The experience of freedom – both having the the feeling of being free and the ability to do what you want – needs to be unlinked from being in control of a situation.
The ability to love, rejoice, progress, and flourish must not depend on our being in control.
In situations that are difficult, control and faith are two completely different choices. Grasping for control leads to self-centeredness. Just ‘giving up’ (in a relationship, in a job, or in something else that means a lot) and feeling powerless because we’re not in control generates bitterness and anger. Viewing ourselves as a victim means that we have surrendered control to the situation, whether to other people, or to circumstances. Surrendering control to God means living by faith, means that whatever situation I find myself in has been organized well in advance by a sovereign God who understands me and my situation, and loves me.
Joseph found himself in three different situations that just grew progressively worse. In each situation, he experienced pain and hardship that were out of his control. In the first situation, his father’s favoritism caused his other family members to be bitter. His father’s lack of wisdom in raising his children created a painful family situation. In the second scenario, he was sold into slavery, becoming a slave in a foreigner’s house in a foreign land. And in the last scenario, he got as low as he could get: he was falsely accused and put into prison.
In each of these situations, his plans were disregarded, his rights were violated, his dignity was disrespected, and any sense of control over his life and activity was taken from him. Yet in each of these situations, he flourished. He loved. He served. He suffered. He was out of control. But everything that he did, gives the impression that he was free, in the most meaningful sense of the word. Faith gave him freedom. Faith gave him hope. Faith led him to be able to focus on the needs and wants of others.
We can apply these ideas in our own lives as Christians on a personal level in our families, in our churches, and in our jobs: we can have a confidence and a joy and a hope that even if our experience is like a prison, we know who ultimately holds the keys to the cell we feel like we’re in. So don’t allow your family members to hold the keys, your co-workers to hold the keys, or people you’re upset with in church to hold the keys. If you feel like you’re in a prison cell because of other people’s actions, have faith that God is the one who actually holds the keys, and flourish where he has you.
And on a national level, what is our message as Christians? Is our message as Christians that we are victims? Is our message that our rights are being taken away from us? And what should we do in response, even if that’s the case?
Should our message be one of complaint? Should we complain about all of the people who hold the keys and are preventing us from doing what God has called us to do? I think not. I think the best response is, by faith, to proclaim with joy that God holds the keys. Paul, in Philippians one and two expresses the same idea. He says, “yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Php 1:18, 19)
And so whatever our situation, our message is Christ. Our attitude is joy. And our activity is service and love, looking not to our own interests, but to the interests and needs of others.