Last night, despite the fact that the temperatures were soaring, my daughter was wearing her favorite pair of winter pajamas. “Honey,” I suggested, “why don’t you change into something cooler? You’re going to be so hot tonight.” It was unsolicited advice that I had offered previously.
Instead of changing into more sensible pajamas, as I had advised, Luci simply rolled her eyes and said, “Mom!” drawing out the word as though it had three syllables. I got the message. Luci is a teenager now. I need to back off and let her make more of her own decisions—like what to wear to bed. She doesn’t need me micromanaging her life, treating her like she’s a toddler.
But old habits die hard, and I find myself slipping back into my controlling mother role more than I should. Of course, the odd thing about being controlling is that it never produces what we long for—an end to our anxiety. Instead, our effort to control things and people simply adds more stress to our relationships. Attempts at control set us up for repeated failures, since no one can completely control their own lives, let alone the lives of others.
Think about it like this. Imagine you’ve just stepped onto an Airbus A380. Instead of trying to force your way into the cockpit so you can fly the plane, you merely proceed down the aisle until you find your seat, believing that the pilot will deliver you safely to your destination. After all, he has the necessary skills to fly the world’s largest airliner. Storming the cockpit would be an act of madness—and suicide.
Similarly, navigating life in this world takes the kind of complex skills that only God possesses. Trying to wrest control of our lives from him would be an act of madness—even suicide. Though God doesn’t want us to be passive spectators, neither does he want us to try to control the things that are best left in his care. If you want to reduce your anxiety, resist the temptation to try to control everything. Recognize it for what it is—a crazy attempt to do the impossible. Instead, ask the Lord to show you how to step back and find rest, knowing he is in control.
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Suppose you inherited a necklace from your great-aunt. You’ve admired it all your life, but you’re uncertain of its value. It looks like gold, but you’re not sure. How can you tell if you’ve got the real thing? You could try this simple test—placing a drop of nitric acid on it. If the acid starts bubbling or fizzing when it hits the surface, too bad, because it’s not gold. If the metal is unaffected, then it’s the real deal. This little procedure is known as the “acid test.”
Let’s try another acid test. This time it’s about you, not a piece of jewelry. But don’t worry—we’re not going to use nitric acid on you. We aren’t going to test for gold either, but for the precious presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Paul Tripp points out that what we say and how we say it tell a great deal about what’s controlling us. “Words are spoken,” he says, “that should never have been uttered. They are spoken at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or with emotions that are raging out of control. Words are spoken when silence would have been a more godly, loving choice. They are more driven by personal desire and demand than the purposes of God or the needs of others.”(1)
We know that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It’s an indicator of how much we are being controlled by the Holy Spirit. So out-of-control speech problems are a kind of acid test that reveals who or what is driving us. As Tripp points out, “If my words don’t flow out of a heart that rests in his [the Holy Spirit’s] control, then they come out of a heart that seeks control.”(2) It’s as simple as that.
When it comes to the way we speak, not one of us is perfect. But all of us are being perfected, assuming, of course, that we are daily submitting our lives to Christ. Join me today in praying for one of the most forgotten fruits of the Holy Spirit—the quality of self-control.
1. Paul Tripp, War of Words (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000), 230.
2. Ibid., 71.
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I was praying for a friend’s brother the other day, a man unable to break his addiction to alcohol. As I prayed, the Biblical story of the demon-possessed man who was unrestrainable and who lived among the burial caves came to my mind (Mark 5:1-4). It felt as though the Holy Spirit was highlighting this passage so I would know how to pray. The man I was praying for isn’t psychotic, nor is he living in a cemetery. But like the man described in Mark’s Gospel, he is incredibly isolated, having little contact with family or friends.
Instead of being alarmed by the story, I felt encouraged. Why? Because I know that what Jesus did for the man in the Bible can still happen today. It was precisely in a place of isolation, bondage, and death that Christ reached out and delivered a man no one else could help. The devil must have thought he had a lock on this guy’s life. But then Jesus showed up and changed everything.
As I prayed, I could almost hear the Spirit saying, “See what I am capable of! I can reach the most unreachable person, changing a place of death into a place of life.” That’s how I am praying for my friend’s brother.
Chances are you have a few hopeless cases on your own prayer list, people whose lives seem to be hurtling toward physical and spiritual death. If that is the case, read Mark 5:1-20 and let the Holy Spirit build your faith, shaping the way you pray.
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Perhaps you have heard the story of how Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” On November 18, 1861, after reviewing Union troops near Washington, DC, she awoke in the night with the words of the hymn firmly in mind. “So, with a sudden effort,” she explained, “I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”
Remember the first verse?
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
Despite the militancy of that hymn, in 1872 Howe organized a Mother’s Day for peace in New York City, which was repeated in Boston for about ten years. She and others across the country wanted to establish a special day each year in which mothers could unite to help prevent future wars. Finally, on May 8, 1914, the US Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The next day, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day as a day for Americans to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.
Today as we consider the many wars that rage throughout the world, let us do what we can through prayer and action to bring peace to our world.
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