The Illusion of Control

Text: Joshua 5:13-15

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” —Psalm 46:10 (NASB)

My first child was born two weeks before 9/11. As we watched those fateful events unfold in our nation that day, I remember feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety about this new venture called parenthood. I looked down at that little tiny life in my arms and fretted over the kind of world that she would grow up in. I became overwhelmed at the thought of ensuring that nothing bad would ever happen to her. I needed to protect her. I needed to be in control of circumstances and be able to manage the future, so that every outcome would be entirely—safe.

I learned quickly that parenthood brings with it an enormous weight of responsibility to protect, provide for, and nurture. What I didn’t learn so quickly was that my quest to be in control of the future was nothing more than an illusion. Sure, there would be many sensible things that I could control in setting my kids up for success, but so much of life’s unfolding drama would be beyond the grip of my control.

It can be a haunting feeling for many of us to not be in control—especially those of us who feel the incessant pressure to fix everything for those we love. Truth is, sometimes we just can’t fix the brokenness of life, or the madness of this world. As much as we’d love to be in control, it’s a mere fallacy.

That reality doesn’t have to be haunting for us. In many ways, it can be very liberating to let go of the illusion of control. Such was the case for Joshua when faced with a challenge greater than his ability to overcome. Joshua became the leader of the Israelite tribes after the death of Moses, and was responsible for leading God’s people into the Promised Land. Standing in his way is the mighty city of Jericho, with seemingly impenetrable walls. This general finds himself under-resourced and ill equipped to take such a fortress by human accounts. Victory won’t come from mustering up enough will power or digging down for more grit—it comes from a place called surrender.

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The passage says that when Joshua was by Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15), he lifted up his eyes and saw a man standing before him “with a drawn sword in hand”—clearly a militant posture of readiness. A man with a sword in his hand is usually prepared to use it. He’s ready for a fight! Joshua went to him and said, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” And he said, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” This is an “aha!” moment for the general. It’s a theophany—a visible manifestation of none other than God himself, and the drawn sword is not just the sign of impending victory, it’s the demonstration that God alone is in control of the affairs. It’s an expression of His sovereignty.

Joshua’s response is the only kind appropriate for such a revelation: “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped,” conceding himself in a posture of—surrender (Joshua 5:14). Then Joshua gets some very unorthodox instructions from God about how to approach the problem—things like marching around walls for seven days, blowing loud trumpets, shouting, and watching walls inexplicably fall down!

Right now, you might be in a place like that Old Testament general at Jericho, where God has brought you face-to-face with something bigger than you are so that you could come face-to-face with Him. Maybe it’s time to relinquish that illusion of control, that fallacy of being the general in your own universe, and give it all up to God. Maybe it’s time to surrender. Maybe it’s time to get out of the way and let God take charge. Maybe it’s time for real worship—that which yields ourselves in utter reliance and absolute dependence upon Him for everything concerning our past, present, and future.


Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that I am not giving you control. I can’t give you something I never had to begin with. I surrender my illusions of control—the fallacy of thinking that I ever was in control. Forgive me for trying to be the general in my own universe. I give back to you what is rightfully yours—Lordship over everything in my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Do you enjoy thrill rides in which you have no control? Why or why not?
  2. When has something in life scared you because it was beyond your control?
  3. When have you experienced a peace that comes with giving up the illusion of control?
  4. In the context of Joshua’s encounter, how would you define the word worship?
  5. Is there an area of your life that God has revealed that you need to surrender?

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