As a Church, this has been said many times so far this year, we are exploring what it means to be living water in 2022. What does it mean to drink living water, to be living water for the world, all that. You might even be sick of it already and it’s only February, right? Hold on to yourself. All right? But two weeks ago, Brian kind of introduced us to a mini series that we’re doing in the middle of this here in the north region called Broken Cisterns. And what he explained, this is a concept from the book of Jeremiah, a thing that they used to do thousands of years ago to store water was this man made attempt to we need water to drink, so we’re going to dig out these holes so that we can have water for ourselves. But the problem is they tend to be very flawed and these Broken Cisterns would get contaminants. And all this, I mean, look at that water. Does that look like Dasani to you?
God used this picture as a word thing for his people to go, why would you settle for this when what I am offering you is this? Why would you settle for broken cisterns and muddy, dirty water when you can have living water with me? And as we got into that, what Brian explained is that really at the core of this is idolatry. Idolatry is anything that we put in a seat that is reserved for God in our hearts. And every idol is a lie and comes with something that steals us away from God’s living water. Let me introduce what we’re going to be doing for a couple of weeks here is we’re going to be going through the three deep idols from the series 33, 33 series. I don’t know. I never know how to say that, but it’s the deep idols of control, significance and comfort that really no matter what idolatry we wrestle with and we all do, at the core of it is one of these things: the desire for control, the need for significance or the desire for comfort. So today we’re actually going to be talking about the idea of control. And it was really important to me to be able to preach on this topic in particular because, man, has God been showing me how much of an idol that this is in my life.
And I tend to believe that we all wrestle with this on some level, some more than others, right? But as I started studying this out, it led me to a Greek and a Hebrew study. You’ve probably learned about me. I like doing a lot of Old word study.
And the words for control in the New Testament, in the Old Testament are actually pretty revealing. So in the Hebrew, in the Old Testament, the word for control is Yad. It shows up 1446 times in the Old Testament a lot. Now the word for control as a concept has to do with strength and power. Right?
But what’s interesting is that the Old Testament word for control is the same word as the word hand, the physical hand reaching out with a hand, which to me is such a really cool illustration, even a word picture for us about control. We’re going to do a little exercise together here. If you’re on Zoom, you can do this, too. All right, I want you to take your phone in your hand. All right?
Hold it nice and tight. Got it? feel that, control? All right, now what I want you to do, turn your palm towards the ground and open it. I actually didn’t think anybody was going to do it.
So control. No control. How did that feel for a second, even if you, like, kind of did the Simon Says thing in your head. We had to tell you something. Wait, no, Simon didn’t say I’m not supposed to open my hand and drop my phone on the floor.
But for a second, you kind of feel that little panic almost, right? Like, what’s about to happen? There’s something about an open hand that feels out of control.
And the more I dug into this, I was like, man, this is a perfect title for the sermon. The title for our service today is Grip Strength. And I want to explore this. We’re going to use some of this word picture stuff, but mostly we’re going to go through an Old Testament story. But in the 33 series, I wanted to share this because it’s really powerful.
But they describe the lie that is attached to the idol of control. Okay? Here’s the lie of control. If I can just maintain influence or mastery over this situation, these people, my performance, my schedule, my income, or whatever, these are the key words, then I will be okay, content, strong and safe.
At the core of this idol of control is that desire to feel okay, to feel not worried even. Maybe not just okay, just not worried, not fearful. But what it leads to is this relentless pursuit of security and contentment that can never be satisfied. And it produces the pursuit of control, man, it produces fear and more anxiety because nothing is ever enough. We never have enough money.
We never have enough control over our schedule. We never have enough control over our household and how clean it is.
As I evaluate this in myself, I see how this shows up a lot.
The areas of my life when I really break it down and think about myself, the areas of my life that I tend to struggle with this most as an adult, kind of like Steve is talking about, like, not the 20 year old me, but the married and being responsible me. Finances has been a perpetual thing where I live. Not just enough. I know I’ve shared a lot about my house last year, but no matter where we lived it’s not clean enough. Things aren’t organized enough. Our house isn’t put together enough. You know what I’m talking about? My job in the Ministry, I’ve said this before, leading you all, loving you all. It’s hard. You all are difficult. You don’t do what I say and what I want. And so I’ll chase plans and calendars and structures and things that like, maybe this will make my job feel better.
And then I also can look back on my life and think about the times where this has been the hardest for me. Last year with our house, man alive, the lack of control that I felt, and the desperate desire to reach out for it somewhere.
My brother, I’ve shared this before with you guys, my brother has been a drug addict for a long time, and he’s in recovery. He’s been doing great for the last several years. But for a lot of those years, I felt very out of control.
It’s really hard to feel like you’re a spectator in somebody’s life, knowing you can’t make decisions for them and watching them destroy themselves. The amount of times that I would just go to bed angry, sad. I feel like I wanted to hit him. I wanted to just whatever. Because I just felt like, Come on, just stop.
You know, we’ve gone through family health issues. My dad’s had cancer a number of times, and he got prostate cancer two years ago. And this is like his fourth time having cancer and the out of control feeling of what’s going to happen. About 10-15 years ago, my mom had this mysterious illness that required them to remove half of her left lung. And that was the longest eight hour surgery I’ve ever waited for.
But then, outside of the big dramatic stuff I can think about in my own life now, right now, as I sit, where is this idol of control? My wife not being in the full time Ministry with me has been really challenging. It’s been challenging financially to be on one income, but emotionally and mentally for me to not have her in the meetings with me, to not have her in the same way, she balances me in ways that I don’t do a good job regulating myself. The last year and a half, trying to do this has been one of the most insecure things I’ve ever experienced. Even lately, with all the stuff in the news over the last week. Man, all the things going on in the Ukraine, and I know people that are over there that are posting videos on a regular basis and stuff.
What does it mean for the people that are there? What is it going to mean for the world? I’ve lost sleep. I’ve had nightmares about it. I even had this urge last night to cancel my sermon.
Forget it. I’m not even going to preach on this. We’re just going to pray.
Ironically, here I am preaching about control. About this thing that’s going on across the world that I have no control over.
There’s a question, though, that we got to ask ourselves in this. What happens when we seek control or feel out of control? At the core of this idol is that question, how do we miss God? Because the pursuit of control is not the pursuit of God.
What do we run to instead? But then maybe the better question and the question we’re really going to get to at the end here is what’s God’s solution? What does he want us to do in this? Amen? We’re going to look at a great Old Testament story that will help us explore this.
We’re going to take pit stops along the way. We’re going to read a whole chapter and just kind of take some breaks because this story is riddled with control. Like every character in this story is struggling with control. All right? And I want you to pay attention as we go through it, where you even pick up on this idol through the story, amen? Turn your Bible to Second Kings, chapter five.
You with me, Church?
All Right, we’re going to pick up here in verse one. Like I said, just keep your Bible here. We’re going to be stopping along the way.
Now, Naman was a commander of the army of the King of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Let’s pause there. Told you we’re going to make a lot of pit stops to this story.
All right, so we’re starting off here. We’re introduced to this character of the Bible, Naman. And what it tells us on the front end is that Naman is an Aramean. Now, why that’s significant is because the Arameans were enemies of God’s people. Okay?
This guy is not like of the people of God. All right? But what’s interesting, if you notice the wording here, it says that God used Naman. How did he use him? By killing the previous King of Israel, because he had been unrighteous and sinful.
So God allowed for this enemy nation to come in and kill the King because of his unrighteousness. And it was Naman’s charioteers that were responsible for it. I looked it up, and tradition kind of has in Jewish tradition that Naman himself was the one that fired the arrow. If you look back at the story in First Kings 22 with Ahab, he was trying to, like hide in the ranks and a straight arrow flies through the air and hits him. And tradition says it was Naman.
It says, through him, the Lord gave victory to the enemies of God’s people. How many of you like that? That makes me uncomfortable. God was working through the enemy of his people. And what it tells us is that Naman was very successful.
He was respected, he was a great leader. But there’s a big but. He had leprosy. He had all these things going for him in life. But God allowed him to have something debilitating that he couldn’t control.
And in life we get things like this, don’t we? Stuff that’s not even our fault, not even because we did or didn’t do something. It just happens. We get health issues, we got mental health issues. Things that are beyond our control, that are buried deep in with our DNA sometimes.
How do you think Naman felt about his condition? A man that was this successful, that had so much going for him in life, how do you think he felt about his leprosy?
Probably had a conversation somewhere with this. If I just didn’t have this man, the things I could do.
Let’s keep reading. Verse two, it says now the bands of Raiders from Aram had gone out and taken captive a young girl from Israel. And she stayed and she served Naman’s wife. She said to her mistress, if my master would see the Prophet who is in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy. So Naman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. By all means go, the King of Aram said snd I will send a letter to the King of Israel. So Naman left taking with him ten talents of silver, 6000 shekels of gold, ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the King of Israel read, with this letter, I am sending my servant Naman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy. All right.
God all of a sudden says, hey, so the Armenians, the enemies of God’s people happen to take this random girl captive, this random Israeli girl and she goes and serves Naman’s wife, I would imagine kind of like Moses in Egypt and Joseph in Egypt where it’s just like man, there’s something worthy of honor here. And the servant girl is like man, if Naman just knew this guy Elisha, everything would change. All right. Now imagine what Naman felt at this point of the story hearing this. Leprosy is not really a curable disease even nowadays.
Back then it was a death sentence 100%. There’s no hope you got put out and put in your own colony until you died. So here now he hears there’s a prophet that might be able to do something. So what does Naman do? Says that Naman goes and talks to his King.
He shows up with lots of money. Let me break down how much money he had with gold and silver, 750 lbs of silver and 150 lbs of gold.
That’s a lot of money. He’s got clothes because he’s got a letter from the King and he’s got his whole military squad with him. All of this kind of speaks to control. If there was any possibility of this being real, Naman was going to make it happen. If he needed to bribe somebody or pay somebody off, if he needed some political influence, or if he just needed pure military intimidation, he was going to try to make this happen.
He was going to be cured if he could. Now I remember at the beginning of my brother’s kind of journey of addiction. I remember when it first became a reality where this isn’t just like a problem, this is like a real problem.
And my parents did everything they could to try to get my brother help, including paying, they had heard about this facility up in Montana. They had this great success rate, 85% success rate, which, if anybody knows anything about addiction, is garbage. Nobody can boast that, especially not in one month. But they paid took out money in their retirement because they were so desperate to get my brother help.
And after a month, he goes through the program. Everything seems good. Like, okay, look, he’s going to be on the good statistic end of this, only to realize there’s at least ten years more of a journey ahead because there’s no such thing as a quick fix or anything that money or facility could solve in a situation like that.
So this is kind of where Naman is at in this place of wanting control, wanting hope. Let’s keep reading. As soon as the King of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he was trying to pick a quarrel with me?
When Elisha, the man of God, heard of the King of Israel, had torn his robes, he sent him this message. Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know there is a Prophet in Israel. We got to stop there for a second because I love this part of the story. So Naman is there to go find Elisha, the Prophet.
The King hears about this, and he’s like, what’s going on here? What can I do? Like, they’re not even here for you, dude. What are you getting up and out of shape for? He was stressing and taking responsibility for something that wasn’t even his to begin with.
This is a good description of people with control issues taking unnecessary responsibility for things that are not yours to take.
You got to love what Elisha’s response to this is. He’s like the King did what? He’s like, all right, he sends a messenger, he’s like, Dude, chill out, all right? They’re not even here for you. Tell them to come find me and we’ll work it out, guy. Okay? Let’s keep reading.
Verse nine, so Naman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elijah’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed. Let’s pause there. So Naman rolls up with his squad. Like flexing some military might like you imagine thousands of years ago opening your door and seeing charioteers standing outside your house. Okay, what does Elisha do?
Does he go to say Hi and meet the guy? No, he sends his own messenger. Elisha’s chilling in the house. Just go tell him what to do. Naman must have felt so insulted by this right? Here he is an enemy, a leader of this army.
He’s rolling up. He’s ready to fight if he needs to it seems like to show how tough he is. And then he sends a messenger.
Who does this guy think he is? But the instructions are really simple.
Wash seven times in this river and you’re good to go. That’s it! An incurable disease. Go dip yourself in the water a few times and you’re good. This is awesome! I mean, could you ask for a better prescription?
Right? Naman is going to be fired up about this, right? No. Let’s keep reading. Verse eleven.
Naman went away angry and said, I thought surely he would come out to me and stand and call in the name of the Lord, his God, wave his hand over the spot that’s that yon right there and cure me of my leprosy.
Are not Abana and Pharpar the Rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed? So he turned and went off in a rage. He rage quit his own healing. That was for the millennials and the Gen Zers out there.
So Naman had a vision of what was supposed to happen. And this is not how he thought it was supposed to go. He was looking for respect and ceremony. And this guy has power. He’s going to wave his hand of power and might over me, and everybody’s going to see me be healed.
And maybe it did. Maybe there is kind of more to that connection of power and control by the waving of the hand thing.
And this guy had the audacity to not even greet him in person and to send a messenger and then tell me to go to wash in the Jordan River? Now, I know this means nothing to you guys, but lucky for you, I have a video of the Jordan River from when I went there five years ago. You ready? That’s the Jordan River.
Doesn’t that look like a bath waiting to happen?
This is five years ago. Not much has changed historically. That’s what the Jordan River is just kind of known for being. It’s muddy, it’s cold, it’s kind of gross, and it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing but desert on either end of this.
What you’re looking at across the bank is the Israel side, and we were on the Jordanian side. Okay, so not only did this prophet not show up, not only did he not do the hand thing, he wants me to bathe in a trash river. In a muddy trash river.
All right, how many of you guys have ever heard of the expectation gap before? You know what it is? Only a couple of you guys. All right, here it is.
In short, the expectation gap is the difference between what you want and expect to happen versus what actually happens in reality.
All right? It’s the gap. And that can be a big gap or a little gap, depending on how high your expectations are. A lot of control issues can be rooted in this: how high your expectations are versus what real life tends to be.
The greater the gap usually means, the greater the disappointment.
Now, translating the spiritually, it’s the difference between what I want God to do versus what God does. There’s a great scripture about this. This is a quick detour, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord.” Over and over again through the Bible. He’s trying to remind us, look, what you think and what you want is not the way that I think. It’s not necessarily what I want. That’s why you got to trust me. Now, my wife was going to actually be here to share. But as I’m continuing to learn, as I’m getting ready for this lesson on control. My oldest has a fever, so she’s home with her because I’m out of control.
So she sent me something about this because as we were talking through this lesson, I wanted her to be able to share because this expectation gap thing really resonated with her. This is what she said to me. She said, I’m a planner and I want to know what to expect and how to position myself, to not be disappointed. As I’ve wrestled through expectation gaps in my own life when it comes to jobs, starting a family, growing our family, where we will live, friendships, health, and so much more, I am learning to be okay with the gap. The reality is that I can’t know the future and all of what is coming and all of how God is moving.
But I can be continually practicing having an open mind and open eyes to see how God is moving and how he is showing himself to be trustworthy. I do that mainly through prayer, gratitude, journaling, and reading my Bible. Such simple practices are what shift and calm my heart and my grasp when I feel the tug or jolt to want to flail for control. I married a very Godly woman, but I love even her realizations and humility in this. Because maybe contrary to belief, I know we say God is in control, but it’s probably not what we think when we say that. God is trustworthy, but he’s not going to take control from us. Does that make sense?
His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not your thoughts. But he’s not guaranteed he’s not going to necessarily steer the ship for you. He might point you in a direction.
Now let’s keep reading.
Verse 13. Naman’s servants went to him and said, My father, if the Prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more than when he tells you, just wash and be cleansed? So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, and as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
Let’s pause it for a second. The servants had to point out to Naman. He was so caught in the middle of his expectation gap that it took the servants going like, hey, sir, if he told you, like, travel to another country and go on a quest, you probably would. But he’s telling you just to go dip in the river over there.
You can do that. And what do you have to lose? It’s kind of like in the story of Salvation. Why would anybody complain about a baptism when that’s the easiest part of the Salvation story? Way easier than repentance.
Let’s keep reading. Then Naman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, Now I know that there is a God. There’s no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant. The Prophet answered, as surely as the Lord lives whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.
And even though Naman urged him, he refused. If you will not, said Naman, please let me, your servant, be given as much Earth as a pair of mules can carry. Your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other God but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing. When my master enters the temple of Ramon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow down there also, when I bow down in this temple of Ramon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.
So in this story, once Naman finally lets go of control, finally lets go of his version of what is supposed to happen, it led to a complete physical change. But not only that, a heart change.
This enemy of God’s people is now left in so much awe of God, thinking that there’s nobody else like him. Now it may be easy to look at this and say, Well, yeah, if I had a life-threatening illness magically cured by dunking in a dirty River, I might feel that way, too.
But people throughout the Bible witnessed miracles with no significant change. Jesus even condemned whole cities for their lack of faith after miracles. So even experiencing something spectacular, experiencing God answer a prayer in a way that you never imagined possible does not guarantee a change of heart.
Naman’s giving up of control is different. And after this he’s so overwhelmed and said, I got to give you gifts. Just please take something. I’m so grateful. And Elisha says, no, we don’t need anything. God’s got us.
He says, okay, let me do this. Can you just load up some dirt so I can take it home with me? Now, I’m not sure all of what this means, and I couldn’t really find a good commentary that really felt like explained in a way that I thought made sense.
But what it seems to suggest is that he was so blown away by God that he considered even the ground of God’s people sacred. He wanted to bring it home with him so he could continue to sacrifice to God on Holy ground.
We’re going to finish up the story here, verse 19. We’re going to meet a man named Gehazi. Go in peace, Elisha said, and after Naman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the man of God, said to himself, My master was too easy on Naman, this Aramaen, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him. So Gehazi hurried after Naman.
When Naman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. Is everything all right? He asked. Everything is all right, Gehazi answered. My master sent me to say, Two young men from the company of prophets have just come to me from the Hill country of Ephraim.
Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing. By all means, take the two talents, said Naman. He urged Gehazi to accept them and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants and then carried them ahead of Gehazi. When Gehazi came to the Hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house.
He sent the men away and left, and they left. When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, Where have you been, Gehazi? Your servant didn’t go anywhere, Gehazi answered. But Elisha said to him, Was not my spirit with you? When the man got down from his chariot to meet you, is this the time to take money or accept clothes or olive Groves and vineyards or flocks and herds are male and female slaves, Naman’s leprosy will cling to you and your descendants forever.
Then Gehazi went from Elijah’s presence, and his skin was leperous and it becomes white as snow. That’s fun.
So Elisha’s servant comes into the picture and he’s trying to take a little control himself. Right? And from what we can read, it seems like he’s got a vendetta towards Naman, he’s thinking, this Aramaen? This enemy of God’s people, this guy responsible for killing our last King. He can’t get off this easy.
So Elisha is responsible. But you got to love this. And there’s like a whole prophetic thing here. On some level, I got a lot of them to see that what was about to happen. And he gets back and goes, okay? You want to take goods from Naman, you can have his leprosy, too.
Now, this might feel harsh on some level, but I think in some ways, there’s a good picture here of what chasing control produces. It’s an infectious disease that spreads inside of us. Anxiety, worry, fear, and doubt. The pursuit of control will take us away from the power of God, and it turns us away from a trust in God who is trustworthy in what he’s capable of. You might be sitting there thinking, okay, Jake, but what do we do?
It’s not a happy ending. It’s not how you end a sermon. A guy got leprosy because he was trying to be controlling. Well, let’s look at what the Bible has as a prescription for this idol. So the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for control was Yon. It’s a picture of a hand.
The New Testament word, and I’ll just say this was frustrating to me because I wanted there to be a nice, easy word study about control. And it led me down a very deep road. Like, man, God has something that he wants to teach me here. The New Testament, the Greek word for control is Hupotasso.
And it’s the same word as submit. Now, we like the word control. That’s a little bit more friendly. Probably not a big fan of the word submit. You kind of get this picture tapping out, right? That’s a submit means you’re giving up, you’re losing.
And one of the most even present things in our world and culture over the last two years is the right that we have not to submit.
But, you know, the more that you dig into, this word shows up 47 times in the New Testament, what God is essentially telling us when he says when he talks about control is to willfully open your hands.
God calls us to take that desire for control and to choose to submit ourselves.
And what the Bible tells us is, first, we submit to him. James 47 says, Submit yourselves, then to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Most of the scriptures that use this word hupotasso tell us that we submit to God in everything our finances, our time, our priorities, our homes, our jobs. We turn the direction and our desire for control over to his direction and his faithfulness. But then secondly, and this is the part that maybe is harder for most of us.
We submit to one another. Ephesians 5:21 says submit to one another because you submit to God.
You cannot submit to God without submitting to each other.
Now, the God part is good Christian people, we know that. Of course I submit to the Lord. We stand and lift up our hands.
But the idea of I’m going to submit to the people their flaws, all these broken cisterns around me. I’m going to submit to them.
And the Bible talks a lot, actually, about this. It talks about in our marriages submit. In governing authorities submit. To those in charge submit. To your boss submit. And so on and so on and so on. We willfully submit ourselves not as a doormat, not to be bullied by the people around us, not to not have your own thoughts. But I willfully submit in humility to the relationships that God has around me to help me with my righteousness and wisdom in the areas of my life.
God had to work on Naman’s heart to help him get to this place. But once he decided to submit, once he gave up control, he opened his hands by submitting to Elisha and his bad prescription of dipping himself in a dirty river. Nobody would hear that and think it was a good idea, right? As a matter of fact, I’d probably give you an infection.
But when he submitted to this Prophet of God, everything changed. This is not a one time deal for us either. Submission was not just when you said, Jesus Lord at baptism. Submission is a daily thing. It’s a perpetual choice where we open our hands, let go of control and submit ourselves to God and one another. As I close here, I got a few questions I want us to ask ourselves.
Where do you look for security or contentment? What I mean by that is what are the areas of your life that you’re searching for control? Where do you chase it? Second question is, what maybe has God given you are allowed in your life that is beyond your control?
Probably on purpose.
The last question is, but what would it mean for you to open your hands to release your grip in submission to God?
If we can learn this, if we can help each other with this man, imagine what God can do. Let’s close in prayer.