He was a friend in desperate straits, suffering from severe panic attacks. A successful businessman and entrepreneur he nevertheless had pulled to the side of a road one day thinking he was having a heart attack. Quickly he dialed 911.
An ambulance came to the rescue delivering him to the hospital’s emergency room. A subsequent number of tests determined that he had not suffered a heart attack. Instead he was having a full-blown panic attack.
Everything in this friend’s life seemed out of control. His business acumen, his many achievements and the wealth he enjoyed were of no help. He was one big bundle of nerves. How had his life ended up in such a state? Where was the peace he longed to enjoy as a follower of Jesus?
No doubt I could have pulled out all the tools of my trusty counseling model and shared information about my friend’s life in Christ, but it wasn’t information he needed. What he needed was an intimate encounter with the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So what was thwarting this friend’s encounter?
Perhaps a clue could be found in an early childhood memory he shared. It seems that life growing up was less than ideal. His family of origin was impoverished and, even as a three year old (yes, aged three!) he was aware of the family’s “less than” lifestyle.
So at the ripe old age of three, my friend climbed atop an ottoman in his grandmother’s living room. Beating his chest with clenched fists he declared at the top of his lungs, “I’m gonna’ be somebody someday!” And there it was: a little boy’s self-styled “declaration of independence!”
The implications of such a declaration were staggering. “I can do this.” “I don’t need anyone else.” “I can make my own life, my own success.” Let’s just say that my friend’s life would ultimately be stamped “Self Made”. “I’m gonna be somebody!”
And where had it all lead? Right to the hospital emergency room! Not exactly the picture of success once envisioned as a child atop grandmother’s ottoman! And there’s the rub.
Who needs God when one is handling life on his own? Certainly not my friend who subsequently found himself cut off from the very relationship he longed to have, an intimate relationship with his Abba Father. He was living under the illusion that he had the proverbial “tiger by the tail”, that he was the one in control.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God is the one in control. In his retelling of the story of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, Isaiah says that the Lord declared Assyria to be his “rod of anger, my staff in wrath. (Isaiah 10:5-7, 13b-16)
However, Assyria has another mindset. “By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am shrewd. I have moved the boundaries of peoples, their treasures I have pillaged, and, like a giant, I have put down the enthroned. My hand has seized like a nest the riches of nations; as one takes eggs left alone, so I took in all the earth; no one fluttered a wing, or opened a mouth, or chirped!” (Isaiah 10:13, 14)
Really? So Assyria sees herself as the be all and end all? Listen to the word of the Lord to Assyria: Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts it, or a staff him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, and instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire. (Isaiah 10: 15,16)
Assyria’s arrogance, her taking credit for success on the battlefield led to her downfall. Her future held but “leanness” and ultimate destruction. A nation’s demise had actually been brought on itself by itself.
The Gospel of Matthew also reinforces the truth that God is the one in control. God’s control, though, is not control in a bullying sense. Rather it is all about life, life experienced in relationship with the Father and the Son. Thus an invitation is extended to embrace a childlike attitude for it is to the childlike that the “hidden things” of God are revealed, even the Father and his Son. (Cf. Matthew 11: 25-27)
In this same passage Jesus says to his Father, “Although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Matthew 11: 25) He further states that, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (Matthew 11: 27)
Perhaps it could be said that my friend chose to become "adult" in declaring his independence as a three-year-old. Indeed he tried to become somebody in his own strength, by his own doing. The result? His undoing and the loss of himself, his true self in Christ.
And what of you and me? In what ways have we made our own “declaration(s) of independence,” shouting for the whole world to hear, “I’m gonna be somebody!” May God reveal to us those areas yet in our lives that we are trying to control.
And may the Holy Spirit bring you and me into an intimate childlike relationship, in trusting union with the Father and his Son that we might enjoy the life, the abundant life Jesus came to give us. (John 10:10)