Self-Control Without Self

I realised something recently that sounds like a contradiction. Imagine “self-control” without any “self” involved! Is such a thing really possible?

Self-control is a major challenge for people. Many struggle for the whole life to rein in their words, addictions, urges, reactions and so on. Most resolutions that people make are probably focused on gaining some new level of control over their actions, thoughts, words, spending, and so on. Self-control is a major component of personal development and making progress in life.

I Will Succeed

We admire people with strong wills, who can overcome obstacles and achieve things that others cannot win over. Losing weight, getting fit, quitting smoking and slugging through difficult studies are just some of the areas in which people have shown their determination to succeed.

self-controlDetermination and self-control by sheer willpower is seen as a great achievement and a true credit to those who display such things. These are the people held up as examples to us all.

If It Is To Be …

The saying goes, “If it is to be, it is up to me!”

That catch-cry is meant to rally people to improved resolve of will to push ahead and make the changes that need to be made. They are told not to rely on others or to dump their challenge onto some other person, but personally persist, until they get the breakthrough.

It’s great stuff. We applaud those self-reliant people who know that it is up to them to make things happen, and who get off their chair and get things done.

But, In The Bible…

However, despite the popular human notions of self-will and self-reliance, leading to self-control, the Bible has something to say about this stuff. And what the Bible has to say is quite surprising. It is the Bible that suggests to us the idea of Self-Control without “self”.

Let me show you where I get this from. Self-Control is shown to be a “Fruit of the Holy Spirit”.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he listed a bunch of things that were the fruit coming from the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Self-control is listed as one of them.

Fruit of the Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, self-control: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23

The King James Bible uses the word “temperance” in that text, while modern translations use the updated term we are more familiar with: self-control.

So, self-control is a “fruit of the Spirit”. Self-Control does not come from “self”, but rather comes from the work of an agent separate to our “self”. It comes from the work of the Holy Spirit of God.

It is Not Up To Me!

Imagine that! If it is to be, it is NOT up to me. If it is to be, it is dependent on God. If self-control is to be part of my life, I am dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit to create that fruit within me!

That does not mean that I am relieved of the responsibility to gain self-control. What it does mean is that the best way to get self-control is not through the determination of my own will, but through yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

I have seen many people whose personality and character has been transformed as the Holy Spirit worked in their life. Anger and hardness gave way to joy and peace. Explosive reactions and addictions fell away and a quiet spirit emerged instead. When the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in a life the fruit is really sweet.

Fruit not Sweat

Notice that self-control is listed among the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit. Trees don’t groan and struggle to pop their produce at the end of the limb. You do not get kept awake at night by the sound of fruit trees grunting to grow their fruit. You do not see fruit trees in a lather of sweat as they struggle to be fruitful.

Fruit just grows. It starts small and gradually fills out until it is ripe and ready to be eaten.

And that’s how it is with self-control in our lives. When we yield to the Holy Spirit and allow God to minister into our lives we develop lovely, fresh fruit. There is no sweat or struggle. We don’t curse ourselves and chant encouragements to ourselves to keep pressing on. It just happens naturally and almost unseen on a day to day basis.

Self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, not a Work of the Flesh.

Worship Will or God

The apostle Paul, writing in a letter to the church in Colosse, used the term “will worship” (Colossians 2:23). He referred to those who become committed to human rules and religious ordinances. They display great discipline in neglecting themselves and maintaining the various rules they have adopted.

People caught up in such things, however, are not living in the freedom purchased for them by Christ. If you have chosen to follow Christ, then you won’t be party to those things and the will worship that goes along with them.

Serving religious duties can cause those with strong wills, who keep the rules most diligently, to look better than others. But all that counts for nothing. We are not to worship our will, but to worship God.

Gain Self-Control

I want you to gain self-control. I want you to have so much of it that you rule your own spirit and are stronger than the mighty ones who capture whole cities.

“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit is better than he that takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

Don’t build up your self-control by reliance on your own self-will. Build self-control by looking outside your “self”. Find it in the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life. Be filled with the Spirit. Be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Be led by the Spirit. Do not quench the Spirit. Soak in Bible truth for it is the sword of the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit every day. Pray in the Spirit and sing in the Spirit. Stay under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

As you let the Holy Spirit into more and more of your life you will discover that self-control is developing within you, without any demands upon your self-will. And along with it will be “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and faith”. Now, that’s a pretty good deal, eh?

Billy Sunday Moves a Nation

William Ashley (Billy) Sunday was born on November 19, in Iowa, USA, 1862.

He never saw his father. Billy, as he is better known, was born four months after his father had marched away to fight in the Civil War – never to return to see this third child. Billy lived with him mum, in a Soldier’s Orphans Home and with his grandfather during his growing years, then went through diverse jobs including fireman, janitor and undertaker’s assistant, before getting the chance to go to high school.

By 1880 baseball had become the passion of his life and in 1883 he left his amateur team to play with the Chicago White Stockings. Sunday gained nationwide recognition for his baseball prowess, becoming the first player to run the bases in 14 seconds. He also set records for stealing bases.

In 1886 he stopped to listen to a gospel band on a street corner and he then followed them to the Pacific Garden Mission on Van Buren Street. At that meeting he knelt to accept Christ.

In the years shortly following his conversion he married Helen Amelia Thompson, worked with the YMCA and gave public talks about Christian living while touring with his baseball team. His career advanced and he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also attended Northwestern University for a time, coaching the baseball team in return for his tuition.

Sunday turned down a $400 per month baseball salary (the average worker made $480 per year) for a $84 per month ministry position. Ball teams later offered $500- $2000 per month. Later in life he was offered $1,000,000 to be in the movies, but declined them all in order to continue the evangelistic ministry.

After working for some years with the YMCA and then as assistant to evangelist Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday launched out into an itinerant evangelistic ministry (1896-1935).

Thousands crammed into specially built ‘tabernacles’ with sawdust-lined aisles to hear the explosive preaching of this new revivalist.

“By the end of his career he had preached to 100 million souls, of whom a million had walked the ‘sawdust trail’ – that is, had responded to his invitation for them to accept Christ as Saviour (Christianity Today, June, 1991, page 36).

“His magnetic personality, blended with sensational speech and theatrical gestures, kept audiences spellbound!” says the Dictionary of Religious Biography, page 443.

His anti-booze sermon caused “scores of towns and counties” to go dry. Hotels went out of business. His acrobatic preaching meant “he had to change his sweat-soaked suit after each meeting”.

His song-leader, Homer Rodeheaver, wrote that when Billy preached his sermon “The Devil’s Boomerang” – “until he tempered it down a little … two to 10 men fainted every time I heard him preach it!” (Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, page 32).

Sunday contributed much to the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages, through his powerful anti-booze preaching, especially his famous “Get on the Water Wagon” sermon. In later life he devoted much energy in defending the Prohibition amendment from repeal. A battle which he and the temperance movement lost.

It has been pointed out that he was one of the most outstanding preachers of history, yet he has left virtually no legacy. John Wesley was also a great preacher, yet his legacy survives today. The difference between the men is that Wesley built systems which others could employ, while Sunday built only on his own temporary presence and talent. There is a lesson in there for all who wish to make a difference.

Sunday passed away after a heart attack in 1935 at age 73. Helen began an active ministry of her own following his death and continued touching lives for another 22 years.

Not without his faults and plagued by errant sons, nevertheless Billy Sunday stood tall among the giants of evangelism.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Lyman Beecher Heads West to Train Evangelists

This is the day that … Lyman Beecher was born in Connecticut, in 1775.

He has been described as “the father of more brains than any other man in America”, a reference to his 13 children.  These included the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  As a matter of fact, “all his sons were well known as preachers” (Concise Universal Biography, page 222).

But Rev. Lyman Beecher was a giant among giants himself. He was educated at Yale in the days when it was barely above a secondary school in its facilities. The students were of dubious character at times.

Beecher was appalled by the example of his peers, but found his ideal in Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale. It was Dwight who stirred Yale into a religious fervor that led to many revivals in the next twenty-five years. Lyman graduated in 1797 and spent the next year in Yale Divinity School under the tutelage of Dwight as his mentor.

Ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1797, he pastored three large churches (Litchfield, Connecticut; Boston; and Cincinatti), was well known as a revivalist, an educator and a social reformer.  He brought revival but also controversy. His preaching on temperance was just one of the themes that offended his parishioners at times.

He was one of the founders of the American Bible Society and President of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinatti.

Initially he opposed Charles Finney’s new revival techniques and theology, but a few years later he admitted his worth and even invited Finney to hold meetings in Boston.  Lyman Beecher found himself in ‘hot water’ with his Presbyterian brethren who had little time for the famous revivalist.  After all, Finney taught “man was able to repent in response to God’s grace” (Dictionary of American Biography, page 38).

As a result Beecher was actually tried for heresy … but acquitted.

He was already one of America’s best known preachers by the age of 50, when he moved to Boston, seeking better payment for his skills and status.

His next move, to Cincinatti, was motivated by his concern to sure up protestant preaching where the Catholics and Unitarians had already made inroads. His years there were controversial. He used his Presidency of Lane Theological Seminary to train ministers to win the West for Protestantism.

An inveterate opponent of Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism, it is said that one of his fiery sermons apparently helped incite a mob “that resulted in the burning of a convent”.

During those years he was charged with acts of heresy, slander and hypocrisy by opposing religious factions. He resigned from Lane in 1850 and went to live with his son, Henry Ward Beecher, in Brooklyn, where he died on 10 January, 1863, after a long and stormy ministry.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard Impacts America’s Women

This is the day that … Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard was born in New York State, in 1839.

She was the middle of three children born to Josiah and Mary Willard in Churchville.

Being a red-headed tomboy, she preferred to be called “Frank”, but the day came when she outgrew that stage. “Next to being an angel” she said, “the greatest bestowment of God is to make one a woman!” (Women to Remember, by N. Olsen, page 77).

She inherited spiritual qualities from her godly parents, was converted in a Methodist ‘revival’ meeting, and joined the Church six months later – 5 May, 1861. And five years later she experienced the “second blessing”, being challenged by a holiness preacher, Phoebe Palmer, to lay all on the altar. “I unconditionally yielded my petty little jewels and … a conscious emotional presence of Christ held me,” she writes.

There was a temporary association with D.L. Moody … who invited her to preach at a Sunday afternoon meeting. She also led Bible study groups and women’s meetings.

But her main claim to fame is her involvement in the war against the liquor industry!

In 1874, “as if by magic, armies of women – delicate, cultured, home women – filled the streets of the cities and towns of Ohio … going to the saloons, singing, praying, preaching with the rum-sellers with all the eloquence of their mother hearts” (The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard, by A.A. Gordon, page 93).

The movement spread to other states, and eventually worldwide.

The driving force behind this was Frances Willard, who became the second National president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.), in 1879, and continued to give a powerful impetus to the movement until her death nearly 20 years later.

In 1895 she was introduced to a US Senate Committee as a “general with an army of 250,000.”

She campaigned for political issues and women in the pulpit, for prison reform and labour conditions … but after her death the W.C.T.U. resorted to just the alcohol issue.

In later years Miss Willard (or “Aunty Frank” as some of her disciples knew her) “espoused Christian Socialism” (Dictionary of Christianity in America, page 1256).

Preaching on the evils of alcohol without proclaiming the message of the Cross is not the theme of Scripture. What the sinner needs is not reformation but regeneration.

Frances Willard died on 17 February, 1898, and 80,000 people filed past her coffin in Willard Hall, Chicago.

Among her dying words are these: “Let me go away, let me be in peace: I am so safe with Him. He has other worlds and I want to go. I have always believed in Christ: He is the incarnation of God”. (A.A. Gordon, page 291). She was also heard to say: “How beautiful it is to be with God.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.