Self-Control Week: Can You Wait?

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)

Nobody puts the words “self-control” up in neon lights. It’s not something that necessarily makes us fun at parties or especially attractive to the opposite sex. Or does it? What wisdom is going to teach us during this next week is that self-control is a key ingredient to being better at everything in our lives – including living for God.

clock_350Self-control isn’t complicated. It’s just the ability to tell ourselves one word: “no.” It’s the ability to stop ourselves from doing what comes naturally, to slow down our momentum, to shut up, to cool off, to turn down seconds (or thirds). Self-control is the ability to put the brakes on when we’d rather go faster.

Today’s proverb says that without self-control, we’re defenseless against attack. We’re weak. When the heat is on, we can’t take it. Unless we’re stronger than our selves sometimes, we’re not that strong, after all.

Stick around this week and let’s find some self-control together.

Think: What are some of the areas of your life in which you struggle to tell yourself “no”? How can being a Christian help you to exercise better self-control?

Pray: Ask God to help you to have more self-control in your life.

Do: Read Galatians 5:22-23 and notice the best source of self-control for Christians.

Self-Control Week: Venting Anger

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11)

This is such a mechanical-sounding description of controlling our anger. I picture some kind of steampunk contraption or maybe a system on a submarine. The verse suggests that when I feel the pressure of my anger building, I can open the release valve a little, all the way, or maybe even not at all.

clock_350How do I know how far to open the valve? How much anger can I safely express? Paul gives us two clues in Ephesians 4. The first is, “in your anger do not sin.” So I can open the valve far enough to let off a little steam as long as I don’t cross over into being unkind or hurtful or taking revenge, etc.

His second clue: Get rid of the anger before the day is over. I guess that means, in terms of this steam-tube metaphor, that I can’t just open the valve all of the way and spew all over everyone. I’ve got to find a way to reduce the heat, to cool the anger down inside before exploding.

It can feel so good to “give full vent” to our anger, but it’s what fools do. It always hurts, never helps. The person who can control her anger is on the path of wisdom.

Think: What helps you to control your anger, to avoid opening the valve all the way and letting it rip? What makes it harder for you to stay in control?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to give full vent to your anger, but to be wise and keep yourself under control.

Do: Read what else Ephesians 4:26-29 says about controlling our anger.

Self-Control Week: Say No to Love

“He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.” (Proverbs 21:17)

If you read this verse sloppy, you could jump to the wrong conclusion. Does it say that God hates pleasure, wine, and oil? Does being self-controlled mean you should plan on never having a good time or enjoying pleasure? Of course not!

clock_350The self-control question here is, “What will you love?” Wisdom tells us that we’re the ones who decide what to do with our affections. If you fall in love with pleasure, wine, and oil – and don’t pry up that love and point it at something more valuable – you’re going to be broke. Living for pleasure – like living for and loving money – always leads to a dead end.

But enjoying pleasure is a gift from God. He wants us to enjoy life, to enjoy the good things in life, as evidence of his generosity. The problem comes when we worship the gift, when we make pleasure the point, when we love God less than what he gives to us.

Think: Do you think of your love for people and experiences as being something that you can control? Why or why not? What can you do to keep your affections from controlling you?

Pray: Ask God to help you to enjoy the pleasures he provides to you without loving them. Ask him to help you to control your affections and to love him with all of your heart and soul and mind and body.

Do: Make a quick list of 3 simple pleasures that God provides for your to enjoy but not to “love.”

Self-Control Week: Finding Honey

“If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit.” (Proverbs 25:16)

This self-control verse doesn’t quite fit into our modern experience of honey. I “find honey” every day when I open my cupboard and see the little bear-shaped bottle on the shelf. But the nation of Israel at the time this was written was practically “flowing with milk and honey.” You were likely to happen upon it along the path now and then.

clock_350In our day, the land flows instead with candy and soda, milkshakes and chocolate, high fructose corn syrup and red dye number 7. Every kid with a dollar can buy bag of Snickers or a bucket of Mountain Dew.

And I’d guess it takes a lot more of that stuff to make us vomit than it once did.

More than ever now we need to remember the big idea of this verse: We must not let opportunity decide what we will put in our bodies. The mere availability of lots of wonderful and terrible food doesn’t mean we should actually put all of that food in us.

When there’s more than enough to eat – or watch or play or click on – we have to find the wisdom to say how much is enough for us today.

Think: How do you decide when you’ve had enough of something? How could you do better at that?

Pray: Ask God to give you the wisdom and self-control to know when to stop.

Do: Ask a few people you know who seem to have good self-control how they decide when to say enough is enough.

Self-Control Week: Just Push Pause

“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)

One of the greatest conversational skills you can master is a simple one: Pause. It’s the length of the gap between the words that often determines the difference between saying something wise and helpful or spewing something foolish and hurtful.

clock_350Pausing, though, requires self-control. It requires turning off our “assuminators,” the part of us that thinks we already know exactly what the other person means before they finish saying it. It requires listening all of the way through to make sure we’ve got it before we respond. It requires the hardest thing in the world we can do with our lips: Leaving them closed for another few seconds.

James called the pause being quick to listen and slow to speak. For some, it means getting comfortable with moments of awkward silence, being fearless about quiet eye contact, growing to love the ticking of the clock as we search for the words that are true, honorable, and kind.

Think: How hard is it for you to let a moment sit for a second before saying something? Do you wisest friends tend to answer quickly or slowly? How could you slow your responses down a little?

Pray: Ask God to help you to listen before answering and to be wise and helpful with your words.

Do: Read more of what James has to say about our words in James 3:1-12.

Self-Control Week: Angry Friends

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.” (Proverbs 22:24-25)

Have you ever noticed that angry people tend to flock together? According to today’s verse, it’s not necessarily because they just enjoy being angry together. It’s because a lack of self-control over our anger is contagious. A quick temper is like the black plague of emotional responses. It spreads and it kills.

clock_350This verse doesn’t say so, but I think that tends to go with lack of self-control is many areas of life. When the leader in a group shows that it’s “okay” not to control yourself, her friends will often lower their standards for self-control in that area, too.

So friends tend to lean together toward out-of-control anger or fear or sexual expression or gossip or procrastination. Close friends are a powerful influence in our lives.

The solution: If you have a choice, move away from the quick-tempered person and find some friends who care as much as you do about living wisely.

Think: In your group of friends, what is the standard for controlling feelings of anger? How about other areas of self-control? Do you think you tend to influence your friends toward wiser living?

Pray: Ask God to help you to avoid making friends with quick-tempered people and to help you to find friends who influence you to live more wisely.

Do: Notice the people you spend time with this week to see which of them control their anger and which are controlled by it.

Self-Control Week: Letting It Go

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)

How powerful is the period on the end of this sentence? “I forgive you.” Your answer to that question will have buckets-full to do with the quality of your relationships for the rest of your life.

clock_350Someone did wrong to you and it lead to a fight. You both agree they were wrong. They say “sorry.” You say, “It’s okay; I forgive you.” And it’s done forever, right? Well, not always. It takes a lot of self-control to let it stay finished, especially when the next fight comes around.

Today’s passage says love grows out of our ability to “cover over” an offense by letting it stay finished, by practicing powerful forgiveness, by keeping the vault closed.

Relationships break when the period at the end of “I forgive you.” won’t do its job.

Think: Why do you think even good friends sometimes have trouble not bringing up past hurts and sins again and again? Have you ever lost a friend because one or the other of you couldn’t let something go?

Pray: Ask God to help you to promote love in your friendships by covering over offenses with forgiveness and mercy when it is wise to do so.

Do: Pay attention this week for anyone who brings up offenses in a way that damages relationships.