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.