Thank God that you control less than you think.
More than a few Bible verses urge anyone who wants to live a godly life to practice self control. It is listed as one of the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22. Married couples must practice it (1 Corinthians 7:5), so must spiritual leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:2), and so must older men, older women, younger men, and, well, everyone (Titus 2). The disciple Peter knows the challenge of wrestling the stubborn bull of self control (2 Peter 1:6).
We recoil at the condemning truth in the first chapters of the Bible that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). And the wisest man in the world taught us, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). Much of the drama and danger in Jesus’ parables speaks about those swept away from God by the hidden current of their inner desires. And what about your own friends and family constantly battling addiction?
And then there’s you. You must control yourself because you are your own worst enemy. You better believe this.
The ease and enjoyment of blaming your problems on everyone else and everything else is the opposite of self control. It is trying to control your circumstances. Trying to control the people around you. This behavior reveals two false beliefs—two lies. First, that you should be in charge. Second, that you are in charge.
In our blind pride we love thinking that if we could just control everyone and everything around us, we’d be happy forever. That’s pure ego, and you know what E-G-O stands for? Edging God Out.
In a study of young men ages 19 to 29 years old, researchers found that these guys are three times less likely than young women of the same age to wear seat belts when driving a vehicle. Here’s something astonishing: before they reach the age of 19, these same guys are more likely to wear their seat belts than teenage girls. How do you explain that? Simple. Once they reach the age of owning and driving a vehicle, they develop a greater sense of control and power. Invisible machismo. “I’m in control now.”
Tell that to the mother whose son, driving home from college and not wearing his seatbelt, was killed by a drunk driver. Get real. It’s humanly impossible to control others, their choices, and the circumstances around us. Even weather forecasters don’t create or control weather, but react to weather patterns already existing “upstream.”
So, stop trying to control everything and everyone else, and focus on yourself. That’s one of the most helpful pieces of advice you can give to someone who is at the mercy of pain, or company cutbacks, or consumer trends, or the poor decisions of others. Stop trying to control what you can’t control, and control what you can. Control yourself. Control your response to circumstances. Control your hope in the future. Control your words, your thoughts, your own actions.
Control your own seat belt. You may not be able to control others’ bad driving choices. You may not be able to control the forceful jolt of your own body in a collision. That’s what your seat belt is for. Wear it. All the time.
See how your best control mechanism comes from the outside, not the inside? And that control mechanism is Jesus. He is your seat belt.
He controls not just circumstances around you. But you. After rejoicing that God has given believers the gift of self control, the apostle Paul says this, “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8). It was Nero and his anti-Christian bullying who arrested Paul and chained him in a cold, damp prison cell.
But, no, Paul is not Nero’s prisoner. He is the Lord’s prisoner! Nero is not in control here. The prison cell and all of Paul’s other circumstances are not in control. Paul himself is not in control. The Lord Jesus Christ has control. The Lord Jesus Christ has chained Paul to the grace and peace of God and will not let him escape. The Lord Jesus Christ has captured this man who formerly captured Christians, and Paul never tires of it.
Don’t be ashamed when you lose control of yourself; Jesus’ forgiveness controls the curse of sin and has killed it on the cross. Sin cannot shame you! Don’t be afraid when you can’t control your circumstances; Jesus’ peace gives to you what all the circumstances in the world cannot give.
Be amazed, every day, that Jesus has captured your heart, and appreciate when he kidnaps your circumstances so that you learn not to rely on them but on him. Gladly serve him as his eager prisoner.