Controlling Self

We know the history of Alexander the Great who conquered much of his word, able to control armies and nations but unable to control himself, having drunk himself to death at age 32. Controlling our selves, our impulses, using self-restraint – the Bible has much to say on this topic. Proverbs 25:26 calls one without control as an undefended city, left open to invasions from outside: vulnerable to temptation and unguided by principle.

When David sees Bathsheba, he has the choice to exercise restraint, but he lacks self-control, dwells on Bathsheba, and acts on his impulse. For a time, he becomes vulnerable to temptation and forgets his principles. Solomon allows his numerous political wives to turn him from God despite his great wisdom. Judas betrays Jesus for meager wages, driven by unrestrained and uncontrolled greed. Each of these illustrate how far we can fall without the defense of self-control.

Giving God the Control

Self control may be defined as a willingness to be guided by God’s wishes rather than our own, restraining ourselves from the things we should avoid. It can also be ensuring we act upon the opportunities we have to do good. In Galatians 5:22-24, self-control is included among those fruits of the spirit we should be practicing. Paul, in Titus 1:8, qualifies spiritual leaders as having self-control, and I Peter 1:5-8 lists this control as a trait we should be nurturing in our own lives.

Why be concerned with self-control? In Acts 24:24-25, Paul teaches Christ to Felix and other officials with him. In this message, Paul links self-control with righteousness. David, Saul, and Judas fall short of the measure of righteousness when they fail to exercise self-control. In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter, after having recently professed his faith in Jesus, rebukes Him for going to His death and is rebuked in turn. Then, in verse 24, Jesus says any who follow Him must deny self and crucify self. Self control is key to sincerely following Jesus.

What Does Self Control Look Like?

Romans 12 makes it clear that living a godly living requires restraint. Romans 12:2 calls us to be transformed rather than conformed. This takes rethinking, re-prioritizing, controlling those impulses we might have once followed. Verses 16-21 encourages to avoid revenge, to live peacefully, to show kindness and mercy, overcoming evil with good. It takes control and restraint to demonstrate God’s grace to all – even those who are ungracious to us.

Philippians 4:8 tells us to dwell on honorable things in our lives, to look for the good, to consider the best around us. Self control begins with our minds. We have to control our thoughts before we can control our bodies.

  • We have to recognize our need. I have to admit I need better self-control before I can improve, being guided by God’s principles before my own.
  • We have to identify the areas in which we need more control. On what do my thoughts dwell? In what areas of my life do I struggle most?
  • We have to study. Psalm 119:9 encourages us to take heed to God’s word to cleanse our ways. Verse 105 calls that word a light for our feet. We have to know His will for it to guide us.
  • We have to weigh the consequences. In Mark 8:35-36, Jesus asks what a soul is worth. Is giving into our impulses worth losing our souls?
  • We need to pray about our struggles. I Peter 5:6-7 encourages us to call on the Lord, casting our cares on Him, so He can comfort us.

Conclusion

In Acts 24, as Paul studies with Felix, the governor is alarmed and send Paul away until a better time. Felix is concerned by the challenge of practicing self-control. Do we see this subject as concerning and alarming? If so, we should not follow Felix’s example, whose better time would never come. Instead we should submit to His mercy. Hebrews 5:8 discusses the self-control Jesus practices in His obedience to the Father’s plan. We should follow His example of restraint and obedience and allow God’s principles to guide us, removing self from the throne and exalting God.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Finding God Where We Left Him

“Where is God?” This is a simple question that we should not be taken lightly or asked casually. In times of struggle, when we face trials and challenges, we ask, “Where is God?” In Judges 6, when an angel of the Lord comes before Gideon, God poses this question in verse 13. “If Jehovah is with us, why are these things happening to us?” In II Kings 18, Sennacherib and the Rabshakeh challenge Hezekiah and the residents of Jerusalem with a similar question. “Where is your god?” Joel 2:17 and Psalm 42 contain requests that Israel’s enemies not be able to ask, “Where is your God.” Finally, in Malachi 2:17, expresses frustration with their question His presence.

The problem is not that God moves away from His people of old or from us. Rather, they and we move away from God. In this lesson, we are going to consider three ways we can drift from God.

Moving Away from God

  • We lose Him in lack of prayer. In Isaiah 44:15, the prophet speaks of the absurdity of building a god from the same wood he would throw into a fire. Isaiah pictures His people as praying to their idols, crediting them for God’s deliverance. Hosea 2:13 revisits God’s people praying to others instead of Him. They lose Him in a lack of prayer.
  • We lose Him in lack of study. Hosea 4:6 calls God’s people destroyed for rejecting God’s knowledge. Malachi 2:7-8 chastises God’s priests for being ignorant of His word – the teachers are as ignorant as the learners. They lose God in a lack of study.
  • We lose Him in our priorities. Malachi 1:6-8 illustrates the lack of import God’s people would place on His worship and sacrifices. Haggai 1:5-7 calls of God’s people to consider their ways in comparison to His word. Haggai 1 is a chapter about priorities, and God’s people lose Him in their misplaced priorities.

God Is Not Lost

We are the same. We give up on prayer. We fail to study God’s word. We get caught up in the priorities and standards of this world, giving God our leftovers. God is not lost. His power is not void. We simply distance ourselves from him. Paul, in Colossians 4:3, calls on Christians to pray for God to open doors of opportunity, and I Thessalonians 3:11 attests to God’s power to grow His people and direct our paths. In Philippians 4:19, Paul expresses confidence that God will supply his every need, and II Timothy 1:7 says God gives us a spirit of power, love, and self-control.

Finally, I Peter 5:10-11 credits God with the power to restore us, strengthen us, and establish us in His service. God is not lost nor is His throne vacant. It is we who lose Him in our lives, and we will find Him exactly where we left Him. When looking for something, we often ask ourselves where the last place was we had it. Perhaps we have lost God in our priorities, in our lack of study, or in our lack of prayer. We can find Him, however, in those very places where we left Him. God is there for us to find. We have but to look.

lesson by Tim Smelser

“Help My Unbelief”

In Mark 9, the gospel writer records an encounter Jesus has with a possessed boy. His disciples had been unable to cast the unclean spirit out, and, in verse 20, the spirit reacts violently to being in Jesus’ presence. Jesus replies that all things are possible to one who believes, and the father of this boy pleads with Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” So many times, in prayer and in study I remember these words. Despite our faith and trust in God, we all struggle with times of unbelief.

Strengthening Faith

There are a couple of things we can do to perfect our faith in the face of unbelief.

  • Romans 10:17 says that our faith comes through exposure to God’s word, and James 1:22-25 makes it clear we have to live that word for it to take hold in our lives.
  • James 1:6 encourages to pray in faith, not allowing doubt to toss us around. Also, chapter 5:15-16 testifies to the power of sincere prayer.

We can increase our faith through greater knowledge, greater application, and a more active prayer life. How often do any of us pick up our Bibles or bend our knees? We schedule our lunches, our appointments, our dates, and our other activities. We should also have time set aside to talk to our God and to study from His word. The more time we spend in the presence of God, the less time we have to walk contrary to His will.

Abraham’s Example of Faith

In Genesis 15:6, God accounts Abraham’s faith to righteousness, and James 2:23 uses similar language in referring to the events of Genesis 22. Abraham, though, demonstrates many examples of faith prior to Genesis 15 or 22. What James is explaining is that the events of Genesis 22 is a culmination of the faith he demonstrates prior to that near-sacrifice.

Despite this faith, Genesis is replete with examples of Abraham falling short. He struggles with his faith. He stumbles in sin, but he presses forward. The overall direction of his life is typified by faith. We, as sons of Abraham, can be as faithful despite our weaknesses and doubts. His faith produces righteousness and overcomes those shortcomings. Can the same be said of us? Is our trust and confidence in God when it counts the most? Are we able to give control over to our God? While imperfect, Abraham lives in obedience and faith, and God declares him righteous because of that faith.

Conclusion

Read God’s word. Apply it. Spend time talking with God. Set aside time to remember God in our lives, and He will help our unbelief. Will God count our faith unto us as righteousness? We believe in our God and Father, may we allow Him to help our unbelief.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Is God Real To You?

Is God real to you? This might seem like an easy question to anyone who pursues Biblical knowledge or who come together to worship Him every week. The question, however, is not one of belief in existence. Rather, is God real to you? There is a difference between acknowledgement of theoretical existence and application of reality. We are a culture of the virtual – things that look real but are not. Has God been reduced to a theoretical exercise among those who would claim to be His followers?

Why and How God Becomes Theoretical

Why does God become less real to us? Why has He become virtually real instead of actually real? In everyday life, we learn to rely on ourselves, and, ultimately, we feel accountable to ourselves and ourselves alone. Our money goes to our priorities, and our actions have no consequences beyond the immediate ones we can see. We wrestle with these realities of our life that make God seem less and less real to us – reducing Him to the theoretical.

  • Selfishness. In Romans 1, Paul makes the argument that all need God and the gospel. He claims, in verse 21, that all knew God at one time, but their own selfishness drives them away from God. Verse 28 sums up that they refused God, so God gave them up. He will not force us to follow His will, and our self-centeredness can lead us away from His reality. We can look to what we have accomplished, relying on our own selves rather than on God.
  • Worldly Interests. I John 2:15-17 reminds us of the dangers involved in loving the things of this world. God ceases to be real to us when we begin believing that our happiness and our fulfillment come from this life. Things in this world can indeed make us happy for a while, but those joys are fleeting. They are replaced when new things come along. We wear ourselves out pursuing the temporary while neglecting the eternal.
  • Priorities & Time. We grow too busy for God, pushing Him further and further down our list of priorities, and we spend less and less time looking for Him and praying to Him. When is the last time you or I honestly and sincerely prayed? When was the time before that.

Making God Real Again

Philippians 4:19 records Paul calling God his own. He refers to “my God.” In redeeming us from our sins, God has made us His, and He is ours. Paul, in Romans 5, appeals to God’s love for that close relationship, understanding in verses 6-10 that God’s love for him is gracious and unmerited by him. God was neither virtual or theoretical to Paul. God knew Paul, and Paul knew God. God knows us as well, and we should strive to be as close to Him as Paul. God loves each one of us without reservation. In Galatians 2:20, Paul knows the love of God through the sacrifice of Christ, a sacrifice through which he gives himself up in love.

In Philippians, Paul says “my God will supply.” He demonstrates a belief that God is active and interested in his life. Philippians 4:5 records Paul writing that the Lord is at hand, and we often apply this to the Second Coming, but the context points instead to a nearness of God, a readiness to help. Romans 8:28, Colossians 1:16-17 – these show a confidence by Paul in God’s interest in his life. God has a direction for my life, and He is an active God. When we say, “If the Lord wills,” we sometimes treat it as a concession. When Paul speaks of God’s will, He expresses confidence in God’s providential control.

II Corinthians 9:10, Acts 14:17, Matthew 7:26 – these verses and more express God’s interest in His creation. Philippians 4:6 reminds us to take everything to God, and I Peter 5:6-7 tells us to humble ourselves before God, casting all of our anxiety upon our caring God. Look at the life of Christ – what did He do that was not for the benefit of others? He prays for others’ needs; He heals others; He relieves others’ burdens. Each time Jesus intercedes for others, His intervention is specific and necessary. We can hope for as much from a God that is real to us and active in our lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Praying As the Psalmists Prayed

Usually, when we study the Psalms, we study them as poetry and songs, as passages of comfort and praise. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but two-thirds of these psalms are laments. They are petitions to God, and one aspect we can appreciate from these poetic verses is that we can approach God in prayer the same way these psalmists appealed to God. They are open and honest about their feelings and frustrations where we today feel compelled to bury our feelings. We are often uncomfortable with open and emotional interaction with God, but these psalmists serve as an example to us.

At times, the writers of Psalms feel that God is distant from them, had ceased keeping His promises. In Psalm 10:1, the psalmist asks why God is hiding from Him. In chapter 13:1-2, David feels forgotten and expresses sorrow in God’s absence. Psalm 22 asks why “has God has forsaken me.” Why does He not answer David’s cries? Psalm 42:9 asks again about God forgetting the author. Psalm 69:1-3 expresses weariness with sorrow, waiting for a silent God. In Psalm 74:1, the author asks why God has cast His people off, and verses 9-11 entreats: “How long?” Finally, Psalm 77:4 expresses a troubled mind to the point of silence. The author asks if God’s lovingkindness and promises have failed. Are God’s mercies closed forever?

What Holds Us Back?

Have we ever felt like these passages? Chances are, most of us have. We wonder what we have done to deserve our misfortunes. We wonder if God has stopped caring. Do we appeal to God the same way these psalmists do?

  • Do we think having these feelings is wrong? After all, Romans 5:3-5 speaks of rejoicing in tribulation, so we feel we are sinning if we are discouraged. Philippians 4:4 again tells us to rejoice in all things. James 1:2-4 reiterates seeing trials as joy. We look at these passages, and we decide feeling sorrowful is somehow wrong.
  • We teach and practice a feel-good religion. We look to our spirituality for comfort, and rightly so. What we miss, though, is taking our emotions to God. Our religion becomes a mask for our feelings rather than an avenue for comfort and unburdening ourselves.

Enabling Emotional Honesty

The psalmists are not inhibited in these ways. They are sincere, open, and emotionally honest with God. We can have boldness as theirs if we can learn from the examples they set for us. They see God as the source for all things. While they seem accusatory at times, the psalmists do not place blame. They express their fears and discouragements, and they view God as the source for relief and deliverance. In Psalms 10:14, after expressing fear of God’s distance, the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s compassion, nearness, and empathy. Psalm 13:5-6 expresses trust in God’s salvation. David, in Psalm 22:19-31, recognizes that God will help in his trials. Psalm 42:5 records the author recognizing his hope in God, and Psalm 69:29-30 expresses confidence in God’s ability to lift us up and deliver us. Then, Psalm 74:12-17 recognizes God’s power to deliver the oppressed, and Psalm 77:10-19 is an appeal to God’s ability to deliver. Though all of these psalms contain fears, distress, and sorrow, each contains acknowledgement of God’s deliverance.

Also, the psalmists can approach God in these ways because of the relationship they have with Him. Like close spouses or close friends can speak sharply with one another while maintaining love and trust, so too could these psalmists do with God. When we read these appeals to God, we see a level of trust and love we should also have. Psalm 5:3, 54:6, 56:13-15, Psalm 1:2, Psalm 19:7-11 – these passages and more express the level of study and sacrifice these psalmists have invested in their relationship with God. In Psalm 40:8, the psalmist recognizes that God hears him because of his knowledge in God’s word. In contrast, Psalmist 66:18 records understanding that God would turn away if he had turned away from God.

Finally, these psalmists surrender to God in all things. Psalm 31:5 records David entrusting his whole life to God’s hands; Psalm 119:2 and verse 10 bless those who seek God with their whole heart. Our prayers are only useful if we trust God with our entire being. These psalmists could pray as they did because of the relationship they had with their Lord.

Conclusion

We will experience emotions besides joy in our lives. To claim otherwise is fooling ourselves, but God is capable of taking on our anxieties. We should never try to cover our true feelings from God. After all, we are praying to one who already knows our hearts. It may take us a while to turn our discouragements into praise, but we are still in a relationship with Him so long as we continue to turn to Him. Psalm 88, for example, ends on a dissonant note, never returning to praise as did those other psalms. Still, this psalm begins with trust in God. The psalmist in this chapter has not yet worked through his troubles, and we will have times like that as well.

As long as we are the children He would want us to be, we can know He will be the Father we need. We need to love and trust Him in faith. We can know He will not abandon us and that we can come to Him in all our troubles. He is our divine Father, and we can come to Him as children who need guidance and deliverance, open and honest with our God who cares for us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Waiting for the Lord

Beginning in Psalm 27:1, David praises God’s strength in his life. He expresses confidence in God’s ability to deliver him from various tragedies and difficulties. He expresses his desire to worship his God in joy. The first six verses declare trust and confidence, but the tone changes in verses 7-12 where he entreats God not to hide His face. David expresses fear of those plotting against him, and a study of his life demonstrates the reasons behind those fears.

David’s Life of Adversity

We are introduced to David in his defeat of the Philistine warrior Goliath, but his life becomes more difficult from this point. In I Samuel 21:1-10, David is fleeing for his life, and king Saul murderously pursues him. Those who assist him are murdered in the very next chapter, deaths for which David feels responsible. In chapter 23, David has to flee even after defending a city from the Philistines, and I Samuel 25:44 records Saul giving David’s wife to another man. He is forced to hide among rocks and caves. In II Samuel 15:13-14, King David’s own son Absalom plots against him. David again has to flee for his life. David’s life is full of danger and distress, and he approaches God with these concerns even when expressing his joy in the Lord as he does in Psalm 27.

Psalm 27:13-14 conclude David’s thoughts. Even feeling forsaken by all around him, he sings of his belief that he will again see God’s goodness. He instructs himself and us to wait on the Lord in His time. It is reminiscent of Moses comforting the Israelites before the Red Sea when he calls upon them to be still. It is a lesson of patience and fortitude, and it is often difficult to be patient. Wait for the Lord.

Trusting in the Lord

What does it meant to wait for the Lord? It is about trusting in God and looking to Him for answers. When Moses called upon the people of Israel to be still, he wasn’t calling upon them to remain inactive. He was calling upon them to remain calm and be ready to respond when God’s deliverance was made available. There are some things we must do if we are waiting on the Lord.

  • Continual Fellowship with God. I John 1:6 encourages active involvement in our relationship with God. If I am looking to God, I must be in communion with Him.
  • Constant prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17 calls upon us to pray continuously. We pray to God in good times and in bad. We speak with our God regularly to help maintain that relationship He desires.
  • Remain in His presence. The entire book of Hebrews warns against the dangers of drifting away from God. Chapter 2:1, 4:16, and 6:1 call us to draw near to God, so we may trust in Him.
  • Stay in the fight. I Kings 19 sees Elijah in fear of his life (much like David is time and again), and verse 18 records God reminding Elijah that he is not alone.

In His Time; In His Way

We have to be patient with God and remind ourselves that His time is not our time. God has never promised He will remove our trials, nor has He promised to make life easy. He may not even let us know the reason for our trials, but He has promised that our trials would make us stronger. James 1:2-3 tells us the testing of our faith produces endurance. In James 5:16, the author writes that our prayers for each other work, and we can better comfort one another if we have been prepared to do so through our own. Finally, God promises these trials will draw us nearer to Him. James 4:8 says that God draws nearer to us when we draw near to Him.

Like David, we can grow spiritually when facing the trials of this life. We can find peace and strength in Him. We can wait for God with the hope that we will dwell with Him forever in His house.

lesson by Tim Smelser