I like Peter.
He messes up, puts his foot in his mouth, swears he won’t do something and then does just that. He gets to walk on the water with Jesus and still sinks because He takes his eyes off of Him. He got it all right and all wrong at the same time.
Peter and I are friends.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been camped out in 2 Peter 1. These words in verse 5 -7 keep rolling around in my head and heart.
“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.” ~2 Peter 1:5-7 (NIV)
I initially got stuck there because of that pesky perseverance word. Mostly, it caught my eye because there is a noticeable lack of suffering in this passage and anytime I can grow in perseverance without enduring suffering, I’m in.
The Passion bible translation listed these verses as “Faith’s Ladder of Virtue” and that sounded incredibly important. My mind started racing down (up?) the ladder trying to figure out on exactly which rung I was standing.
I felt pretty confident saying I do have faith. It’s tiny sometimes, mustard seeds and all, but it’s there. Paul tells me in Romans there is no good in me so it’s safe to say that’s a no. That knowledge rung intrigues me. I love to learn.
Maybe I can skip over goodness and say I’m on the knowledge rung?
Then I get to self-control.
At first glance, and the next several times I walked myself up (down?) the ladder, I gave that one a big ole check mark.
In my mind, self-control equals not doing the 90’s youth group deadly sins. Smoking, drinking, sex (I’m married now, it’s allowed.).
I don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, which includes not allowing my kids to say OMG and that, friends, is a legalistic task not for the faint of heart.
I’m not spending my money at bars or hard rock concerts (for you 80’s youth groupers).
I do my assigned bible study homework, don’t post rants on social media, and stop myself on from commenting on the rants of others (you’re welcome).
But that all feels…shallow. Like the spiritual milk for babies instead of the steak for warriors.
Or in my case, the more affordable roasted chicken for adults like Peter who mess up as often as they get it right.
One day this week, my son came across the crosswalk with his head hung low and quietly crying.
“Buddy, what’s wrong?”
“Momma, I don’t know how to tell you this but I moved my color to light green.”
Cue loud bawling.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and night talking through this very dramatic turn of events. He talked when the teacher told the class to be quiet. Thus he had to change his color from dark green to light green. Devastation.
When we mess up or when our emotions get the better of us, we ask Jesus for help. He gave us this amazing list of things He can give us through the Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” ~Galations 5:22-23a (NIV)
Discipline that asks our little people to do anything in their own strength teaches them they have the power to succeed or fail all on their own. But that’s not true. Only with Jesus and the Spirit can we see victory over our natural inclinations.
And when we’re extroverted, six-year-old boys, our natural inclination is to talk to our friends during lunch.
During prayers that night, we asked Jesus to help both of us have a bit more self-control the next day. We thanked Him for sweet teachers who gently guide us and tender hearts that want to do the right thing. And we know when we ask for something in Jesus’ name for kingdom purpose, He is faithful and just to provide that.
The truth is, for me, my sweet son and Peter, self-control is a gift.
As are all the qualities listed on the Ladder of Virtue. We don’t get them on our own. There is no shelf in a store, even in the Target, where we can pick one up when we need it.
But it is a gift we rarely ask to receive.
Self-control is not about a list of things we don’t do. It’s about a heart willing to do things we shouldn’t do.
If we want more self-control, a tighter grasp on our budget or to not buy the adorable Blessed pumpkin, we start with prayer. We ask the Spirit for just that.
But then, that next step? The way we can practically put that self-control into action?
Peter asked to walk with Jesus on the water. He asked to be a part of the miracle. Volunteered to get out of the boat. But then he did the same thing I always do.
He looked away.
We pray for patience and kindness and gentleness and joy and self-control, but then when we are faced with a situation where we have to put those into action, we look away.
This is our challenge this week…
If we don’t want to look away, if we want to move our hearts away from our natural inclination to willingly do things we shouldn’t do, we need help.
First, we have to intentionally ask for self-control. We have to decide we really do what to live out Grateful instead of purchasing grateful.
But then, we must keep our eyes on Jesus and the fruit the Spirit generously gives us.
We exercise the self-control of the Spirit through gratitude.
When I stare at the cute throw pillow, I list all the pillows already in my closet. I own at least 54. One more pushes me into hoarder territory.
When I find a present I think my kids would like but isn’t on their list (and I know they will play with for only two hours), then I gratefully pray thanks for the presents already in my closet waiting to be wrapped.
When I feel exhausted at even the thought of Thanksgiving meal prep, I decide to pray blessings over each ingredient and every seat we want to fill with homesick college students.
If we want to step on to that rung of self-control on Faith’s Ladder of Virtue, we simply need to ask for the gift of that fruit and then be grateful for that gift and all the other gifts we already have.
We ask to get out of the boat in faith but we keep our eyes on Jesus through gratitude.