Page last updated



Out of Control?  Turn to God!
Mark 4:35-41
Jim from B.C.

I wonder if you've ever driven a car on an icy road and lost control. You're pushing the brake, turning the steering wheel— nothing's happening. I don't think there's anything more terrifying than being behind the wheel of a car that's sliding out of control, especially if it's heading towards something solid.

That sense of helplessness, and fear, is what the disciples must have felt, when they were out sailing on the Sea of Galilee, and that storm came up. Today's Gospel Lesson says: "A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped". (And they didn't have life-jackets in those days!) It was a situation out-of-control, and they were sure they were goners.

In World War II, some of you experienced situations where chaos reigned and no one was in control, and it certainly didn't feel as if GOD was in control!

It can happen also when storms arise in our personal lives. If there's war in the family and it's breaking up; if we're terribly sick with something we can't identify; and so on.

Sometimes aging brings feelings of helplessness. Perhaps you are gradually losing control over your muscles, or over your memory. Perhaps you are losing your stamina or your ability to fight off disease. Perhaps there are things you normally have control over, that you have to relinquish to others, for instance, to your children.

Then there's the loss of control that older people often feel when their friends and relatives begin to die off, and they find themselves going to more and more funerals. As one man said who was going blind and had Parkinson's disease, "You just have to keep giving things up, one at a time."

Then, too, we can all see the world around us changing at breakneck speed, and that may leave us with a helpless feeling, a feeling that we're losing control!

So we ask the question that, I'm sure, came to the disciples' minds: "Who's in control here?" For the disciples, on Lake Galilee, in the storm, no one was in control. THEY certainly had no control over the waves, and Jesus was asleep in the stern, comfortable on a cushion! But they shook him awake and cried, "Rabbi, do you not care that we are perishing?"

There are times in our lives too, when it seems that God is asleep. The one who's supposed to be in control, is letting us down (it seems); letting us drown; letting our world drift into chaos.

That's the way the Israelites felt when they settled in the "Promised Land": Canaan. They had to battle against the Philistines, who were much more powerful than they were. For a while, God raised up judges, ad hoc, when the situation warranted it. But these judges were anti-heroic leaders, weak people, whom God made into temporary WARLORDS, to do whatever fighting that needed to be done.

And of course, with God's help, they were successful. But in between time, which was most of the time, the Israelites were filled with anxiety, because it looked as if God was not present, not helping, that he was sleeping.

So the children of Israel decided they needed a king, someone who would keep a standing army— someone powerful enough to protect them and provide some long-term security. They wanted to be more IN CONTROL of their country. No doubt they would have developed nuclear weapons if they could have!

When the boy David did the impossible thing and killed the giant Goliath, God was showing them, illustrating, that they didn't need to be in control. All they had to do was BELIEVE, to TRUST that GOD was in control, even if he was invisible, behind the scenes.

So also with the disciples on Lake Galilee. They needn't have been terrified. So Jesus scolded them for their little faith.

In U.S. Lutheran magazine, a pastor tells of a prayer that his grandmother taught him when he was a child, a prayer which he still says every day: "Jesus dear; be thou near. Nothing then, will I fear."

That would be a good mantra for us to repeat every hour, or every five minutes, especially when we're feeling out-of-control: "Jesus dear; be thou near. Nothing then, will I fear."

In our weakness, we do fear. We doubt God because of our little faith. At those times, it's tempting for us to give over control to someone or something other than God. To a strong leader, for instance . . . which is what the Russians did under Lenin and Stalin and the Germans did under Hitler.

It's the devil who tempts us to become overly dependent on one demigod, or one political leader, or one church leader, or one family member.

I remember when I was in Calgary, the young couples group invited a married couple to speak to us, who had left the Mormon Church, after many years of submitting to the very strict and despotic control by the leaders. This couple was commanded not to use birth control, and to have as many children as possible. To be a member of that church, the wife's role was limited to staying at home, keeping house, and having children. The husband who spoke to us had achieved a very high level in the Mormon Church. But guided by the Holy Spirit, this couple came to see their leaders had deceived them and enslaved them, and came to believe that there was only one Leader worthy of their complete loyalty and submission: Jesus the Christ.

Some years ago there was book published called, "Women Who Love Too Much", about women who let themselves be pushed around and victimized, who give up control too easily to others, especially to men. Our heavenly Father wants us to give up control, but only to Him, ultimately.

If we do so, then in our relationships with family and other people, we will be able to exercise SELF-control, through the power of the Holy Spirit within us; and we will be able let go of control strategically, to other people who are trustworthy, because we are trusting in God, whom we know is ultimately always in control.

That's where people who belong to AA and other Twelve Step groups get their strength and power. They admit their powerlessness— that they are powerless to run their own lives— powerless over alcohol or anything in creation. They admit that they can't manage on their own (that's the first step). Then the second step is to come to believe, to trust that only God, the Higher Power can restore them to sanity. Thirdly, they must turn their will and their lives over to the care of God.

This is what the disciples were doing in the storm, when they cried out to Jesus to save them, and they didn't even REALIZE it, until after he saved them. They certainly turned to the right place for HELP, in their helplessness. Out of control, they turned to God to take control.

Most of us, however, are rarely in such dire straits, and so we often don't feel the need for God. We are generally capable and powerful— that is, able to help ourselves, psychologically, emotionally, and so on. One woman from Spokane wrote in a magazine that it was only when her son was killed in school shooting, in Moses Lake, Washington, a few years ago, that she was overwhelmed, by a truly a terrifying storm in her life.

Her community and her church were also devastated. They asked themselves, "Why this sweet boy?" "Why would God allow this?" The mother writes: "The ‘why' question didn't haunt me. My loss was so overwhelming that my entire being cried, ‘All is lost, all is lost.' I was overwhelmed with feelings of having failed my son. Knowing I couldn't save his life or soul brought deep anguish. For the first time I had to deal with absolute helplessness. . . ."

Later in the article, she says that the killer's violence, ironically, was a desperate attempt at control. Finally, she said, "My need to feel control over my son's eternal life showed a lack of trust in God. Barry's (that's the killer's) desperate act of violence embraced evil in an attempt to control evil. We are alike (she says) in our need to relinquish ourselves to our loving God. We are alike in our helplessness in the face of sin."

If we haven't yet, there will come a time in our lives when we are in a state of complete helplessness, like the disciples in the boat, like the woman who's son was killed. May God then give us the Spirit to turn to him for help.

Indeed, may God give us that Spirit every day. Amen.