Monday, September 13, 2010

"Self-control is the key to accomplishing anything in life and I am convinced that it only lastingly belongs to those who daily surrender their wills to Jesus Christ"

Today's installment of Our Daily Bread contains a favorite story of mine from the life of Dwight Eisenhower, who is one of my personal heroes.

The story recounted is one Ike told in his wonderful personal memoir, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. If you haven't read this book, treat yourself and do so soon!

Galatians 5:22-23 says that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit which Christians receive through their relationship with Jesus Christ. Daily repentance and renewal in the Name of Christ can bring this attribute into our lives and in turn, help us to live more productively, as well as more faithfully.

The section of Proverbs on which the Our Daily Bread piece is based is a particularly favorite part of that Old Testament book for me. 

Proverbs 16:21b rings so true! We are far more likely to gain a hearing for our ideas and more apt to listen to the ideas of others when we engage in "pleasant speech." That means, I think, speaking the truth in love, as the New Testament counsels.

V. 25 is an important bit of wisdom, next to which I've written this in one of my Bibles, attempting to put the passage in my own words: "Don't rely on your intelligence, but on God's revealed wisdom." 

V. 26 makes me smile every time I read it. My margin note there says that "hunger" is the "prod in productivity." I don't know whether I read that somewhere or if it just struck me, but it's rooted in what God revealed to Solomon here in any case.

V. 28 reminds us that gossiping is contrary to God's will and that it is incredibly destructive.

V. 32 is the passage on which the Our Daily Bread piece is especially built. Those who allow the God revealed in Israel and ultimately, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to conquer their anger, are those whom God can use to make a difference with their lives. In a very real sense, the good accomplished by Dwight Eisenhower--whether it was the destruction of Nazi Germany, the passage of the first Civil Rights Law (1957) in more than ninety years (over the objections of Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson), playing hardball with the US military in which he formerly served to ensure that President Truman's integration of our Armed Forces was a fact and not just an executive order, or instituting the interstate highway system--accomplished so much good because he had control of his volcanic temper and could therefore work with anybody. 

This was valued in Eisenhower; today, it seems, at least those who are the most angry and who garner the most attention, irrespective of their ideologies, prefer political leaders who give vent to their anger, rather than being persons of self-control who can work with those with whom they disagree.

Another of my personal heroes, George Washington, also learned self control over not only his temper, but also his impulsiveness. He therefore achieved great things. (In fact, I once heard historian Garry Wills say that Washington was the greatest political leader in human history.) 

Self-control did not come to Washington naturally. As a young colonial officer, he incurred justified condemnation for leading his men into a precipitate, ill-conceived battle, resulting in many unnecessary deaths. But Washington learned from this tragedy. His faith, an underestimated aspect of his life as pointed out in my favorite Washington biography, that by Richard Norton Smith, no doubt played a role in Washington's famed self-control and ability to get along with others. 

Washington could still let loose with his anger in his more mature years. But at that time, it always seemed targeted, dealt for a purpose. He needed every ounce of self-control he could find to hold the Revolutionary Army together through a long war of attrition with Great Britain, then the greatest military power in the world, for example. 

He demonstrated this same self-control when on two occasions, he squelched attempts to make him  king of the newly independent United States. The first occasion came when he went back to Mount Vernon after the war, when many in his army and not a few in the country at large, conspired to put Washington on an American throne. (When advised before the end of the war that Washington planned to refuse kingly power and instead, go back to farm in Virginia, British king, George III said. "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.") 

Again, when Washington was almost forcibly made president in order to hold the infant republic together, many suggested that he should become king. But again, Washington demurred and went back to Mount Vernon to take up private life at the end of two terms.

Self-control is the key to accomplishing anything in life and I am convinced that it only lastingly belongs to those who daily surrender their wills to Jesus Christ. 

Paul writes in Romans 8, that believers are "more than conquerors" through the God Who has loved us through the crucified Savior, Jesus. This isn't an invitation to arrogance or triumphalism; Christians know that our only boast is the goodness of God that comes to us as gift of grace through Christ. But Paul is saying that all who trust in Christ, also share in Christ's victory over our death-dealing egotism, our sin, and our death.

V. 33 may seem strange to us today. But in Biblical times, believers would ask God's guidance over particular decisions before them, then cast lots in the belief that God would answer their prayers, and tell them what they should do. Whatever the process we use to lay our needs before God and even if we make bad decisions with good intentions, the believer in God knows that in the end, God, not us, is the ultimate decider.

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