Congressman Joe Wilson calls the president a liar.
Tennis pro Serena Williams threatens a line judge.
Pop star Kanye West steals another artist’s moment in the spotlight.
Self-control seems increasingly scarce, even among people smart enough, athletic enough and talented enough to rise to the top of their professions.
But let’s not pick such low-hanging fruit today. Congress, professional sports and pop music are hardly bastions of integrity, right?
It’s just that the headlines about these infamous outbursts got me thinking about our own tendencies to react selfishly or harshly to life’s unwanted surprises. Whether it’s private or public, self-centeredness is still, well, self-centeredness.
And self-centeredness is human nature. We’re born that way.
Christians are blessed with the means of self-control – a new nature, the very presence of God within us.
But we’re still given the choice to live with temperance or tantrums. So we battle daily with this tug between indulging ourselves, or pleasing God.
I was reading in Proverbs the other day and winced a bit when I read this truth: “Whoever has no rule over his spirit, is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28 – NKJV).
In ancient times, an unwalled city courted extinction. An attack of any magnitude, from any direction, would bring demise.
And so it is with our hearts: Unless they’re guarded, walled, constantly strengthened, we’re easily overrun with the slightest inclination to anger, pride, selfishness, temptation.
The Bible is telling us that it is not enough to simply know it’s wrong to act like Wilson, Williams or West. It warns us that we are likely to do so – privately, publicly, at some level – unless preventive measures are taken.
A good friend of mine is slowly, over many years, winning a war with anger.
Years ago, it took a very small dose of bad news to set him into a rage. His uncontrolled anger broke apart his family, cost him his job and robbed him of happiness, because he was perpetually regretful.
Then he became a Christian. He began to understand that life is not all about him and his happiness, but about God and God’s glory. He believes God desires what is best for him, and will allow even unwanted things to happen in order to shape his character.
In other words, faith and truth are more and more the default settings of his spirit.
Yes, my friend is still prone to anger. But he refuses to believe the lie that he is stuck there. He’s building a defensive wall of faith in God, belief in God’s truth, and obedience to that truth – a formidable protection.
Perhaps for you, self-control brings to mind another struggle. If anger is not your enemy, maybe it’s overeating, apathy, sexual sin, pride. Any time we cater to self and selfish desires rather than God and his desires, we’re lacking self-control.
Our rescue is not so much in focusing on the particular weakness, but finding strength in God, growing in our understanding of His word, and filling our minds and activities with the things that please him.
Colossians 3 tells us this: “… let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts… and always be thankful… Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives… and whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”
It seems the secret to self-control lies in thinking far less about ourselves.