I thought about this recently as I was reading Jerry Bridges' Respectable Sins. He mentions in the book that every thought we have is indeed exposed to God, and that this is something we need to be mindful of every single day, every hour of every day.
Yesterday was a pretty good day as regular school days go around here, but something transpired that gave me an occaision to get angry. As I tried to keep my anger in check (and I did, at least outwardly), what bothered me the most about my reaction was that I honestly couldn't figure out if it was a selfish anger (something didn't go the way I expected it to) or if it was a righteous anger (something that transpired was a direct affront to God), or if somehow it was a combination of both. In reading Bridges' book he suggests that more often than not when we get angry about something, if we take the time to examine the situation that it is indeed for selfish reasons.
I had to really take the time yesterday and look closely at my reaction. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't pleasant, but it certainly was something that I needed to do, if I want to be more Christ-like in my interaction with others (and I do!).
When I mentally picked apart the event that compelled me to get angry, I thought about how I could have reacted, instead of the way I did react. I thought about how I would hope someone else would react to me, were the shoe on the other foot, and I was the one that cause someone else to become angry. I thought about what my thoughts might look like, if acted out on a screen for me to review - knowing full well God saw the whole rotten scenario. It certainly wasn't an enjoyable exercise, but it was one that I really needed to do, and really need to continue doing. While I would die a million deaths of embarassment if anyone were to be able to see my angry thoughts yesterday, I already know that God saw them and that's enough to compel me to want to work harder on this aspect of "me".
Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (self-control). The Greek word used for self-control comes from the word egkrates and it means to have power over something, or to master or restrain it.
As I thought about this, it was hard not to imagine training for an athletic event. When I was young I played baseball for many years, and the one area that I was definitely weak in at first, and never looked forward to, was batting practice against a particular pitcher on our team. She was well known in the league for her pitching style. It was girl's softball so she was an underhand pitcher, but her speed and accuracy were such that she rivaled the boy's fastpitch with their overhand pitching. She was so fast, that if her aim was slightly off and the ball happened to hit you in the head (and it did with a couple of girls over the years) it would knock you out cold and leave a trophy-sized goose-egg. I absolutely hated batting practice when she was pitching, because she was so good, and I was afraid of her. My coach knew it too, and I'd often be the first one up, because of it. My coach knew that for me to get accustomed to this, I had to just do it. Over and over and over again, I just had to face this pitcher and learn how to master my own batting skills. By the time I quit playing on that league, I looked forward to batting practice. I'd learned her style so well that I knew how to hit off her and I did pretty well. But it took years and years of practice to get it right. Even then, she was still a better pitcher than I was a hitter, but I wasn't afraid of her anymore because I'd faced her so many times I knew what to expect.
In this passage, Paul compares living a christian life to that of an athlete:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1Cor.9:24-27 bold emphasis mine)
I love the way this is worded in the KJV. Every man that strives for mastery, is temperate in all things. In other words, everyone who's contending for a particular goal is rigorously training themselves to be self-controlled, and focused on that goal. Isn't that an amazing picture?
Living the Christian life is about contending daily for the prize. Much training and much self-control, and much self-discipline as we battle things out with the flesh. It may not always be pleasant, it may not always be pretty, but it's what we do because of what He's already done for us. The beautiful thing is, the Holy Spirit is with us each and every step of the way guiding us toward the goal.