You Can’t Control People

Many times over the years I have been surprised by people, including being let down by them. People can be fickle and selfish and change their minds about things they seemed quite committed to. 

I have had to deal with situations where people wanted to abandon their marriage, abandon their ministry, get out of home, quit their career or react to one thing or another.

I have had to realise in all of these experiences, that I can’t control people. 

I can appeal to them, but usually by the time I’m trying to do that it’s too late. They have already bought into the ideas that have been sold to them.

At times I’ve given people advice that seems to come from God. I could have wished to have such advice myself in difficult situations. But when I check up on the people later I find they have completely ignored my advice and tangled themselves in the very things I want to protect them from.

In church, business, family, community and friendships there can be some nasty surprises when someone suddenly turns on you. No matter how much that might hurt there is usually nothing you can do. There’s nothing you can do because, try as you might, you can’t control people.

What’s more, you aren’t supposed to control people. God gave each of us a free will and it’s not supposed to be taken from us by others.

People will surprise you, because you can’t control them or their decisions. But here’s the good news: You can control how you react to them.

You don’t have to be angry and bitter because of the choices others make. Life is built on choice, not chance. You will be surprised and caught off guard at times by people who will head off on some tangent or suddenly get excited about some direction that cuts across what you expected.

Just as they are allowed to make their choices, you have the power of choice. You can choose to let go and trust them to God. You can choose to forgive them for hurting you and letting you down. You can choose to trust God and God’s promise that all things work out for good.

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 

So, if you are struggling with your feelings about how someone has treated you, or the choices they’ve made, or the way they messed up your plans, stop trying to control them. Stop being angry at them or trying to punish them for not fitting in with your wishes.

Stop trying to control them, and start controlling your reactions. 

Give your disappointment and frustration to God. Give your fears for them to God. Give your ruined dreams to God.

Oh, and stop trying to control God too. He is even harder to control than the people in your life. 

The one you are supposed to control is yourself, making wise choices about a godly response and the response of faith.

I’m not just spouting off a nice spiritual idea. I’ve had to live this many times in my life. I’ve had to forgive a bunch of people through the years. People have surprised me and let me down over the decades. I don’t like it and I don’t want it if I can avoid it, but I can’t control them, and I know that. So I turn to controlling myself and my responses. I choose to find and give away God’s grace, as best I can. I’m no saint, but I trust I’m not a fool either. If it’s outside my control I’m not going to destroy myself trying to control it.

I trust you are smart enough to work that one out too.

Now here’s the personal challenge. We are supposed to have self-control.

“God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2Timothy 1:7

“Add to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness.” 2Peter 1:6

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no Law.” Galatians 5:22,23

When we want to control others it is often because we feel put out by what they are doing. It may well be that they have offended us or are frustrating our plans.

We can’t control others, so we must control ourselves, and our reactions, such as our hurt feelings, sense of offence, frustration and anger.

We are at our best when we can control our own responses, and don’t need to control others. It is wonderful to be able to let others go, because we don’t feel there is a score to even or an issue to push or a response that we want to demand from them.

Self-control is a quality that sets us apart from many others.

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that has self-control than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

So, are you facing a bunch of offences from people you wish would change? Do you struggle with impulses to try to get people to change to suit you? Are you offended by people who let you down, ignore you or are just clueless? Do you wish you could make people do things that will work out better all round?

Your challenge is not to control them, but to control yourself. In fact, not to control yourself by a strong will, but to be in control of yourself because you have died to your selfish impulses and chosen to trust God despite the things others do.

And next time you react to others, or feel hurt by them, or wish they were different, look into yourself and find God’s grace for you, so you can give it to those others. And always keep in mind that You Can’t Control People (just yourself).

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