I learned something about deepening self-control through a narrative presented in Luke where Martha invited Jesus and his disciples into her home for a meal. Martha hoped to have her sister Mary’s help, but instead Mary sat and learned at the feet of Jesus. Martha complained, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Tell her to help me!” Although the New Testament reveals other good attributes, from the above meal incident, Martha’s been labeled a whiner.
One scholar deemed Martha’s state of mind as a “temporary petulance.” I think that defines a lot of what Christian’s struggle with in the area of self control. The word petulance describes one who is crabby, peevish, grumpy, irritable, or has a bad temper.
The Christian who has mastered “self control” has acquired both power and skills from the Holy Spirit to limit their thoughts, actions, and reactions. If we curb harmful thoughts then we keep negativism from increasing in our own mind or elsewhere. Let’s review the fruit of the Spirit and the privileged gifts: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Galatians 5:22).
A follower of Christ under the control of the Holy Spirit has help in exercising authority over self. The fruit of the Holy Spirit remains opposite of the mean spirited spewings and actions that often make headline news. Merciful God grants his followers power to overcome bad habits and sin, and we no longer have to rely on human-spirit will power to overcome sins that easily get us off track.
I’ve mulled over that phrase “temporary petulance,” and I think it fits so many of the snits we humans have. When things go our way, we go through a day in relative calm. Why not? Life’s good. No one crosses, insults, or toys with our emotions. Then spouses, coworkers, or even strangers rub us the wrong way, and we get irritated.
Here’s an example of an aggravation that could plunge us into a “temporary petulance.” I had walked through a bank door, when I noticed an older man right behind me, so I held the door open for him. He marched past me and stood closest to the tellers. I stood back in wonder.
The teller asked, “Who’s next?” He never looked back, but moved up to the counter. Right then, I had a choice to make – to stew over having to wait or to ask a blessing on his day. I reasoned, how could I possibly know what was going on his life that made him neglect common courtesy? I didn’t know anything about him, so I excused him and backed it up with a prayer for his day.
I’m not telling you that to pat myself on the back. I’m telling you that to give God’s Holy Spirit a great big pat on the back. Blessing and praying for someone causing me a lengthy wait is not what I used to do. I used to fume a bit. Maybe tell someone else about his lack of manners. And the incident might have spoiled – because I allowed it to – half of my day.
You’ve had a thousand incidents of intended or unintended rudeness happen to you, too. Minor irritants can work us up into a small squall. You’ve seen how those dirt devils pop up on the landscape. They twirl in a dither, pick up bits of debris, and sling them everywhere.
Of course when everything goes our way, it’s easy to not get ruffled. But when trouble crimps the day, even then, that’s when we can ably control our thoughts, actions and reactions because we have the fruit of the Holy Spirit, faithfully remaking us.
This weekend, we celebrate Independence Day. We’ll salute our flag, and acknowledge the freedoms our country affords each of us. Why not take a few minutes to also re-pledge allegiance to Holy God, asking him to take away any rebellious spirit that wants to live independent of him. And ask for the determination to yield to his pure Spirit, who can teach and mold us to be better citizens in this beautiful land of the free and home of the brave.