Self-control. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, isn’t it? Being “sober” minded, self-disciplined, and showing restraint are concepts not too hard to come by in sermons and Sunday school lessons. These are attributes of God and we’re made in His image, being transformed into His likeness. There’s no harm in wanting to grow in these things.
The harm comes, however, in being human…because the thing with humans is we’re prone to severity and extremes – all sorts of imbalance. Left to my own devices, I’m prone to lean heavily on those elements of my relationship with Jesus that elevate self-control and self-discipline and end up in self-righteous striving.
I believe the way we view God’s character plays a vital role in how we relate to Him and how we see Him at work in and around our lives. My confession of having a skewed view of God, seeing mostly His controlled self and seeking control in my walk with Him, came to mind around the Lord’s supper.
In Matthew’s account of the scene, it says He lifted the bread and said “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then, it says, He took the wine and told the disciples “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood, God’s new covenant poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins.”
As a good Southern Baptist girl, I’m comfortable enough to talk about His being the bread. He is the Bread of Life, the manna in our wilderness, the meet-er of our needs, the daily bread of Psalm 23 – eternal sustenance for both the everyman and the king.
It’s with that cup that I struggle. A thimble-sized portion of Welch’s finest doesn’t exactly conjure up images of the redeeming work of the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, crucified as the atoning sacrifice for my sins.
In 1 Samuel 1, we meet Hannah. Hannah was given a double portion by her husband, Elkanah, who loved the Lord and loved Hannah immensely even though Hannah wasn’t able to have children. She was one of two wives for him and the other wife had several children. Year after year, when Hannah went to the temple, this other wife would provoke Hannah and rub salt in the wound of her barrenness. One year, Hannah’s family was at the temple and she was so distraught that she refused to eat and only wanted to go to the temple to pour out her soul to God. She vowed in her heart, with her lips moving silently, that she’d give her child back to God if only He’d give her a child at all.
She is so recklessly abandoned in her pouring out, without regard to appearance or decorum that the priest, Eli, accused her of being drunk. God saw Hannah’s heart of desperation, had a plan, and gave Hannah and her husband a son whom they named Samuel. She kept her promise to God. Samuel grew up in the temple, worshiping God and studying under Eli to become a priest. He would hear from the Lord on behalf of Israel.
When God decided to replace Saul with a new king, He sent Samuel out to anoint this new shepherd-king. God saw that shepherd-boy, David’s, heart and grew him up into the king Israel needed. This is the one we refer to as “a man after God’s own heart“, the man God would use to write the majority of the Psalms. This man after God’s heart could be described as anything but self-controlled, or self-possessed.
We see in 2 Samuel 6 the Lord of hosts defeats the Philistines and allows Israel to bring the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem. There, David blesses the Lord and dances before Him “with everything in him”. David danced wearing nothing but his underwear and showed unbridled joy over what God had done for him and his people.
Fast forward about 994 years to the same city – Jerusalem circa 33 A.D.
Jesus has lived a perfect life, has died, risen and ascended (hallelujah!). The disciples are waiting. It had been seven weeks since they sat in the upper room with Him at the passover meal. Seven weeks since He blessed and broke the bread and poured the wine. On the day of Pentecost during the Feast of Weeks, the believers in Jesus were all meeting in one place and then something crazy, unexpected happened. All the sudden, there was a sound like a rushing wind and it filled the entire house. Divided tongues like fire rested on each of them (!?). They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. They weren’t just speaking. They were glorifying God for all the wonderful things He’d done.
Also in Jerusalem were some devout Jews from all over; Mesopotamia, Asia, Libya, Rome and Egypt, to name a few. They heard what happened and were amazed and so confused about why these people were speaking the languages of their home countries when they were were just a bunch of Galileans. These devoutly religious Jews were so dumbfounded by what they couldn’t explain away, that all they could do was mock it saying ,“They must be filled with new wine.”
Here we see men and women who sought after the heart of God. They sought after Him so much that they past themselves up. So much, that their seeking trumped their concern for appearances and reputation. They didn’t pause to speculate on the sincerity of the moment. They weren’t concerning themselves with what was permissible or how people would react. It wasn’t really about them at all. They encountered the Lord of hosts, the Spirit of the living God, who will not be tamed.
Isn’t it interesting that when we see God consuming his children with His presence we see skeptics accusing them of being drunk? He is the True Vine, the measure of fullness that makes our cup overflow. His presence lowers our inhibitions, makes our joy complete and rids us of our over-controlled, fearful selves. We can tell the skeptic, we do not get drunk with wine, but are filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5).
And when I am the skeptic and am veering too far into the lane of self-possessed control, making rigid boundaries in which the Spirit of God is “allowed” to move…I can know that He is beyond my limits. There’s good news! The Lord is wholly balanced and complete within Himself. The unchangeable I AM speaks peace over my soul all caught up in the tension of trying to be too much of one and not enough of the other and says,
“Rest. I AM the eternal one. I am eternally ALL that for you. Breathe and rest in my finished work. I am the bread and the wine on your behalf. My blood covers you.”
This unsafe God who cannot be controlled, overestimated, disciplined, explained or confined….He is the bread AND the cup!
So, with all the war and terrorism
all the debates that are
black and white grey,
all the heated rants about attempting to re-define,
all the deciding what is or isn’t a life worth living/giving and taking of life,
all the behind-the-screen boldness that really is downright terror grasping at straws for what we can CONTROL,
all the denying the feeling of LOSING CONTROL…
He is there!!! His character is unchanged. His throne is unmoved. So, what am I afraid of? What are we afraid of, really? Losing control. This is fear-inducing because, in our pride, we bought into the illusion that we have control to lose in the first place. There is nothing to fear in His perfect love. Knowing Him means knowing I can’t control Him, explain or confine Him..it feels like a rushing of fresh air, a rushing wind.
“The safest thing to do with a God like this is not to play it safe with Him. It is to never get so caught up in keeping the traditions or hastening the innovations that we forget to throw ourselves headlong into His brusque and tender embrace. It is to never get so busy protecting God that we fail to take refuge in Him.
It is to never become so preoccupied in our Keep God Safe march that we forget to dance before our God with all our might, heedless of the borderland’s rules, tripping the light fantastic all the way into the holy wild.”
:: Mark Buchanan ::
**DISCLAIMER** Please don’t leave having only read what isn’t written. This is not about drinking or not drinking. Your personal convictions on that topic are not up for discussion here. What’s being said is there’s more to living with Jesus than following a set of regulations, constantly seeking to be “self controlled” and serving a God who is containable/explainable. There is a loss of control that is holy and glorifying. Piper said, “He is most glorified in us when we are most ‘self-controlled” in him?”
“He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!”