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The Heart Behind Control

Truth In Love 429

A primer on the common issue of control

Aug 28, 2023

Dale Johnson: This week on a podcast I have with me, Dr. Daniel Schubert. He graduated with a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) with an emphasis in Biblical Counseling from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and with a Master of Divinity degree (M.Div.) from The Master’s Seminary. He currently serves as a counseling pastor at Countryside Bible Church in South Lake, Texas. Prior to serving at Countryside, he served at The Master’s University as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the MABC program. In addition to his work at the university, Daniel served in the counseling department at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He and his wife, Heidi, have two daughters and a son: Annabelle, Elliot, and Ruth. Daniel, so grateful for you to be on the podcast first time. Looking forward to this. 

Daniel Schubert: Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Dale. 

Dale Johnson: Now we’re going to talk about this issue of control and we use that word quite frequently in our culture. We talked about it in various terms as we talk about this issue of control. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this unfortunately in one way or the other, some people say it like this “Well, he’s so controlling or she’s such a control freak.” It’s interesting how we talk about other people in that way as opposed to ourselves, but I want you to talk about this, Daniel. Is control a category that’s really a biblical idea?

Daniel Schubert: Sure. Yeah. Now, that’s a great question. I think the short answer to that is yes. Much like the word “Trinity,” we can use terms that describe different biblical ideas even if they aren’t specifically used in Scripture. So, what is commonly referred to as control? I believe is a heart issue that can lie at the root of several different sin issues, such as an overbearing or manipulative person or behavior, even something as common as anger or fear. So, when viewed this way, control can be compared to the desire for ease and comfort that lies at the heart of those who are lazy or lack diligence in their life. So Proverbs 21:25 says, “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death. His hands refuse to work.” And so for those who struggle with control, often there’s a desire for circumstances to be a certain way or for people to behave in certain ways. 

Dale Johnson: Now that’s helpful. And I love the way that you’re identifying those heart issues behind what we describe as control. And I think that’s helpful for us to diagnose things from a biblical perspective. So, I think one of the questions I want to get to is how should we think through these areas in our lives where it seems that God has called us to be self-controlled versus where we might call control something that is sinful and how do we distinguish those two things?

Daniel Schubert: Yeah. What I just described captures what people tend to mean when they accuse somebody of being controlling, so that would be a sin issue. When someone says you’re a control freak, they don’t mean you’re being nice and I really appreciate that type of behavior. And so control though, however, is not always a sin. There are areas of our lives that God calls us to exercise a degree of self-control over in order to fulfill a God-given responsibility while of course depending on His strength to do that. And so, for example, God wants us to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. And first Timothy 4:7 or in Romans 12, it says, as much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. And so we want to pursue reconciliation as much as we can control that, as much as we can do that. And so, God calls us to responsibility in different areas, but what distinguishes a sinful desire for control or controlling behavior, however, is when a person goes beyond what God has given His children their responsibility to do or control since it almost always is done in a self-serving way to fulfill a person’s own agenda or preference.

Dale Johnson: I appreciate that distinction because what you’re doing is comparing our role, what God has given us as our role and responsibility before Him. So you’re helping us to see that we have to look through the lens related to God is the same way that Paul describes this in Ephesians chapter 4 that we’re to measure ourselves against the measuring stick of Christ. And self-controlled is a good thing. It’s a fruit of the spirit, but we see sinful control when we’re taking responsibility for things that are not ours to take responsibility for. And I think that’s helpful.

Now, as we think about the manifestation of that, it looks a lot of different ways as we described in our culture, as I mentioned earlier about a person being a control freak or describing somebody as so controlling and different things. So how do we think through this from a heart level? What’s the root of the problem as the Bible describes it from the heart? 

Daniel Schubert: Sure, yet depending on what side of the spectrum someone’s on, you know, the heart can look certainly lots of different ways, but here are some different characteristics of a proud controlling heart. I think fundamentally control trusts in self, not in God. The Bible often speaks to this idea. For example in Proverbs 3:5, it says trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. So, essentially a person who trusts in self is leaning upon their own finite understanding to judge what is best, right, good, and often develop a specific expectation for what they believe is right on how circumstances should play out or how people should respond. So that can be one component of it.

Another one, control often places a person’s individual will before God’s and or others as the judgments and expectations that I just mentioned are formed. So this attitude is opposite of what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you remember in Luke 22:42 he said, “Father, if you’re willing remove this cup from me yet. Not as I will, but your will be done.” Lastly, I think the heart of control often focuses its hope on circumstances and not on God and His promises. A person forms a circumstantial expectation for what’s right, best, good and that shapes what they hope will happen right to bring about what they see is best. And so, as the circumstance turns out completely different than what they hoped, however, that can make the heart sick, in so many ways they lose hope, they can be discouraged, or angry or whatever may come as a result. 

Dale Johnson: Now, what I appreciate that you’re doing here is you’re showing the depth and the dynamic of the Bible, you’re helping us to see this idea of control in the way that God describes it, and you’re demonstrating that God talks about this a lot, this issue of control, and I think maybe a follow-up question would be, why is this so important to God? 

Daniel Schubert: Yeah. In the sense the word that we’ve described, control is idolatry. It’s a form of self-worship. So, if you look at Second Corinthians 5:15, you know, one of the reasons that Jesus died, it says that that he died so that those who live, the Christians, might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. So, as a person leans on their own understanding and determines what they believe would be best, right? They tend to struggle with trusting, and therefore, worshiping the God who is in control and truly knows what’s best. You know, one of my favorite passages is Isaiah 55:8-9 where it talks about God’s ways and His thoughts being higher than the heavens and above ours. And so, as we think about that, what that does is it, when we are wanting our own way, thinking that we know what’s best, it diminishes the glory of God and says that we ultimately know what’s best. And so, we go back to living for ourselves and what our priorities would be. And so again, why is this control important to God? It diminishes His glory, and instead, we should trust Him, the one who’s trustworthy, He’s wise, He’s good, He’s faithful, loving, He knows truly what’s best and is in control. And so as circumstances unfold, you know, contrary to what we prefer. You know, we can trust the Lord. 

Dale Johnson: Now, what you’ve done so far as you’ve helped us to see the root problem in the heart of a person, you’ve described a little bit as to why this is important to God. I think it’s important for us. I mean, you can’t open somebody’s heart up and see what’s going on in there. And so, it’s important for us to now make that next step. What are some of those common fruits or behaviors, as we described it that come out of someone who’s struggling with this issue of control? 

Daniel Schubert: Yeah, that’s a great question. There’s lots, probably more than I could explain now. But oftentimes, they emphasize their own expectations, those who struggle to control have a lot of thoughts about the way things should be, they focus maybe on the future or other expectations related to their children, circumstances, the schedule, or their own timing someone or something getting in the way of some plans or having things in order, cleanliness around the home, or a certain person should be treated or interact with how fast or slow cars are driving on the freeway, I mean, all kinds of possibilities and just to be clear, none of these things are bad, right, to have desires and I hope my kids get married. I hope drivers around me don’t drive 20 miles below the speed limit when I’m trying to get somewhere I need to go, but my response when these expectations or desires are not realized show if I’m trusting God for what is good and right and best in those particular situations, and so, people that talk about what they want and they promote those as the highest desires oftentimes can struggle with that, that’s one that I can see.

So, another related one is dwelling on the way things should be, you know, before or after an event sometimes people replay over and over in their minds and they tell you about those things about that’s what occupies them and they’re trying to go back and resolve or work that situation out so that they could provide the certain outcome that they wanted in particular. So, worriers, people that worry, it can be an aspect of that, rash judgments, I think can be another one. Those who struggle with control often judge what people are doing, and when they’re not doing what’s best in their mind, they can think things like, well, they’re stupid. They’re inconsiderate of me when, you know, it’s really the opposite or they’re unintelligent or incompetent, or whatever it may be and so rash judgments can be a huge one. Anger oftentimes as people don’t do what we want, what we expect, we can respond with anger or impatience, I think demanding or manipulative people they can see the way things should be, could be. I think engineering-type mindsets can struggle with that sometimes more in terms of process or, you know, order efficiency. You know, pushing people or demanding, trying to manipulate them to get your way, right? What you believe might be best could be a manifestation of that, I think even discouragement or depression. If we have certain expectations for the way that things should go and those don’t regularly line up, we can be discouraged. Even fear or worry you know if we have expectations for our families and those things are endangered, we can be fearful and so all sorts of different ways that control in the heart can be manifested externally. 

Dale Johnson: One of the things that’s interesting, as you’re talking, all of us to some degree may have tendencies like this, controlling tendencies because we want things the way we want them, we like things the way that we want it, as we think about these controlling tendencies in our lives, even in the relationships that we have. I wish these things were benign, and sometimes we’re convinced naively or deceptively that they are benign. When in fact they have grave consequences, and the Bible helps us to see some of that as well. What are some of those consequences from these controlling tendencies? 

Daniel Schubert: Yeah, I’ve seen that the people who try to control things are often worn out or discouraged. If you’re trying to do something that God ultimately is responsible for, being completely exhausted is a consequence most definitely. I think another one is it’s hard to forgive. If you really want things a certain way, and someone didn’t do that then they sin against you in a certain way. Letting go of it can be incredibly hard. I think also the last one I can mention is it destroyed relationships, when people set their hearts on things going a certain way, or people doing certain things. Their focus is on fulfilling themself and their expectations. And they often destroy relationships because they’re going to push those things on other people versus thinking about how to love and serve, be kind, gracious, and patient and all the things that Christ would want us to do as we respond to hard circumstances.

Dale Johnson: Daniel, what I want you to do as we wrap this up is, as a shepherd, I want you to talk to somebody who’s listening, who’s struggling with this issue of control. What advice would you offer to them as they’re striving, they want to grow, they want to change. What are some of the things that you would share with them? 

Daniel Schubert: Yeah, of course, I think, at the heart of it, we can renew our minds to grow in our understanding of who God is so that we can trust in Him more. He’s the one who’s ultimately in control. And so when things happen that are hard to understand, we have to know that the God whose sovereignty reigns over all is ultimately in control to give us rest and peace. Like Charles Spurgeon said, “The sovereignty of God was the pillow that he laid his head on it at night.” And so, as circumstances, even profoundly important ones in our lives unfold. If we know the wisdom of God, we know the omniscience of God, we know the love of God, we can profoundly trust Him and be encouraged in that and so maybe reading a book like Jerry Bridges’ “Trusting God” would be an incredible resource or studying God’s character, qualities and some of these different areas would help a person struggling in this way to really trust the Lord.

The second area I mentioned, the last one is just growing in love for others. Renewing your mind in that area in particular in 2 Corinthians 5:14 and 15. As I mentioned earlier, it speaks about Christ’s love on the cross and how that should control us. And we not only trust the God who is in control, that’s wise and good. We also need to learn to love others, even when they’re doing things differently than what we hoped. And so, Mark 10:45 is a great passage that talks about Jesus’s servanthood and just His servant’s heart and so it’s been a tremendous encouragement for me and for other people to direct their attention away from the circumstances that aren’t lining up the way they hoped for, and towards caring for, and building into people’s lives in a way that truly benefits and serving our God and people involved in that situation as well too. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s great. And I appreciate this, brother. We don’t often talk about it in these particular terms and break down these terms in ways that are helpful and biblical, but you’ve done that today and helping us think through controlling. I’m so grateful. Thank you!

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