Taking Control of Your Life

Recorded January 4, 2009

Now turn with me if you will to the 37th Psalm. The great psalm; I love this psalm.

Psalm 37: 1-9

1 Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; 2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. 3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: 5 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

3 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret — it leads only to evil. 9 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

But the God who authored these, let them be his words in a real way for our lives. God bless you.

Have you ever really felt out of control? I do most of the time but feeling out of control is something that most of us don’t like. You know we can’t control the stock market and you can’t control the company you work for and if you own the company you still can’t control it. You can’t control your spouse. You can’t control your children. You can’t control the government. You can’t control your neighbors. You can’t even control your neighbor’s barking dog.

You can’t control what others think. In fact, most of us are out of control all the time and the things that we’re really responsible for we can’t get our arms around them and much of the frustration I see in people is the fact that they’re out of control and they think that life‘s going to blow them away.

Well, let me remind you of the story of Viktor Frank] who was a German Jewish psychiatrist during the period when Hitler took over Germany. And of course, all of the Jews were rounded up in that horrible, horrible experience called the Holocaust. I have been to Dachau and the camp there is just absolutely beyond imagination in its horror and he was taken in at Dachau and when he went in they said the first thing he did, now this was a professional man, this was a doctor and a practicing psychiatrist they took away all of his belongings. They took away everything.

They took away his clothing and they gave him prison garb. Now he said it didn’t fit. It was ugly and it didn’t fit because it was prison garb but he said, “You know, I’m a small man and they gave me a large pair of trousers, and they didn’t give me a belt and I had to walk around like this with my pants about to fall off,” and he said, “On top of that they had taken us all into a room and had shaved off every hair from our body.”

And he said, “Not only the humiliation of being totally shaved there from head to toe, was the humiliation of having clothes that wouldn’t stand up, pants that were falling off and having to use both arms and they stood and laughed at me.” He said, “It was about more than I could endure. And then I was not in control of where I lived, what I ate, the work I did. I was in control of nothing. I was simply an automaton.”

Then Viktor Frankl said this, he said, “You, know, they can control everything on the outside of me. They can control my body. They can control my eating and my sleeping. But there’s one thing they can’t control. They cannot control my reaction to what they do. I am in charge of what I think or feel no matter what they do to me. They will not control how I respond.”

Something to think of that Viktor Frankl had his finger on something very important because we cannot control any of these things either and I went through a list and you can make your list. The only thing we can really control is how we respond inside. And so I hope in these moments that we have together I can put out some tools for us to use. I feel like I’m laying out tools that God’s made available to all of us, but sometimes we overlook them and I hope that we’ll pick up the tools and use them for our own lives so we can get to Friday.

You’re going to get in control of your life the first thing we need to do is know exactly what you want out of life because if you don‘t know what you want out of life you don’t know why you’re controlling it. I find that most people don’t know what they want out of life. I talk to a lot of people about things that they don’t like and the things that are irritating them, but what I find most evident is that most people only know what they don’t like.

We’re very good at telling everybody what we don’t like. I’ve done marital counseling with people. You know I’m sort of a Dr. Laura counselor, “Why don’t you straighten your act out; get yours together, too.” That’s why they don’t line up at my door I guess, but anyway I asked a couple one time, they were sitting in front of me. I said, “Tell me what you like about each other. Why did you get married in the first place?”

She said, “I don’t know but I don’t like the way he uses the toothpaste.” “I don’t like the way she combs her hair.” And all they could do was tell me what they didn't like. Have you got somebody working in your office that’s an authority on what they don’t like? They can go down the list of all the things they don’t like, but you ask them what they like they say, “I don’t know.”

We first of all need to find out what we like. Decide who we are, what we want out of life and once we get that pulled together we will begin to move forward. I think it takes some introspection. A person ought to go apart awhile and try to determine these things. Another thing is this. We have a sense where we are victims of attitude. Now this is where some people don’t agree with me, but you have your privilege of being wrong if you want to, but the cognitive therapists have been very clear about this.

What’s a cognitive therapist? It’s a therapist that said, “We don’t have time to go back and untangle what your mother and daddy did to you and spend 20 years listening to you and me sitting here saying. “Ah huh. Mmmm. How’d you feel about that?” I always tease my counselor friends. They get their basic degree by saying “Ah huh,” and then they get a Ph.D. when they learn to say, “How do you feel about that?”

We don’t have time for that and you don’t have the money for it. That may be good, but look at all the time you’ve wasted. A cognitive therapist said, “Start acting a certain way and your emotions will catch up with the way you’re acting. Act a certain way and your emotions will get there."

I was in a staff meeting—not in this church but another church nearby I pastured. We were sitting in a staff meeting. We had a new staff member who had just come on staff and he was a seminary graduate and, you know, seminary graduates are like first-year professional graduates of any school. They don’t know anything. You know in order to teach in seminary you’ve got to kill three churches and then they put you in the seminary like a sheep. I’m not to be quoted on that.

And he’d had a couple of rough Sundays, you know—deacons breaking him in and I said you’ll seem to be a little down. I said, “Put on a happy face. We’ve got to go out and work with our people and minister to them. Come on. Let’s put on a happy face.” He said, “That would make me a hypocrite.” I said, “Let me tell you what. I’d rather have a hypocritical, depressed person, no, I’d rather have a hypocritical happy person than an honest depressed person working out there,” so I said, “Put on your hypocritical face and go out there.”

Later he came to me. I think he wanted to keep his job. He came to me and he said, “You know, you might have been right. I put on a happy face and you know what happened? I began to change inside.” We get this idea that, you know, “I’m depressed,” or, “I’m angry,” and it grabs me we say it like it’s a noun something that has grabbed me from the outside. That’s not the way it works. The way it works is that somewhere down in our beginnings as a child we learn that always being angry protected us. People would back off if we’d throw a temper tantrum.

So we developed anger or some other way, maybe depression as a way of life. And as we got older that began to strangle us and as an automatic reaction all the time. It began to strangle us and we were uncomfortable and so we created out of that a condition. I’m depressed. Or I found out depression works pretty well. Talk more about it next week but I found out I could control the church with depression. This was the early days when I didn‘t have any staff. I had a janitor and a secretary. If I wasn’t getting things like I wanted them I’d just depress. Pull my tie down, slump over, you know kind of look sad, walk in with a briefcase you know, “Oh poor pastor! He’s so depressed!” Everybody would leave me alone.

Well, what I found was that not only they’d leave me alone, they didn’t pay any attention to me and pretty soon I was drowning in my own depression. I had chosen depression as a defense. You can do the same thing with anger. You learn as a child to be angry. Then as you get a little older you find that you can really get by in life by being angry all the time. Makes you sound masculine, authoritative and then all of a sudden, as you get into middle years, you find out it begins to strangle you, and then, all of that acid stays with you and nobody wants to have anything to do with you.

And what has happened? You have chosen or we have chosen depression or anger or cynicism or whatever it may be all the way from the beginning of our lives and it has become a way that it is an automatic emotional choice. What I‘m saying is if you’re thinking that you’re victimized by these things as though you would be victimized by a disease, see them as a verb, not a noun. I’m angering. I’m depressing. See them that way, not as a noun. I am depressed. It grabs me the disease.

What I’m saying is, choose not to be depressed. Choose not to be angry. Choose not to be a cynic. Choose not to be worried. Choose to be joyous and happy. Yeah, but that would be faking it. Fake it. And you know what’ll happen? You will begin to reprogram who you are. Some people just enjoy wallowing in these attitudes like pigs in mud. I see them just wallowing in these attitudes. They have become so addicted to them that this is their defense and they get angry if you don’t buy into it. I’m saying that this will set you free.

I even think we choose some of our illnesses. Now I want to be very clear here. Some of you are facing a really serious illness. I’m putting that off. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the common cold. I love the common cold. I think the common cold is God’s gift. You know, who can afford to take a vacation to the Bahamas now in the wintertime?

But if you get the common cold you don’t have to work as hard, you go to your office and they say, “Oh, poor Bill. I-Ie’s got a cold. We’ll leave him alone,” and if they still bother you sit there and sneeze. Nobody’s going to come in and give you anything to do when you’re doing that. It’s wonderful and you know you get to take that glorious medicine. You think about what that medicine does. That's the closest a Baptist preacher can get to . . .

Oh, it’s a gift. It’s the poor man’s gift. You see where I’m going? Don’t be a victim. Don’t put yourself out there and say, “I want to be victimized by these things.” Decide. I mean seriously decide. I'm going to be a happy person I‘m going to be a joyous person. You say, “Aw pastor that’s positive mental attitude fluff” Yes it is. But the trouble with it is that it‘s right. It’s correct and it’s biblical. Choose you this day whom you will serve.

Of course, the life we live has some tough spots in it. Jesus had nails in His hands, but there’s also a lot of joy in knowing that we’re free in Christ and we’re our Father’s child. Now that’s just the first point and my time is gone. The second thing I want you to do is learn to dream. What happens when we feel like we’re out of control is we lose our dream. We lose our dreams. Dreams are what life is made of. You are living — we are living — today the dreams that we had yesterday.

If you want to live right tomorrow, start dreaming the life you want tomorrow. I mean that two ways. I believe you can set your mind every morning. I believe you can set your mind every morning for the kind of life you want. You may call it meditation. If you don’t like the religious sound of that, call it visualization. It’s as basically biblical as it can be. But get alone and see the day that you have in front of you.

And I believe the more that you do that, and the more you walk through that day, the more your life and all around you will focus to make that kind of day come true and it'll give you the strength to face that day. I remember when I was in Bradenton, Florida, hearing that great speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Capitol steps in Washington. We had a little black-and-white television and I was sitting in the family room, the family was around me, and I said, “I want to hear this speech,” because I’ve always loved oratory.

And then he came up and started speaking and the magic happened. Then he came down to the end and he said, "I have a dream.” You recall that. “I have a dream,” and not only were those there at the Washington monument galvanized, but the whole nation was galvanized around the fact that he said “I have a dream,” and he put his dream out in front of us.

There’s another story there I read not long ago. If it’s not true it ought to be. I can’t give you the source, but Ethel Waters, the great singer, was on the platform with Martin as he made that speech, and he was going off into flights of oratory, but Ethel Waters knew he wasn’t connected and she kept whispering in a stage voice, “Give them a dream, Martin. Give them a dream,” and he heard her and he shifted gears, and he went into that great “I have a dream” passage and that has galvanized the nation. And on his tomb in our city is written, “I have a dream.”

You’re living your dream and if you don’t like your life change your dream. I’m serious about that. You can change your life by changing your dream. Quickly let me say our church has been dreaming for two and a half years. We’ve been working hard on a dream. We’re going to bring it forward so that we’ll all have a corporate church dream of the kind of church we are going to be. You’ve got to have a dream.

I want to tell you a story so badly. Please, somebody say, “Tell it Bill, tell it.” Okay, since you really push me to it. It’s your story, not mine. Back in the early 1970s, Bobby Dodd had just retired from Georgia Tech. Bud Carson had been called as the new coach. We had several Tech football players at our church. Tech wasn’t doing real good that year. It was hard to follow a giant like Bobby Dodd.

I got a call from the coach one day. He said, “Bill,” I said, “Yes,” “Bud Carson.” “Yeah.” “I want you to speak to my team.” I said, “Coach, you don’t know me.” He said, “No, but I still want you to speak.” I said, “Okay,” so I went down to Georgia Tech and into a team room was a roomful of the most defeated, depressed men I’d ever seen. I had this flowery introduction, Bud Carson, the great, great defensive coach, but as a communicator, he was a great defensive coach.

He came up to the microphone. He said, “Team, here’s a preacher. Listen to him.” That’s gospel. I said, “Okay.” He didn’t know whether I was going to handle snakes or take up an offering. They didn’t know what I was going to do. I hadn’t planned this. All of a sudden, in the midst, I told them about what they are inside, and what they see is what they do. I said, “I want all of you to join hands.” Now, this is a bunch of football players. “Join hands.”

You know, they could pat each other on the back, but they don’t join hands. He stepped up to the mic and said, “Join hands.” Okay. “Every head bowed and every eye closed,” and I said, “Now, I want you to see the game coming up.” They were going to play Tulane in New Orleans. And I said, “I want you to see, on a big screen, I want you to see Georgia Tech 25: Tulane 0.” You know what I heard? See it. Ok.

Finally the room kind of settled in. Then I said, “See yourself playing your best.” I said, “See it. See pictures of it,” and I said, “Now when we open our eyes I want you to turn to your neighbor and say, “I am with you.” Not, “I’m counting on you.” That just weighs them down, but say “I’m with you.” They did.

I didn’t go to New Orleans with them, but I listened to the game. Tech won. I think it was 22 to 17, or something like that. They were so happy when they came back. The coaches told me as I went down. They gave me the game ball, incidentally. When they came back they said, “You know, the trouble we had was sitting on the plane trying to figure out you can’t score 25 points in football. It’s impossible.” They said, “We all knew you didn’t know anything about football and you didn’t know anything about scoring.”

They went on to the Peach Bowl that year. They were having some discussion about whether or not they wanted to play in the Peach Bowl which they should have had this year I think, but anyway, so they asked me to come back and speak before the team before the Peach Bowl and I said, “Look, you’d have gone to the Milk Bowl the first of the season. You’d better take what you can get,” and they went and they got beat 25 to 0 or 22 to 0, whatever it was.

The point is though they saw it. All year long. They won the rest of their games. They saw it. Saw it in their mind and heart. Remember this. You can act your way into a new way of feeling easier than you can feel your way into a new way of acting. Those of you who have been with me a long time have heard that so much that it’s engraved in your heart. I have to remind myself of that every Monday morning. You can act your way into a new way of feeling easier than you can feel your way into a new way of acting. Know what you want. Dream. Believe. And then get ready for what God is doing with you and you know what’ll happen? You’ll be in charge of your life and you’ll give it to God. Let us pray.

See in your mind and heart now that thing you want more than anything else or need. You’re not going to have to write it down or testify or tell anybody about it. Vow to God right now that you’ll look at it every day and you’ll wait for him to bring it together.

I’ve been praying that you’ll come and kneel before the Lord and profess your sins. I’ve been praying that many of you would come to be a part of this church. I’ve already seen this morning at 5:30 in my study lives being changed. People coming to Christ in this church. God let it be. We give you the year, the calendar and our lives again and we pledge to you we’ll be responsible with the give of control you give us. In Jesus' name. Amen.

(Taken from an audio recording with minor editorial revisions.)