Those who have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” (my favorite movie) know that George Bailey believed his life was worthless because he had not achieved his dreams and done anything big. His guardian angel, with God’s help, gave George a valuable gift: to see what life would have been like for those around him had he never been born.
At the end of the movie, after realizing how wonderful a life he had lived and what a difference he had made in the lives of others, George pleads with his guardian angel, and God, through tears of desperation: “Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence! Get me back. Get me back. I don’t care what happens to me. Get me back to my wife and kids. Help me, Clarence, please! Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again. Please, God, let me live again.”
George experienced true freedom that day. It was the day he died to himself.
Here is an excerpt from my book, “Calming the Storm Within,” which relates to this idea:
Men are notorious for wanting the TV remote control, you know, “the clicker.” We want control. We feel important when we have control. We can skip commercials. We can change channels in the middle of a show just to see what else is on … or just to annoy our wives. It’s good to be king!
Wanting control is very normal. Control is one way we try to create our own security. This desire for control is not a new phenomenon. Citizens in Old Testament days built walls around their cities thinking this would provide security. President Reagan during the Cold War introduced a very controversial idea that was labeled “Star Wars.” It was his strategic defense initiative that would protect America from enemy missiles. They would be shot down in space before they hit American soil. Again, creating security.
Our country still builds up our military defenses. Some people live in gated communities or with alarms on their doors and windows. Many build up their retirement accounts. All are with the intent of taking control of security.
Before you go Rambo on me, I am not saying all this is bad. However, if you are like me, you may tend to take this control thing a bit overboard, which causes all sorts of stress. To take it a step further, when we try to control things, most times, if not all, we are doing so from a position of fear. Ultimately, we are saying that we need to control it because we are afraid that no one else, not even God, can help us. We think this way because we are focused on our lives, and therein lies the problem … our “alive” lives. Galatians 2:20a tells us this:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
To give up our desire to control, we must become dead to ourselves. A dead man can’t worry or be anxious. I have observed this in people I know who have faced major difficulties in their lives. Some of them acted as if their lives were over. They fretted and complained about the horrible hand that was dealt them. They were hyper-focused on what was happening TO them, which kept them stuck in the muck and mire.
On the other hand, I’ve observed others who seemed to be blessed in the midst of their difficult circumstances and in many cases, their tough situations proved to be the catalyst for something great in their lives. The one thing in common with each of the people in this group was that, at some point along the way, their thinking changed. They shifted from thoughts of “Why is this happening TO me?” to “What is God doing FOR me?” They each recognized that God was working on their behalf, even though in the natural it didn’t seem like it at all. They became dead to themselves in their circumstances. Some of these, probably the more spiritually mature, went to this place quickly in the midst of their trial. Others may have taken a bit longer. But, they each got there and God was able to turn their lemons into lemonade.
A perfect example of this occurred in my life during the 18 months beginning in April 2002. I was happily employed at a wonderful company in my area. The family that owned the business had sold it to a publicly traded company three years prior and our parent company had just brought in a new president to run our division. He and I hit it off right away and he asked me to be his vice president of sales. I told him I wasn’t interested because I had a pretty good thing going with my sales position and was quite content.
After several months of arm-twisting, I finally relented and took the VP position. Soon thereafter, I realized that I was going to be in for a long haul. My boss turned out to be the most tyrannical leader I have ever seen. It appeared that he believed in the adage that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” It became the most unhealthy work environment I could ever imagine.
For a year and a half, I found myself driving to the office in the morning with this gnawing pit in my stomach, just dreading to walk through the door of my office. I wondered what I was doing. I felt as if I was selling my soul for a paycheck. I was tired, stressed, and at times, very irritable. I oftentimes felt as if a Mack truck had just hit me. I was like a zombie.
My work situation spilled over into the other areas of my life. My wife and children desperately wanted me to get a new job so that their “normal” husband and daddy could come back. I was miserable and I was making those around me miserable as well. I look back on this and I can honestly say this was the most horrific time in my professional career. At the time, it was truly excruciating.
As you can see, I handled that situation very poorly. I chose to be angry when my boss “spit on me.” I was clearly focused on my pain rather than on God. Sure, I was praying. Yes, I grew closer to the Lord during this season. However, had I truly been focused on my Father and had true faith in Him, I would have behaved much differently. I would have been having a conversation with God something like this: “Lord, thank you for this situation you have placed me in. I know you have me here for a reason. What are you trying to teach me? Please show me Lord and help me to respond appropriately.” And I certainly would have had more peace.
Though this was one of the most painful periods in my life and though I didn’t handle it very well, I can now tell you that it was also one of the greatest moments in my life and is something for which I am incredibly thankful. Not only did God teach me in that season, but these circumstances led me to write my first book, “Bleedership: Biblical First-Aid for Leaders” in which I contrast the leadership style of my boss with that of some of the Bible’s greatest leaders. Writing that book changed the entire trajectory of my life. I currently feel like the most blessed person on the earth that I get to do what I do. And none of it would have been possible had it not been for the “terrible” experience I had to go through.
I can’t tell you when it happened for me, but there was a point in time in which I went from hating my situation at work to actually being thankful for it. In other words, I eventually made the shift from complaining about what was happening TO me to praising God for what He was doing FOR me. In this case, I died to myself and I began to focus on Jesus.
So that is my prayer for me (and you) for 2016: that I (and you) would be dead to myself (yourself). Because when we become dead to ourselves, we give up our desire to control and to become anxious. This helps us to become better spouses, parents, leaders and followers of Jesus. When we are dead to ourselves, we become less, which opens the door for us to have more of God as was John the Baptist’s desire.
“He must become greater; I must become less.” – John the Baptist in John 3:30
- Taking control is not all bad but can be taken overboard, especially if it is rooted in fear. Seriously consider what things you do to take control. What is the underlying reason for desiring control? (Is it because you think that no one else, even God, can do it but you?)
- It is suggested that we shift our self-talk during difficult times from “Why is this happening to me?” to “What is God doing for me?” If you were able to make this shift, what difference do you think it would make in the level of peace in your life?
- Read Romans 8:28. If you truly lived as if you believed this, what would that do to your level of peace? What is keeping you from living in this manner?
Jim Lange is the president of Five Feet Twenty and the author of “Calming the Storm Within: How to Find Peace in this Chaotic World” from which this article is an excerpt. He attends Crossroads Community Church in Ottawa Lake, Michigan.1