Impulse Control II: Act or React
It is one thing to control the tongue, but it is also a challenge to control what we do. There is a difference between responding to a situation, and reacting to the situation; it has to do with the level of thought that goes into the action, and the timing of it. Reaction is an impulsive decision that is immediate, and usually wrong. Responding is a decisive action that is thought through, carefully considering context and motives; this is called self-control. The Bible warns us that if we do not exercise self-control (a fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23), then we will be a slave to our circumstances.
So many people go about life haphazardly, without preparations ... letting life just happen. 1 Thessalonians 5:6 says “... let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.” Proverbs 25:28 reminds us “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” One of the results of acting on impulse, without thinking first, is anger and vengeance. This comes out of an attitude of wanting to control our circumstances! James reminds his readers (James 1:19-21) “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
The keys to developing self-control when it comes to our actions towards the circumstances life throws at us are training (development of discipline), submitting (relying on the power of God), and .
Discipline is not given to believers as a gift, but rather opportunity is given (otherwise known as tough circumstances) to train us in the way God would have us live. Paul tells the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:25) that “everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Preparing for how we will act in various circumstances is important so that we do not act on impulse.
Our efforts in this training are a key to the development of self-control and in learning how God would have us respond to our circumstances rather than impulsively react. Like the athletes Paul talks about, we use pain to grow and become stronger; we use trials to learn and become better. Even study can help as we learn from others’ tough experiences.
Part of preparing to deal with circumstances God’s way, is recognizing that the power to do so comes from God when we submit to Him. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Temptation, one of the primary circumstances to attack us, is something that God enables us to deal with and resist when we are living in submission to Him. Paul later tells Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7) “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Submission to God gives us the power to not be slave to our circumstances. Indeed, God has given us everything we need to live a godly life, which will then enable us to respond right to circumstances. 2 Peter 1:3-8 says:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our relationship with God is an important key to self-discipline. John Newton once said “When people are right with God, they are apt to be hard on themselves and easy on other people. But when they are not right with God, they are easy on themselves and hard on others.” So, if we want good interactions with others, then we want to be in a right relationship with God; loving God is prerequisite to loving others right.
When we have submitted to God in our wills, He enables us to see as He sees. Our circumstances often become clearer as we understand better what is going on and why. Peter reminds His readers (1 Peter 5:6-8) “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We need that reminder that the devil is seeking to ‘pull the blinders’ on us; his main methods of operation are deception and accusation. When we are aware of this, we become skeptical of the accusations thrown at us, and the things done to us, and start seeing them through the eyes of God. We are then better able to respond to the circumstance as God would. Seeking the wisdom of God will make us aware of what the devil is doing, and by the Word of God, we are able to conquer his actions against us. James 3:17 reminds us that “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
Our alertness, and reliance on God’s wisdom is the third key to developing self-control and knowing how to respond to our circumstances. He wants to help us see the world as He does, so that we can better understand what we should say, and when we should just hold back. This goes for both words and actions.
So next time someone says or does something to you that you do not like, then rely on discipline, submission, and alertness to help you. Take time to think before you speak or act. Sometimes this means countering evil with good. Other times this means realizing that the attack is not even against you, but against God. If the circumstances have come because of your own wrong actions or words, then you must take the opportunity to humbly learn from it. We are never called to ‘just forget it’ or to ‘sweep it under the rug’ but rather to deal with circumstances patiently, carefully, and as God would.