Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Exercise Self-Control

"[Sin's] desire is for you, but you must [rule over] it." Genesis 4:7
At the very outset of Scripture, we have the very first command to exercise self-control. (Well, perhaps the second, considering the first would have applied to Adam exercising self-control by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.) We are to relinquish control of every other facet of life into the hands of God, because there is nothing we can do to control any of them—regardless of how manipulative and controlling we try to be. Jesus illustrates this point for us even further, reminding us that the only thing we need to exercise control over is self.
"For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34
When we are in dire situations in life, we worry about them as if our worrying can somehow change a single thing, and we try to control those situations, even though we know full well that they are completely and utterly out of our control. This is the precise point Jesus is trying to make when He says, "Which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?" (v. 27). When you are without a job and money is scarce and you are wondering how your bills will be paid or where your next meal is going to come from, only God has any control over the circumstances of the situation. You can worry all you want, but no amount of worry is going to help you. Yes, there are things you can do, such as trying to find work—any work, but whether or not anything comes from your looking for work is also in God's control. You cannot control tomorrow, so live in the present moment for today.

The only thing you need to exercise control over is yourself. "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls" (Prov. 25:28). "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts" (Rom. 6:12). "I [discipline] my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27). "Do not give the devil an opportunity" (Eph. 4:27). "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (Jam. 4:7b). "As long as you practice these things, you will never stumble" (2 Pet. 1:10b). "Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers" (1 Pet. 4:7). If we say that God is sovereign over all things, and if we truly believe it in our hearts, then let us live it out by faith. If we say that God is sovereign over all things but live in constant worry, trying to control every circumstance and every situation that comes our way in life, then we are merely living in hypocrisy. Our actions state loud and clear that we do not believe God is sovereign over all things. By our actions, we are declaring God to be a liar. Abraham was counted righteous because he believed God. Faith in action perfects our faith. God has said that He is sovereign, and He has demonstrated it repeatedly throughout Scripture, as well as historically in the lives of many Christians we can read about today. So let us prove our faith by our faith in action, living humbly and submissively to the Lord's control.

This is not an easy task, and I do not pretend that it is. I struggle with this at times, too. That is why we need to humble ourselves and submit ourselves to God's sovereignty. Regardless of the outcome, we need to place ourselves and everything we are worried about or trying to control in His hands. If a family member is dying, there is nothing we can do about it. No amount of worrying will change their situation. It is out of our control. But it is not out of God's control. We only need to control ourselves and leave everything else in God's hands. God has given us prayer for a reason. Let us use it in Jesus' name, asking for the Father's will to be done in every circumstance. We do what we are able to do, and through prayer we leave the rest up to God.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23