Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chapter 4 - The Safety of Self Control

It's striking how prominent 'self-control' is in the instructions that Paul gives for the various groups in Titus 2. It's there for the older men in verse 2, and for the younger men in verse 6 (as the only thing that's mentioned in their case!). It's there for everyone in verse 12. And it's there for us, as one of the things that older women are to teach younger women, in verse 4. Obviously it's pretty important.

I was glad that this chapter started with a discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in our struggle with self control: "Self-control requires effort. However... we cannot acquire this virtue by our own strength." (p. 65). It's important to realise that, while self control involves hard work, with the help of the Holy Spirit we can change. If you're anything like me, you're probably tempted to think you can't change much about your sinful attitudes and bad habits. There are times when I've struggled with self control and I've wondered if it really was possible for me to JUST window shop, or if I could say no to that second piece of chocolate cake, or if I could get into a new habit of getting up early to read my Bible. But change should be part of the Christian life as God changes us - and he's given us the Holy Spirit (our helper!), to help us do it. What a relief!

'Commanding our feelings'

There's lots to talk about from this chapter, but one part I wanted to highlight was Carolyn Mahaney's thoughts on 'commanding our feelings' (pp. 75-76). Not sure about you, but my reaction to this section was mixed. I wasn't at all convinced by her interpretation of Hannah's emotions (I think there are good reasons why the translators of 1 Sam 1:8 use 'sad' or 'downhearted', not 'bad') and I worry that her reading of this passage could lead some readers to the conclusion that all negative emotions are automatically sinful. Certainly we are always to 'rejoice in the Lord', and I'm happy to agree that this joy involves our emotions, but I don't think joy is the only emotion we ought to experience as Christians. A few more words about the tears and anger and frustration of Jesus would have been helpful here (or perhaps some examples of the Psalmists 'pouring out their hearts' like Hannah, or the words of Jesus about the blessedness of those who mourn, or Paul's words about how we are 'sorrowful yet always rejoicing'...).

That said, I did think that her main point (based on the classic quote from Martin Lloyd-Jones about "talking to yourself" rather than simply "listening to yourself") was a good one - not an automatic cure for deep, clinical depression, but a healthy habit for glorifying God in the midst of the daily ups and downs of emotion.

Room for personal application?

I thought there was a good framework provided in this chapter for thinking through the areas in which many of us need to exercise some self control (although I thought more could have been said about shopping, which I think is a huge self control issue for many women in our culture - and I doubt it's different in America!). It's definitely helpful to have specific areas highlighted so we can be specific in the application of God's word in our own lives.

At times though, I felt that not enough room was left for women to make decisions based on their own family's particular needs. For example, I was disappointed at how emphatically the Martha Peace quote said getting to bed early was the ONLY godly option here (p. 72)! Maybe I'm just being defensive but this has not been my experience. Dave and I decided when we got married that we would always go to bed at the same time. Not only that, but there have been times in our marriage where the most helpful thing I could do for my family was to stay up and talk to Dave at the end of his day. I wasn't doing this because I was being lazy or selfish (although there are plenty of other times I have displayed these qualities!). I did this so that I could listen to him 'debrief' after a difficult meeting or pastoral call etc, and also share with him about my day with the kids so we can parent effectively together. I did it because he wanted me to and it was more important to him that I could help him in that way, than be up before him making a hot breakfast!!

I suspect there were a few other examples where the reading of Scripture may not have been entirely convincing or the application may have been too inflexibly drawn, but I won't go into all of them here. Let me instead encourage you though to a) think seriously about any self control issues that you may have, and b) work out the best way you can address these issues in YOUR particular situation.

Pick an area

I thought Carolyn Mahaney's suggestion to pick one or two areas for application was a good one. I've decided to focus on sleep, and on the 'early to bed' end of the equation. (I've been working recently on the 'early to rise' end of things, but I suspect that I'm just not getting enough sleep now. We need to go to bed a little earlier on the nights Dave doesn't have late evening commitments - so I'm going to sit down and work out a plan with him for our week - and then pray for the self control to stick to it!)

What about you? Have you chosen an area? Do you want to share it with us? And if you want some more 'how to' type suggestions for battling with self control, you might find this post, by my fellow EQUIP book club contributor Jean, and this post from Pulpit Magazine, helpful reads.

Pic is from stockxchng.


Emma P said...

Thanks Nicole for your helpful insights on this chapter. I'm not naturally very analytical, so I find it helpful to read your critique of Mahaney's book.

Like you, I've been working on a couple of specific self-control issues in my life.

Mostly, I've been focussing on my thought life and on 'taking every thought captive to obey Christ'. I'm trying to cast out the untrue thoughts that pop into my mind and to remember Phil 4:8 'whatever is true,whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things".

It's very tiring to do this and it's made me realize just how many false thoughts pass through my mind and thus lead to untrue feelings like false guilt,false despair or false pride.

Memorising scripture is such a helpful way to counter the false thinking, so this is something I really want to work on.

Rachael said...

I would like to say thank-you, Nicole, for encouraging us to be serious about applying this.

I was particularly challenged by her comment that we need to acknowledge this fact, 'we like to sin' and could think of ways that I struggle with restraint because I like to do this or that. Very illuminating and helpful.

Like you, I'm also working on ‘sleep’, but on the 'afternoon nap' front. An afternoon nap helps me to be more godly and loving with my family and to rise early enough to spend time reading God's word and praying in the morning. And to have a good afternoon nap, I have to be self-controlled about blogging. Previously, I've set myself a time limit but I'm now going to think through what I can expect to get done (how much to try to write, how much to read and how much commenting to do, and how to just walk away when the modem drops out) in that time so that I stop trying to push the boundaries each day.

Jean said...

Hi Nic! Thanks for yet another thoughtful post - I'm really enjoying this series, and it's helped me to think through the book.

Look out for my post on in all honesty tomorrow - it discusses a lot of the themes you mentioned, on sadness and joy. Funny when you see your own thoughts in print from someone else!

On the bed issue, I couldn't agree more. I have a very godly friend who, despite 10 years of trying to match her night-owl tendencies to her husband's morning-bird tendencies, has decided to spend the precious hour after he goes to bed, instead of lying awake frustrated, reading the Bible and Christian books, listening to talks, and praying. It's been a great move for them. A reminder that godliness and self-control looks different for each of us.

Rachael, your description of blogging and naps sounds so much like me, it's amazing! My early afternoons are exactly as you describe. I've learnt to leave the computer, go to bed and nap most days. But I have to keep myself at it.

As for self-control, I'm the kind of person, by nature, who likes complicated systems of rules, but who's discovered that rules often lead to failure and discouragement. I find self-control is something which grows slowly, maybe with a rule or two, but I've learned to be patient with myself as I learn self-control in a new area. I would love to change faster! But better slow, lasting change then the kind which comes all at once, then implodes. What do other people think?

And Nic, you might need to check the links: some aren't working.

Catherine said...

I will just join in and say "me too!" to the above comments (especially with respect to early mornings/naps/blogging).

Having developed an early morning habit since I first read the book just over a year ago, I have realised that I end up running on five or six hours sleep a night. This is (regularly) disastrous.

Getting to bed early doesn't happen because it is important to be with my husband or to welcome others into our home. Something has to be different, but I feel like it is bigger than a self control issue at times.

I do agree that perhaps Carolyn Mahaney could be a bit more critical of the "shopping" culture. Shopping seems to be immune from her analysis.

Thanks Nic, for the reminder to go back and think about self control again.

Jean said...

Ditto re shopping. I was just reflecting on this today: it's the area I've struggled most for self-control, but she doesn't mention it. I agree with much of what she said re eating and sleeping, but comments on shopping would have been helpful.

Could I encourage people to listen to the talk on self-control this chapter is based on? I heard it this morning, and it's great. Sometimes I find it easier to hear things than to read things.

Jean said...

And again ... listened to the second part of the talk this morning, and she does mention shopping briefly. She covers the same areas as the chapter, but adds three issues of behaviour: priorities, time, and finances.

Nicole said...

Jean's post on self control is on her site now... and it's worth a read.

Sharon said...

This chapter was great!

I've been working on self-control over my temper and my tendency to just shout rather than deal with someting. Yes, it's not pretty to admit, but I really need to work on this in my life. I see my own behaviours being echoed in my children's lives when they whinge and complain, or worse. So for the past fortnight, together with my kids, I've been working to remember (not just memorise as Rachael mentioned but to constantly bring to mind) Phil 2:14-16a. This passage speaks of "doing everything without complaining or arguing" and I've been thinking about how often I grumble in my own head or get angry with others because they don't do what I say when I should have acted faster to prevent the problem arising in the first place. I really needed to exercise self-control in this area and I'm getting there slowly, with the blessed help of the Holy Spirit! The later parts of this passage give the reason for not complaining as so that we can be blameless lights which guide others to eternal life through Christ, and this fits closely with the reason for Paul's instructions to Titus for this passage as well.

I recently found the quote below, which is a great encouragement to me in all matters of the Christian Life but especially with the areas with which I do struggle, such as self-control. I hope it encourages someone else as well.

By Thomas Gaudallet, from his 1818 book "Discourses on Various Points of Christian Faith and Practice":

"But the Christian—for what does he toil? For
what does he take upon him the yoke of his
Divine Master ? For what does he practise a self-
denial, which, it is not to be denied, is, at first,
irksome to the native propensities of his heart,
but which the grace of God renders more and
more easy, and even delightful, and which is often
actually less than that of the worldling himself? For
what does the disciple of Christ bear this yoke ?
For an inheritance that is " incorruptible, undefiled,
and that fadeth not away;" for an admittance
into the mansions of everlasting rest; for an
imperishable treasure; for unalloyed pleasures;
for an endless state of being, in which he will
mingle with the spirits of the just made perfect,
in which he will be admitted to the presence of
God—to the ineffable manifestations of his glory —
to the sublime delights of his worship—to the
solution of the mysteries of his providence—and,
in fine, to an unceasing progress in knowledge,
in holiness, and in happiness. What are the
petty cares and anxieties, or even the deepest
sorrows of life, when compared with this weight of