned into minutes as they inched their way down the path. Screams of fear, excitement and laughter echoed from the others as they meandered through the corridor. Plastic monsters and unseen characters poked, prodded and then vanished again. Strobe lights flashed, disorienting their travel, but Kelly held tightly to the hand of the friend in front of her. After what felt like an eternity, she heard someone mention the word “exit” and she let out a sigh of relief. She could hear the laughter of her friends at the front of the pack, only now, their voices seemed so far away. A black curtain lay ahead and she could just make out the frame of light around it. She hurried to it, brushed it aside and stepped out from the house. Her eyes adjusted to the lights of the festival and she breathed in some fresh air. Ahead stood her group of friends, their hands no longer linked, only, they weren't near the exit where Kelly stood. Instead, they were far off, buying fried dough on the other side of the field. She wondered how they could've possibly reached that point so fast. They looked in her direction, smiled and waved, seeing that their friend had finally exited the house. One of the girls yelled across the field to her. “Hey, Kelly! Took you long enough to get out of there. Why didn’t you take my hand when we walked in? I was the one right in front of you.” Kelly looked down at her hand, bewildered at what her friend was saying. In her frantic rush to the exit, she hadn’t realized that she had stepped out alone. She responded in a shaky voice. “I did grab your hand, and I didn’t let go until I reached the exit.” Her friend spoke again. “The rest of us have been out here for a few minutes. You may have taken someone’s hand in there, but it wasn’t mine." Kelly whispered to herself. “Then whose hand was I holding...?"
I can still hear the “oohs” and “ahhs” that erupted from my youth group when I first told this story, but YOU may be left wondering, “alright, how could that possibly pertain to any topic of faith?” Let me assure you, there is a reason for the story and an even bigger reason for the scripture that is written before it. Read our verse from Colossians again... “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
The question to be posed today is this… who is in control of your life? Sure, you can try to gain bonus points by saying, “God is in control. Everyone knows that,” but this isn’t Christianity 101 and you’re not getting graded, so we can cease with the niceties and be real with each other. Christians (and many non-Christians) cling to the hope that some cosmic “force” is in control of their lives, so perhaps I should restate the question and instead ask... who are you GIVING the control of your life to?
We don’t ask it enough (perhaps at all) and without doing so, we can easily lose our perspective on faith. We can find ourselves left with a feeling of confusion or abandonment by God; losing our “center” and getting quite off balance. When we forget who keeps us grounded, we end up scrambling for solutions to life’s challenges. What happens next? We get angry at God when our lives feel "out of control" even though we're the ones hanging onto it with closed fists. We all stand in Kelly’s shoes from time to time. We walk into this faith journey with the belief that it’s a straight road to the end if we just follow a leader, but as we step deeper into the darkness we begin wonder, “whose hand am I holding?” It’s easy to convince ourselves that we grabbed onto God and He must have forgotten to grab onto us. We tell ourselves that He's to blame. “This is your fault, God. I tried. I gave you my heart. I offered you my life. I said that I trust in you, so why aren’t you leading me right now when I need you the most?”
If you’re human, you share in the nasty habit of standing in your own way. We all WANT to say that we’ve given complete control of our lives to God. Sure, some of us may even be better at it than others. I just know that I don't do a very good job at it. There’s a common misconception when it comes to control. Giving it over to God is not the “one-time deal” we often think it should be. It’s an ongoing process. Your "moment" of salvation was not the seal on the envelope of your faith. Coming to Christ was not the start and end of your need for God’s guiding hand. We may give Him our love; even offer Him much of our lives, but we aren't always ready or willing to give Him the wheel. It’s as if we’re saying, “I want you on this journey WITH me, Lord, but leave the steering to me.” No, no! God doesn’t strike deals with us. He doesn't settle on "second best,” and He certainly won’t "take the back seat." If He’s truly a priority in your life then He demands to be the leader- the pilot- the captain of your heart. Each new day requires us to loosen our grip and relinquish the hold we so desperately have on our own lives. Take heart. The knowledge that we’re never in control (and we never have to be) can be the start of true freedom in your faith.
Personally, I've never managed to keep much control in my life without the Lord’s intervention. Have you? Have you really survived all by yourself without His help, provision, guidance, direction, strength or protection? We are always looking to stand on the winners podium to say, “I did it… That was me… I achieved that… I overcame that… I survived that… I created that… I’m entitled to that… I earned that...” Deep down we know that the credit for our story can only belong to the Author. Sometimes, the best thing you could ever do for your faith is throw up your hands in praise and admit, "You're AWESOME, Lord. I'm glad that You're You, so I don't have to try to be. You lead and I'll follow."
So how do we do it? How do we relinquish control? Well, I never said it was easy, but we can start by fixing God at the center of our lives again. Maybe you wonder, “why is the ‘center’ always so important to Christians? We sing about it. We talk about it, but what’s really there anyway?” Just look at some bold examples around you... At the center of our planet is unbelievable heat and energy. In the center of your chest is a heart beating with life. In the center of an apple is a tiny seed with amazing potential. In the center of one small atom are mysteries beyond our understanding. The center of the human condition longs for love, purpose and unity. The center of a Twinkie is a delicious cream filling! All of these examples (well, most) emulate what's in store for a "Christ-centered" life. With God fixed at your “core” you will find new energy, new life, new growth potential, new reasons for awe, and a new sense of purpose to love and find unity. The center of our Father's character is built with peace and abundance, direction and discipline, strength and love, with an endless array of blessings, and He seeks to plant each of them in you; if only you can give Him control.
It’s not a difficult task to “want” God at the center of your lives. The real challenge is keeping Him there and it can’t be accomplished with any amount of religion. A "Christ-centered" life isn’t dependent on how involved you are in church- how many ministries you participate in- how many people you pray for- how much money you put in the offering plate or how much “good” you can do for your community. The solution is found in your perspective- the lens you see God through. It's found in your effort to hand Him jurisdiction. Be honest and intentional enough to say, “God, please take over because I can't lead myself.”
Look at our scripture one more time and use it to evaluate the status of your faith right now. Do things feel “held together” or are they fraying, cracked or splintered? When God occupies the center of our lives, we’re essentially offering Him the baton, trusting that He’ll finish the race (and even carry us on His shoulders if He has to). With God in control we have a Spirit who can shape our thoughts, a comforter who can offer peace and a strong tower that can offer refuge in times of trouble. There is a leader you can trust in the darkness of life, but you have to relinquish the control to Him. Remember, it's a daily occurrence and a constant effort, but He will faithfully guide you and you will come out the other side with His hand still in yours.
Rephrase the wisdom from the ringmaster in our story… "In this life you will face many things. Troubles, woes, dangers and fears. I assure you, you are not alone in there. The darkness is thick. Do not trust your surroundings, only the promise of what lies ahead. Rely on your senses in the blackness. I implore you, please take the hand of the God who keeps control and DO NOT let go until you exit this life. We wouldn't want anyone getting…LOST…"