Letting Go of Control by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we started a three part series called Letting Go.

In our world today, we often feel like we’ve lost control. We search for an escape from the chaos, but many times we look for quick fixes, treating symptoms instead of getting to the root of our issues. We know when life isn’t as it’s meant to be, but we have trouble letting go of control and figuring out what “meant to be” really looks like. How do we deal with things that are out of our control in a life-giving way?


Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Letting Go of Control – Next Steps



What a week—huh? It’s been one of the wildest weeks on record, hasn’t it?  That song that’s popular in our culture is where many people are living right now–out of our minds, losing control. Chaos everywhere, and so much out of our control—and so tempted with quick fixes–cough syrup—substances to escape and numb the pain, or just treat symptoms only.  Times like these remind us how vulnerable we really are. When a virus in one man 11 weeks ago spreads across the globe to shut down whole countries—people are panicked—I went to our grocery store Tuesday night, zero produce, no milk, shelves empty everywhere—but someone’s got lots of toilet paper cause I sure don’t. Since when was toilet paper a survivalists top 3 essentials?  How do we deal with all this out of control stuff?

I know this is a tough time for many people as fear and uncertainty abound. Daily we are getting news that greatly affects our lives. It’s time to BE the church in a new way. We’ve always said at Gateway that the church is not a building, it’s not a service, church is people–loving God and loving people.  This is our opportunity to rally and BE the church to each other and to our friends and neighbors in need of hope and peace. let’s grow stronger through this. Make Sundays a priority. As we recalibrate and prepare to meet crisis needs all over our city, please keep giving generously online to the campus you normally attend. Life Groups, Community Groups, Restore Groups can all gather online. We can come out of this with Stronger Relational Fabric — loving God by loving everyone, life by life.  Think of ways to encourage, pray for, and serve people online. Pray for our world, nation, city, and church. And, point people to the God who loves them and is in control through it all.

That’s what we’re talking about today.  And wow—I’m constantly amazed how God works. We plan out our series 4-6 months in advance—praying God guides us. Last Fall we planned today to be “Letting Go of Control when life is out of control—when fear, worry, anxiety, overburden you—how do you let it go? God knew today we would face, pandemic fears, global recession worries, job anxiety, stock market crashing like never before, and some of you have already lost your job, you’re facing an uncertain future—losing my mind, losing control—just like that song says.  How did we time that so perfectly?  Well, we didn’t, but I think God did.  I’ve seen it many times over 21 years of Gateway, God truly is Sovereign—in control—God alone knows the future. God’s not in a panic about all this like we are.  And I truly believe He wants us to learn to deal with all the chaos and uncertainty of life—the things out of our control—in a new way. A life-giving way.

That’s what we’re gonna talk about the next 3 weeks.  So I hope you’ll hear God’s promises in the Bible in a very personal way today. And I want to remind you today—God is with You, guiding You as You seek Him. Even though we’re not all meeting in buildings today, God is there with you, and with us together—so I want to encourage you to not multitask, yes I see you trying to do the dishes while you watch—I want to encourage you to use this time to really engage with God, listen to God’s promises, ask God what He wants you to hear as we gather as His church all over the city, and if you’re just exploring faith—keep coming back, you’ll find something real.

So let me start with a confession. “I’m John B, and I like control.”

I like things the way I like them. And I don’t like things when they don’t go the way I like.  My first reaction is usually not a good one when it feels like things are falling apart all around me, I scramble to gain control. When I can’t gain control, I can tank emotionally. I can get stressed out, worried, anxious.  That’s me. This week, I’ve had to face down fears, worries, anxieties of what will this do to our church, our staff, our mission…I’ve had to wrestle with letting go of control.

Any others willing to admit the same? [raise my hand] If you’re watching with family or friends, come clean, raise your hand. Do we need to talk about Denial?  I have a feeling most all of us struggled with fear, worry, stress, anxiety this week as we feel out of control.  Not just this week, when your spouse or significant other isn’t doing what you want, your kids are not behaving as they should, your boss or coworkers are not cooperating, markets, competitors, employees, bad circumstances, health crises…just think of all the things out of our control. And if we’re honest, it tweaks us emotionally—we sometimes go to bad places. Sleepless nights, headaches, neck strain, worry, panic or anxiety, fear consumes our minds, or maybe we medicate to numb it all—cough syrup, alcohol, drugs, porn—anything to feel a little better for one minute. But it compounds the problems.

But what if we didn’t have to worry, stress, fear, or be anxious? What? Well, what if God really does not want his children living worried, stressed-out, fearful, anxious lives? Even now. What if you didn’t have to live that way?  Well, that would be great—John—only that’s not reality.  Look around John, things are falling apart, we have to do something.  Okay, maybe so, but do you HAVE to worry, stress, fear or be anxious?  What if God truly does not intend for you to live that way—no matter what the circumstances?  What if you don’t have to?  That’s what I want you to consider today “I don’t have to.”  I think many of us think we “have to” respond that way.  If I don’t worry, things won’t get done. If I don’t fear I’ll get hurt again.  If I don’t let my anxious stress propel me, I won’t succeed.  But I want you to consider this—maybe those are false dichotomies—it’s a lie.  There’s another way to live, and that’s what God wants to teach us as the children He loves.  And this coronavirus panic is the perfect time to learn this.

Look at what Jesus said in Matthew 11:27-30. 

“My Father has entrusted everything to me.

What’s included in ‘Everything?”  EVERYTHING. Stock markets, marriages, pandemics, bad jobs, bad circumstances—Everything. Jesus is in Control. He goes on]

No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus is claiming equality with God the Father—if you don’t believe it yet, don’t miss the What’s After Life series starting Easter—we will prove it to you]. But acknowledging Jesus is not enough—we must trust Him fully.

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:27-30

This is The Unburdened Way.

The God of the Universe cares about our weary, fearful, worried hearts. He doesn’t want his Children burdened with that. He’s not a harsh task-master who burdens us with guilt, shame, impossible tasks. That’s all a LIE. God is humble, gentle, good, kind—He wants to bring Rest to your weary, anxious stress out soul.  That’s the heart of God.  You don’t have to live that way. You can live the Unburdened Way.

But I know inside, we get so trained to react to times like these with stress, worry, anxiety, fear—I want to show you from scripture how serious God is about saying “NO—I don’t want you to live stressed, worried, fearful, burdened. Let it go! Jesus says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?… 33 Seek the Kingdom of God[e] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.Matthew 6:25, 33.

Do NOT worry—what about my 401k, retirement, if I’ll have a job next month? It’s a real worry. Yet God says, Do NOT worry–why? God knows you, loves you, and will work it all out for you as You seek him, trust fully in Him. It’s gonna be okay. 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you…. Isaiah 41:10.  Do NOT fear. Over 300 times in scripture God says Do Not Fear. Why? Not because there aren’t coronaviruses, auto accidents, cancers—there are. So how can we Not Fear in that reality? Because God is with you. Jesus overcame death to set you free of even fear of death—so if death can’t hurt you, what can hurt you if God is with you? Nothing! That’s why God says Do Not Fear. And Do Not be Anxious–Don’t tank emotionally and sink into dismay because the world seems to be falling apart. Why? I am with you, I will strengthen you, I will help you says the Lord. 

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7

Do NOT be worried, fearful, anxious or stressed. Why? The Lord is Near. Pray—trust—let his peace guard your burdened heart.  I could go on and on showing you how many times God commands his children—Don’t fear, don’t worry, don’t  anxiously stress out.  I’m in control, and I’m with you, and I will get you through this.  Do you see it? You don’t HAVE TO live this way. It’s not God’s Way.

Okay, great, but God doesn’t seem to fix all the broken chaotic things—stock market’s down and keeps falling, He’s not seeming to fix or heal every disease, virus, marital crisis, wayward son or daughter, I really may lose my job, and then what? Yes—you’re absolutely right. All these things are real.  And Yet—God promises you a new way. A different way to go through all of them.  The Unburdened Way.  So do you want it?

“Come to Me.” 

Jesus says—if you want it “come to me.” This week I started feeling overwhelmed, burdened, stressed, and over the years I’ve learned the first thing I say to myself “I’m not doing it right.”  Why do I say that? Because I’m in the habit of trying to control things I’m not actually able to control—then getting burdened, stressed, anxious—but that’s Not God’s Will. So I’m not doing it right.  I confess it “Lord, I’m not doing this right. Then I Come to Him.  Jesus said Come to me, let me teach you the Unburdened Way. What does it mean to Come to Him?  It means to acknowledge that He is the Sovereign God who IS in Control, and I’m not. 

And that’s the root of the problem.  I want things to go my way, but they don’t.  I want to be fully in control of everything, but I’m not. Why? I’m NOT GOD!  News Flash You’re Not God either—shocker, I know. Why don’t you break the news to anyone you’re watching with—gently, cause it’s gonna shock them—tell them “You’re not God.” Important to remember when life feels out of control—it’s because it is—and You’re Not God. 

So Come to Him—He’s humble, gentle, a teacher who doesn’t force his ways on you, but if you’ll let go of playing God, and come back to trusting God who IS in Control—He will teach you the Unburdened Way. You don’t have to live that way.  Okay, How does that work? I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.

Something Has to Die.

I love Spring.  It’s always the sign of New Life—the colorful flowers start blossoming on the trees, the new growth shoots up from the ground, everywhere there’s newness of life.  But Spring always follows Winter.  Things seem to die in Winter—there’s always this season of death just prior to new life blooming.  God did that on purpose—physical nature is a reminder of the spiritual nature of life.  There are things that need to seasonally die in our lives, for new life to come. Jesus said it this way:  

24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24.

These farmers understood very well, if you try to keep a seed intact, as is—it will rot in time.  But if you bury it in the ground, and let the “seed” die—out of the death of that seed comes a stalk of wheat that will produce many seeds and more life.  But Jesus was not talking about seeds and Wheat. He’s talking about a spiritual principle of life.  When we hold onto control of our lives as is—we just want to keep the seed of life like it is right now—well then nothing new grows, it rots and dies. But when we learn to let go, to let things die that need to die, they produce new life within us—many times better than what we tried to white-knuckle control.

You see this in the stages of life too. When I first got married, I thought I was going to just keep my same schedule, workouts at the same time, mountain biking daily with friends, soccer with the boys, all my hobbies and plans—PLUS Kathy—like adding a bonus room onto your already great house—right!? If you’re married, you’re chuckling, cause you know—if you’re not married, you may be thinking “Exactly.”  But When you get married, but hold onto your old self-centered life, your marriage dies.  It’s the struggle most newly marrieds navigate.  But if you die to self, you let go of that old life—then a new life, a deeper love, a shared life grows.  When you have children, just try to keep your life as it was, I dare you!  We’ve been driving back and forth to Dallas to help my daughter and son-in-law with Sophia, our new grandbaby. It’s just starting to hit them how much their lives are changing. Those little bundles of joy are sleep-killers. [While they destroy life as you knew it—they’re oblivious. . They’re clueless, and just make you smile]. But you try to hold onto life like it was before kids, you lose sanity and family, but die to what was, and you find a new life emerging—love and joy inexpressible.  This is a principle God’s written into humanity.  Old things have to die, for new things to come.

So what needs to die?

AS you’re feeling out of control, stressed, worried, fearful, burdened—something needs to die.  What is it? Maybe it’s your trust in money. Maybe this shows it’s too important. Maybe your plans need to die—I was going to retire, now I can’t. Maybe not, but you can’t control it. So Can you let it go? Maybe it’s frustration over how people are acting. You can’t control them, can you let it go? Maybe it’s protection. You’re fearful and stressed trying to make sure you’re safe, kids are safe. You can be wise, but you can’t control much at all. Can you let that desire die? Whatever is burdening your soul, if it’s not in your control—can you let it go? Can you let it die?

You know the main problem with letting things die? It FEELS like death.  It does, it’s not fun. It probably needs to die because we trust it for security, hope—we trust in IT like a god, but it’s not god. It’s not ultimately trustworthy—we see that in times like this. But to let it go, to let it die, feels like somethings dying inside you.  But when you die to it, you can live with God in Control—where real security, real hope is found. Do you trust that God is good, is in control, and it’s going to be okay?  God really doesn’t want you (his child) living worried, stressed, fearful –what if He really invites you to let go and trust in a way that brings something new–the Unburden Way of Jesus?  Will you let it die—let it go? If you do…

Something New Will Grow as You Trust God.

Some of you are thinking, “Are you saying we just do nothing—when things go wrong—don’t worry be happy, You like some Rastafarian-smoke-some-doobie don’t worry, do nothing. Is that what you’re saying?”  No—I’m not saying that at all.  God wants us to be responsible, for our attitude, and our actions. That’s what you can control, your attitude and actions—the rest—you can’t control even if you try. Yet that’s what often gets us in wad—we worry stress and feel burdened about the things we can’t control. And often that keeps us from controlling the things we can.

So what Can you control? 

Well, Your attitude. You can control your attitude. You alone are responsible for how you frame the circumstances around you and the attitude you choose. There’s a great passage that reminds me of this. In Habakkuk 3.  There’s devastation all around, nothing’s going right, and yet Habakkuk has this same realization:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!  Habakkuk 3:17-18. Notice despite all that’s going wrong Habakkuk still can choose “I will rejoice” “I will be joyful”—in what? Not in the circumstances—they still suck! But when we go to God, trusting his promises in these circumstances, there is a way to find Joy that transcends circumstances. You can choose your attitude.

Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist taken to Auschwitz along with his family. I visited Auschwitz and heard the horror stories of how Nazi guards stripped prisoners of every human dignity. Frankl had his mother, father, sister, then his wife—taken from him, never to come back. When Frankl was finally called in for inquisition, he stood naked in the center of a powerful white light, while men in shiny boots assailed him with questions and accusations—they had taken from him his wife, his family, his writing, his clothes, his wedding ring.  But in that moment he had a profound realization that he had seen in other prisoners—those who still helped others, brought comfort, supported others in the worst of circumstances.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl

You can choose your attitude. Will you believe what God says “Do not worry, do not fear, do not be anxious—trust me, I’m with you, I’m good, I will strengthen you and help you get through this. It will be okay.”  That attitude is a choice to believe and to trust God, or focus on the out-of-control chaos and sink. First, You can control your attitude.

Second, You can control your next action. That’s really about it. You can plan what you’ll do tomorrow, but you can’t control what will happen between now and then that may totally change your plans. Man, are we seeing that right now—right!? Things are changing fast, we can’t control most of it. But you can do the next right thing. God’s given you that control—over the next right action.  So when you’re getting stressed, worried, fearful, anxious—and you will—we all do, God doesn’t get angry at us or condemn us for that, but He does give us control of 2 things—so pray “God help me choose to believe you—to have an attitude that shows I do trust You’re in Control when all else feels out of Control. And God, what can I do next? Maybe it’s just hug your kids, or have a sock war, maybe as you pray God will give an idea of how to save your company—do that. Maybe you’ll get a prompting to ask your online friends how you can pray for them in this stressful time—or maybe it’s to pass out cards around your street or apartments “Hey I’m neighbor and I’m available to help if you need a grocery run or medications (but don’t ask for my toilet paper)” – no don’t include that.  How might we be those who so trust God in this time, people see a love, strength, lack of fear or worry, that allows us to care for others.

So let me put it together for you—when I start feeling burdened, stressed, fearful or worried.

1). I say to myself “You’re not doing it right.”  God wants you to live Unburdened.  “Jesus show me where I’m trying to control things not in my control. Show me where this burdened feeling is coming from. 

2). I have to let it die. I have to let go of playing god—insisting that it go my way—and accept life as it comes to me today, not as I would have it. I tell God, “I stop trusting in my way, I let it go, and

3). I choose to trust God. I acknowledge, “God, you alone are in total control. I’m gonna trust you with this. You’re God, I’m not. Now teach me the Unburdened way of dealing with this new situation.  What attitude should I have,

4). What’s the next right thing I can do?  Here’s where true responsible action comes in.  You don’t know the future, but if you know God—and God promises to be with you, to lead and guide, ask Him what you can do right now, then do the next right thing.  That’s all you have the power to control—what to do NOW. 

5). Let go of the rest.  God I trust you with the rest—all worries of tomorrow, all the unknowns, they are in your hands, you’re working something Good for me even in all this mess and chaos—that’s your promise. So I let go and trust You with the rest.

I’ve been amazed at the joy that returns.  So let’s practice it this week.

Tell God who is there in the room with you—I will not fear, I will not worry—You’re near to us—God of refuge, God of strength.  

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