What Can we Control?


March 21

There are some things we can control and some things we can’t
The Letter of James has a good deal of practical advice. The current situation made me think of this tidbit:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit” – you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.” But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So for the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin (James 4:13-17).
In theory we know that there are a lot of things that happen that we can neither predict nor control, but it can be so easy to go through our day as if we could be sure of how things would be. It is so easy to forget that the things we take for granted can change in a heartbeat. Now we have a much stronger awareness that is true.
When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3),” we know that the poor are aware that they are constantly dependent on what they receive, that their own resources will not get them through the day, and how much they are not in control. Whether we have few material resources or many, we are called to be aware that we are not powerful enough to control the future, that we are constantly dependent on God, and that all things that are of the earth are subject to change without notice. No material thing is guaranteed to be here tomorrow. It is not guaranteed that civilization will be here tomorrow. It is not guaranteed that there will be tomorrow. Jesus said, “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, or at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom on his arrival find doing so (Matt 24:42-46).”
In C. S. Lewis’ excellent book The Screwtape Letters, he portrays letters from a senior devil to his nephew, giving advice on how to lead a soul to hell. Letter #6 begins: “I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [meaning God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our [the devils’] business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.” While we want to prepare for possibilities, we don’t want to waste a lot of energy stewing over what might happen. When we are tempted to do that, it would be good to focus on what we can do, however little it is. As Martin Luther King Jr said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Christians are never completely helpless; if we can’t do anything else, we can pray.
Predictions are very slippery these days, so I suggest the key question is: “Right here, right now, with what I have to work with, how can I best serve God and witness to God?”

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