Do you ever wonder whether the crosswalk buttons on traffic lights actually work? You know what I mean. You push the button and wait for the light to change and it doesn’t, so you push it again. And again. And nothing happens. The New York Times reported last October that of 3,250 crosswalk buttons in New York City, only 120 worked. This was due to the modernization of traffic signals and the high cost of removing the old buttons. They just give you the illusion of control.What about door-close buttons on elevators? After the “Americans with Disabilities Act” here in the USA, elevator doors have to stay open for a specified time to give wheel chairs time to enter or exit. The buttons don’t actually do anything until the time is up. But take heart! Door-open buttons still work as long as your elevator stops at its destination.

Ellen J. Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University who has studied the illusion of control, says, “Perceived control is very important. It diminishes stress and promotes well being.” Some have correlated the sense of being out of control with depression and anxiety concluding that placebo buttons have their place.

See the full article here:Pushing That Crosswalk Button May Make You Feel Better, but …

This caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about authority. Since I was given my new title last March, half a dozen people have said, “You don’t have any authority to do your job.” or “That’s a lot of responsibility for somebody with no authority.” Some have suggested changing the title to “international coordinator” to more accurately reflect my low authority. And you better believe I hear about it when I try to use authority that hasn’t been given to me.

In His sovereignty, God gives us each the option to “choose this day whom [we] will serve” (Joshua 24:15). That’s why it’s like pulling teeth sometimes to get ministry proposals and budgets or annual reports turned in on time. It’s also the reason so few really obey the Great Commission. I wonder if God sometimes feels like He’s pushing a placebo button.

Though some of my more Calvinistic friends might disagree, we each do whatever we want to within a range of possibilities. We all have authority over at least ourselves, our time, our possessions and our children until they turn 14.

So where does authority come from? How do we get more of it to do what we need to do?

In the upside down kingdom of heaven it comes from below. It is born out of submission and attentive, obedient service. The greatest among us are like children and the leaders are everybody’s servants.

Middle English: from Old French obeir, from Latin oboedire, from ob– ‘in the direction of’ + audire ‘hear.’All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). That’s the power behind the Great Commission. His name is the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). Why? Because he submitted humbly to God and became an obedient servant unto death. “Therefore God highly exalted him…” (Philippians 2:9). Our job is to “Let this mind be in [us] which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).I picture the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 meeting Jesus at the gate of Capernaum in uniform with his military entourage behind him. He tells Jesus and his ragtag band of followers about his sick servant, but when the Lord offers to go to his house, he says he isn’t worthy. “I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me,” he says in Matthew 8:9.This Roman commander knew how authority worked and he knew that Jesus, under the authority of God Almighty, was in charge of everything else, especially of those who placed themselves under his authority. His faith produced humble submission which resulted in the immediate healing of his servant by the authority of Jesus.


The most powerful man Susanna and I ever met died last Tuesday. It is said that Doug Coe was always two calls from the president. He had countless friends in powerful positions all over the world and not because he was rich or powerful but because he was a good friend. He and “The Fellowship” started prayer groups among government officials and influential members of societies all over the world including the USA National Prayer Breakfast. He told Susanna and me that his calling, like Paul’s, was to preach the gospel “to the gentiles and their kings” (Acts 9:17). He had great influence through anonymous, loving service.

In ACTION we have enormous liberty to do as God is calling us. We are a mission of highly motivated ministers who know what God wants of us and don’t need anyone telling us what to do. This is good. We’re free to serve the Lord. But if we’re not careful, if we don’t voluntarily submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, we become a wandering band of mavericks doing whatever seems right in our own eyes.

Let’s believe Jesus has all authority.
Let’s extend authority to those He has placed over us.
When we do that we’ll have all the authority we need to do what he wants us to.

Your friend,


*All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Thomas and Susanna Smoak served the Lord among the abandoned children of Brazil from 1995 to 2016. They have six children and live in Wheaton, Illinois.