In Your Self-Control, Perseverance

It’s funny how God sometimes uses seemingly disparate elements of our lives to teach us something. Throughout the past week, various items from different aspects of my life lined up and seemed, mysteriously, to be pointing at the same thing.

A book about nutrition and exercise.

The prophet Haggai.

…and a homeschool physics lesson.

Confused yet? Let me back up a bit.

One of my new favorite things is audiobooks. A long car ride, a monster cleaning session with my kitchen, and a monotonous treadmill workout all go much more quickly when I have a book to enrich the time. My current listening material: Made to Crave, a book about learning to satisfy our desires with God instead of food, by Lysa TerKeurst.

While running and listening a few days ago, I was surprised to hear the author mention the book of Haggai. First, because it’s only about three pages long and therefore not exactly prominent (way to dig into the Word, Lysa!); second, because it’s the book I was about to read in preparation for my monthly Women’s Bible Study. What a coincidence! Here’s what she quoted, where the prophet is speaking in verses 1:2 and 1:3:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “This people says, ‘The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.’ ”

…Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses while this house lies desolate?

What is Haggai talking about? You see, after years of exile in Babylon, the Israelites had recently returned home, and God had stirred their hearts to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1,5). After an enthusiastic beginning, God’s people experienced some opposition, and the work halted…and sixteen years later, they hadn’t ever gotten back to it.

Sixteen years!?!

This is where the science lesson comes in.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force; likewise, an object in motion will remain in motion unless — you got it — acted upon by an outside force. This proclivity towards continuing in one state or the other — briefly stated — is called inertia. As my children and I studied this the other day, conducting various experiments to illustrate it, I was once again awed by the way everything in the physical world seems designed to illustrate some deeper truth about life’s more intangible realities.

The Israelites began building because God’s prompting — the outside force — had set them in motion. For a time, they obeyed gladly, and the work moved forward. Then, however, another outside force — opposition from neighboring peoples — discouraged God’s people, and the progress stopped…and that was it.

Would they have eventually resumed their work if Haggai hadn’t delivered God’s message to them? As Aslan once told Lucy, “No one is ever told what would have happened“; however, if we consider human nature and the way inertia permeates our own lives, we can make a pretty good guess. Let’s be honest: for most of us, changing the course almost always feels like more effort than it’s worth. When the thought crosses our minds that perhaps we should take action, we silence that inner prompting by telling ourselves “the time has not come.” Especially if we are able to look back at good decisions we’ve made in the past, we don’t have much trouble soothing ourselves with promises that we’ll eventually take action…but for now, like the guy in this video clip, we’ve earned a reward and an indefinite break.

“I need to take better care of myself, but…I already had a doughnut today, so I might as well have this cake now.”

“I know I should spend less time on Facebook, but…things are so hard right now, I need an escape. Later, sure, but this isn’t a good time for me to limit something I enjoy.”

“I haven’t spent time alone reading the Bible recently, but…life has been so busy. I’ll get back to having devotions, but this really isn’t the season for it.”

Embracing inertia, I’ve realized, is always the easiest thing. The opposite of inertia? Taking action. Making the choice, again and again, to do the thing God is asking us to do.

Most of us can manage to eat a salad for lunch one day; to put down the smartphone for an afternoon; to pick up the Bible one morning. But making these choices in the face of setbacks? After a few setbacks? The apostle Peter provides some encouragement for those who desire to pursue godliness, but haven’t made the decision to correct their paths:

…His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

…Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness.

(II Peter 1:3, 5-6, emphasis mine)

Self-control, as I often tell my kids, means stopping to think…then making the right choice when we feel like making the wrong one. For many of us, self-control looks like taking action when it’s more comfortable to remain at rest — or putting the brakes on an ongoing behavior or heart attitude that hinders a close walk with God.

Perseverance, then, means making a habit of choosing rightly — and, when we inevitably stumble, turning right around and making the right choice the next time.

Easy? No. But that’s why we rely, not on our own strength, but on the divine power God so graciously gives us. And by persevering, one day at a time, we will find that God Himself is the “outside force” who is infinitely more powerful than our inborn inertia.