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  • The Illusion of Control

    Jim Wallace

    My first day in vocational ministry was at the age of 44.  With some years under my belt, you might think I would have been prepared.  But I was not.  I had serious misunderstandings about control.

    Before entering pastoral ministry, I spent 20+ years in the business world.   I can still remember my first job after grad school.  It was at the home office of Wal-Mart where I was cross-trained in multiple areas but ended up as a buyer in the hardware department.  I realize that doesn’t sound very sexy… and it wasn’t…

    But there was something enticing about this newfound power I had been given.

    I was responsible to make multi-million dollar decisions about which products we would carry, decide how many we would buy, and then sign the purchase orders.  I was 24 years-old and the fate of many grown men, their companies and their families, rested in my hands.  Company owners and salespeople would suck up to me.  They would fly in from all over the world to make their pitch — knowing that if they could land a spot on Wal-Mart’s store shelves, they would achieve all their sales goals for the year and more.  While I didn’t realize it, the power had quickly gone to my head.  I was in control and I kind of liked it!

    As my wife can attest, for the next 20 years I had a lot of jobs with a lot of different companies.  Though my roles were different, my perspective remained essentially the same: I believed I had the power to make things happen, to execute change and to get results.

    Essentially, I believed I was in control.  I vastly overestimated my own ability.

    As God called me into vocational ministry later in life, little did I know I entered with the same misconceptions.  During the first few years, I tried to apply all the tricks and tools I had employed in the marketplace, assuming that I could manipulate situations and get the desired results.  I quickly realized things were different, that things didn’t always go how I thought they should go.  It was a difficult realization; it was a huge blow to my ego and pride.  Immediately I began to experience self-doubt.But something far more serious began to happen.

    Overestimating our own abilities has an insidious side effect; it naturally causes us to underestimate God’s abilities.

    I began to doubt God.  Did He care?  Why wasn’t He working in the ways I thought He should? In God’s mercy, he began to gently  humble me.  And as He did, my eyes were opened to see things that He was doing (and controlling) all around me.

    I now had a front row seat to watch God do things I thought were completely impossible: healing the sick when I had given up hope, reconciling broken relationships that I thought were too far gone, restoring marriages that I thought were destined for divorce and saving people I thought were too messed up to ever come to Jesus.

    I would have been far more prepared for ministry had I better understood these two verses:

    But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  James 4:6

    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think… Ephesians 3:20

    What a relief to know He is in control, and I am not.  My prayer these days is that He would keep me humble and expectant.