Cambridge terms run for 8 weeks, Thursday-Wednesday, and people here often keep track of where they are in term by marking the fact that we are ‘near the end of Week 1’ etc. There is also the notoriety of the ‘Week 5 blues’ – supposedly because most people are worn out by that point in the term, but find themselves only at the half-way point.
To make the way we relate to the different weeks a little more positive, Siân and I are naming the weeks by a different fruit of the spirit. This is now the end of Week Self-Control. Here are our reflections.
SIÂN – SELF-CONTROL MEANS GOD CHANGING US
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
This passage talks about self-control as learning to control the desires of our human will, in order that the Spirit might be allowed to reign in us. Often, when I think of self-control, I think about restriction and sacrifice. This can be a helpful and good thing, and is definitely a part of self-control, but it is only one aspect of what it means. Self-control is really about embracing the things that God is doing in your life – and this may involve restriction and sacrifice, but it also may involve allowing the development of who we are in relation to who God made us to be.
An example of this in my life: I am undeniably a chatterbox. My main extra-curricular activity is catching up with friends over tea, and when I am excited, I usually find that a stream of words tumbles out of my mouth before I really know what I am saying. This wasn’t always the case – as a teenager I was painfully shy in groups, and had still barely spoken during college CU meetings until I began to lead them as a rep.
When I find myself getting carried away with speaking, I long for the days when I was unlikely to hurt anyone with my words because I never shared them. On the other hand, there are days when I rejoice that I have been set free of the fear of speaking with people I love.
I am trying to learn when it would be helpful for me to stay silent, and when it is helpful to speak. In the last week, that has looked like removing myself from situations where I would pour out my frustrations to a friend, knowing that the more helpful thing would be to pour out my frustrations to God; remembering that peaceful silence is better than cutting comments; trying to think about whether my words will build someone up or tear them down; trying to fight the easy habit of gossiping. This self-control drives me closer to God. But at the weekend, at a Christian conference in Berlin, I was encouraged by many different people to speak out in life, to encourage others with my words, to be bold in proclaiming the gospel, to not be afraid to lead. And to suppress those things would not be to welcome the work of the Spirit in my life.
Self-control isn’t just about self-denial, but also about embracing the things God is doing in me, and discerning the difference between the two.
RACHEL – SELF-CONTROL TAKES COURAGE
Siân is so right to talk about self-control as being the process by which we allow God to develop us. As I’ve been thinking about what self-control looks like in my life this week, I’ve thought a lot about how self-control requires trust and courage: and it requires these things because self-control means stepping into the ways that God wants us to change.
I must trust that when scripture advises particular course of actions, it advises me in this way because these are good things which will bring me life. And I must have courage to do the stepping – from the place that I am in now towards the places that God is directing me to be.
It so happens that, like Siân, the example within my own life also involves the way that I talk and speak. Scripture tells us not to grumble (‘Do everything without grumbling…‘ Philippians 2:14). But I quite enjoy a good grumble. When I am finding things hard, or I am discontented, grumbling is my ‘default’.
I know that God wants this to change in me. ‘Grumbling’ is a very cultural thing (I was in awe of how little any of the Japanese students complained when I worked with them a year ago), but it is not how we are called to live. There is nothing in my life worthy of my grumbling when I am blessed to know the love of Jesus Christ.
So this week when I was writing my essay I tried hard to think about why it is I wanted to grumble. Was it because I wanted attention? In which case, I could pray and express that frustration and know that I was ‘seen’. Was it because I wasn’t at peace ahead of all the work to be done? In which case, I could go downstairs and Siân could pray before I did anything. Because really, most of the reasons I want to grumble come from an un-thankful, un-rejoicing heart and a reluctance to have to move from that place, a place that I am very comfortable in!
For me, a lot of practising self-control is having the courage to trust that scripture really does know what is for my best, and trusting the truth of that enough to step into the places God directs me.