Day 35: Self-Control
A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
In the 1970s, Stanford psychologists conducted the now-famous “Marshmallow Test.” They handed each child a marshmallow and instructed them, “You can eat this marshmallow whenever you want, but if you wait fifteen minutes without eating it we’ll give you another one.” When the researchers left the room, some of the children gobbled up their marshmallow immediately while others exercised self-control (though under visible duress). The researchers then tracked the progress of these children over the next several decades and found that the second group—the ones who waited—far excelled the first in life skills: They achieved higher grades, maintained better physical health, and were more likely to be happy in life. The driving factor in their success was self-control. Long before Stanford, however, Paul cited self-control as a qualification for spiritual leadership (Titus 1:8) and godly maturity (2:2, 5). He also gave only one instruction for training young men: “Urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6).
Dads, do not be ruled by unruly heart desires . . . .
Learn to control your temper and your tongue, your ambition and your avarice, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). When your heart worships any other god, you will live your life in subjection to that god: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28)—unprotected from predators and enemies. Without self-control, you cannot lead your family well. Self-control undergirds godly character and establishes a well-ordered life. Sadly, however, many men are ineffective in the church and home because they are enslaved to other gods. As D. L. Moody said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with one man totally sold out to him.”
So what if you live on impulse—dominated by one idolatrous desire after the next? Then first, remember Paul’s instruction to fill your heart with the glories of the gospel. Jesus paid the price for sin, so that you could die to self: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (2:11-12). The gospel trains you to say, “No,” to sin and, “Yes,” to Christ. Secondly, believe that change can happen, for Paul would not exhort you to do the impossible. The fruit of self-control in a believer’s life will surely grow in the soil of the gospel (Gal. 5:22-23). Third, seek help and encouragement from older men (see Titus 2:7-8). Find solidarity in the brotherhood of Christ and look for faithful examples to follow. If your walls are broken down, find a godly man to help you rebuild.
Then dads, teach your children self-control. I often ask my boys: “What is patience?” They answer automatically, “To wait for something good.” Yet when I ask them, “Would you rather have $100 now or $25,000 ten years from now?” they always choose the $100 now. Patience is easy to learn in theory, but hard to practice in reality (especially for children). On long road trips, they frequently ask: “Are we there yet?” and they become giddy with excitement the moment Christmas presents appear beneath the tree. Dads, teach your children self-control by using delayed gratification. Challenge them to save up money for a toy they really want or to hold off dessert until they finish eating vegetables. Teach them to wait for what is good.
Also train your children by modeling patience in the way you speak to them. Instead of reacting rashly, “the heart of the righteous ponders how to answer” (Prov. 15:28a). Think first before you speak, for “whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (21:23). Imagine you are the king of a medieval castle. If a nobleman, a knight, or a traveling minstrel walk into your castle, you have the right to speak as royalty. But if you are merely the king’s herald, you must await the king’s decree. Your speech reflects who reigns as sovereign in your life. If you are living for the kingdom of self, you will quickly speak your mind. Yet if you are living for the kingdom of God, you will pause and reflect: “What speech would best represent my King? How would he want me to address my fellow subjects? What kind of communication would honor my spouse? How should I speak to my children even when they push my buttons?” The kingly authority in your life determines the nature of your speech. The war of words is a war of sovereignty—a war of worship in your heart. Are you the king or simply the herald of the King?
Finally dads, teach your children how to wait on God. My son once bemoaned how he felt like Abraham and my wife took the bait, asking, “Why’s that?”
He then dramatically replied, “Because I’ve had to wait so long for you to keep your promise.”
My wife wisely responded, “Yes, but remember how God kept his promise to Abraham.”
To which my son countered with rock-solid theology: “That’s true, mommy, but you’re not God.” Dads, always remember that you’re not God and only have the authority to speak when you speak on God’s behalf. Therefore, direct your children to “wait for the LORD, and he will deliver [them]” (Prov. 20:22b). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Teach me to be self-controlled in my speech and in my actions as the spiritual leader in the home. Grant me wisdom to train my children in patience and self-control. Then shape their hearts to seek first your kingdom and not their own desires. In your Son’s name, Amen.
LifeWork: Write down one way you will apply today’s Proverb.
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