< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Self-Control

Thursday, September 25, 2008


They call it the marshmallow test. A researcher gives this choice to a 4-year-old: “I am leaving for a few minutes to run an errand and you can have this marshmallow while I am gone, but if you wait until I return, you can have two marshmallows.”

Researchers at Stanford University ran that test in the 1960s. A dozen years later, they restudied the same children and found that those who had grabbed the single marshmallow tended to be more troubled as adolescents. Astonishingly, the one-marshmallow kids also scored an average of 210 points less on SAT tests.

A Greek philosopher said, “No man is truly free until he masters himself.” The results of self-control are confidence and an inner sense of security.

We like to do things that aren’t good for us! We rationalize. We blame others…but the first step to having self-control is admitting we re responsible for our behavior.

It can be food, TV, exercise, clothes, temper, words or drink, but if we can figure out what our problem is we can control it. Once we’ve done that we need to put it behind us. Just because we failed at something in the past doesn’t mean we will again. Unless we think we will! Babies would never learn to walk if they stopped trying after they fell down once!

A lot of success is more persistence than talent! Thomas Edison failed a lot, but he called it education. He said he learned what didn’t work and tried something else!

Ulysses S. Grant once said, “One of my superstitions has always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, never to turn back or to stop until the thing intended was accomplished.”

Someone once asked Paul Harvey, the journalist and radio commentator, to reveal the secret of his success. Harvey replied, “I get up when I fall down.”

Everything today is about feeling good. We’re so afraid to feel bad, at all. But sometimes we will. We will be disappointed, stressed, sad and we need to realize this can be a learning experience. It can cause us to move in a different direction, stop us from doing something harmful or make us aware of someone else’s hurts.

If we’re really having a problem with self-control we need to find someone of the same gender who will hold us accountable; another Christian, and give him or her permission to ask, “how are you doing with that problem?” Alcoholics Anonymous is based on this principle and it works.

Also, we’ve talked about temptation in lessons here before, but we need to stay away from situations that weaken our self-control. Ephesians 4:27 says, “Don’t give the devil a chance.” Don’t give him a foothold into your life.

And we need to ask God’s help. A lot of people think they’ll give God control of their life when they get it all together, but that’s backwards. We don’t have to be perfect to come to Him. You don’t get well before you go to the Doctor! The church has been called a hospital for sinners. It’s Christ who gives us the power to change and the Holy Spirit in us who keeps guiding us.

A productive, fruitful life is when we show the fruits of the spirit. Jesus said in John 15:8, “This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples.” And He goes on to say, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And appointed you to go and bear fruit. Fruit that will last.” To do this we need to spend time in God’s Word and get rid of the things in our lives that are taking our time away from Him. Chasing after material possessions, worrying about things that don’t matter.

God teaches us the fruits by putting us in situations full of the opposite qualities. He teaches us love by putting us around unlovely people. He teaches us joy in the midst of sorrow. He teaches us peace by allowing irritations around us, patience by allowing things to frustrate us.

My husband and I just drove from North Carolina to Chicago for our high school reunion. It took 12 hours going, but while we were there Chicago had the most rainfall ever listed in its history. Shortly after we left my mom’s to drive home, we got on the Interstate and traffic stopped. They had shut down part of the road in Indiana and were merging us all onto a detour. After 5 hours we had gone a grand total of 49 miles! I was working on this Sunday School lesson about patience in the car! I felt like saying, “OK, God, I get it. You can stop now!” It took us 17 hours to get home…

If we cooperate with God during these times He will make us more fruitful. The way we express that cooperation is by praising Him through it all.

Also, growth takes time. It takes time to die to our own selfish desires and we have to do that before we produce great spiritual growth. Never give up on God. If we remain in Him, enjoy His presence in our life; there will be a harvest. In His perfect time.

Speaking to a large audience, D.L. Moody held up a glass and asked, “How can I get the air out of this glass?”

One man shouted, “Suck it out with a pump!”

Moody replied, “That would create a vacuum and shatter the glass.”

After numerous other suggestions Moody smiled, picked up a pitcher of water, and filled the glass. “There,” he said, “all the air is now removed.” He then went on to explain that victory in the Christian life is not accomplished by “sucking out a sin here and there,” but by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Another quote by D. L. Moody is, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”

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