Trent Shelton, former NFL wide receiver turned inspirational speaker, said, “Control what you can. Pray about what you can’t.” I’m not sure we ought to say that is Biblical advice, for the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, “Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (English Standard Version “give thanks in all circumstances”). So, while we should always pray about what we can’t control, we should also pray and give thanks to God when we are “in control” – i.e., in every circumstance! But, then again, are we really ever in total control? The notion we are in complete control is in fact a misguided and dangerous exercise in self-delusion. God’s book urges us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). Again, addressing people who were making make plans and predictions concerning where they would go, how long they would stay, what they would do, and how much profit they would make in a year, James 4:14-15 warns how little control we ultimately have – “whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” Really now, are you in control?
Those in touch with the reality of the human situation know these Scriptures “tell it like it is.” There are always forces beyond our control affecting our lives. You can plan a picnic a month ahead in the summer- time, but you can’t control whether a thunderstorm will rain on it. You can step into the shower in a hurry to get ready for work, but an unplanned “slip” on a wet floor may lead to serious injury or worse. You can head out onto the highway for a quick run to Walmart or to “eat out” in another city – and a drunk or sleepy or distracted driver may change not only your day but the rest of your life. And if you get to the restaurant, an unseen microbe in your salad or in the meat dish you order may bring a very unplanned and unwanted case of “food poisoning.” And I almost forgot – there can be pandemics where an itty bitty, microscopic-sized thing called “Coronavirus-19” manages to escape from some place in China and jump across oceans and continents until its presence has affected practically every person in every corner of the planet! Add to that a political and social climate polluted with malice, unrest, angry and sometimes irresponsible rhetoric and you have all the ingredients for widespread uncertainty and a high level of anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
So what can we do? I don’t want to oversimplify, but remember the quote from Shelton – “Control what you can. Pray about what you can’t.” That may sound kind of “preachy” and like a religious cliche. It is what we expect preachers to say, but preachers didn’t make it up. The word from God is that prayer can bring the power of God into our lives! Charles Hodge wrote, “I don’t believe in prayer, I believe in God: therefore, I pray” . . . Prayer is power because God is God. Prayer works because God works!” (The Voice of Faith: Resource Publications, 1966, p 11) Prayer may or may not alter what is going on around you. And praying may not give you the complete control you long to have in the middle of a pandemic and rabidly partisan political season. But through prayer God can alter what goes on inside us as we submit our lives to Him in trust. Prayer helps us remember God is always in control. So pray – and do it without ceasing.