Do You Lead with Self-Control? - The Warrior's Journey®

Do You Lead with Self-Control?

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

On the wall. Photo by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC By 2.0

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28 (NIV)

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Klein, left, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, provides security as fellow Marines climb through a hole during Operation Cobra's Anger in Now Zad, Afghanistan, Dec. 4, 2009. During Cobra's Anger Marines breach walls so they can clear areas occupied by the Taliban. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Albert F. Hunt/Released)

In Bible times, a city depended upon its outer walls as a major fortification against enemy attack. If the opposing force could penetrate the walls of the city, defeat was certain.

Apply this thought to leadership in the military. The leader who lacks self-control becomes like a city without walls. If the one in charge loses control, subordinates suffer, and the organization loses focus. In combat, this can have disastrous consequences.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines self-control as the “ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.”

Are you a leader who practices good self-control?

Estimates indicate that about 50 percent of failures in leadership occur because leaders fail to lead themselves. Simply put, they fail to exercise self-control. Reasons for this include pride, selfishness, insecurity, lack of self-awareness, and being out of balance just to name a few.

How can you improve your ability to exercise self-control? Secular sources don’t say much. Try a search on the Internet and you’ll find an exhaustive listing of terms relating to character -but you won’t find much about the importance of self-control or how to improve it.

One source that does emphasize self-control is the Bible. Not only do numerous verses mention the necessity for good self-control, but many passages recount examples, both good and bad, related to self-control.

In a brief discussion like this we can’t possibly touch on everything related to self-control, but we can focus on a few major points that Scripture makes clear.

Self-control is extremely important to God.

U.S. Marine Cpl. Daniel Ramech, a Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival with Headquarters Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group, observes a water survival advanced course on Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 14, 2017. MCIWS teaches Marines how to improve their abilities in surviving and saving others in water. 1st MLG is home to multiple military occupations that work together to provide support to each element of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force through logistics beyond the capabilities of the supported units. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Rodion Zabolotiny)

Throughout Scripture, both directly and indirectly, the Lord shines a spotlight on the critical need for self-control. The Apostle Peter writes this: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8, ESV).   

Peter has connected the dots for us. Self-control is an essential part of Christian growth and maturity. Without it, spiritual development is stunted, and overall effectiveness as a warrior for God suffers.

Remember, we have been created in the image of God. To become more like Christ, we must grow in our ability to control our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Jesus lived a sinless life and displayed perfect self-control all the way to the Cross. Even during His agonizing hours on the Cross, He said “no” to temptation and “yes” to His Father’s will.

We certainly can’t measure up to Jesus in our self-control, but we must do our best to become more like Him.

Unless sinful behavior is acknowledged as sin, self-control in that area will be limited.

U.S. Army Pfc. Joshua Clark from Grayson, Ky., and Spc. Saikan Corbitt from Newark, N.J., with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, move behind mud walls in order to take over an enemy sniper position during Operation Charkh Restoration, Charkh District, Logar province, Afghanistan, April 5.

This truth can easily be overlooked due to the failure to distinguish between undesirable behavior versus behavior that God specifically identifies as sinful. Undesirable behavior might include smoking, drinking, eating too much, or consistently being late for appointments. These kinds of behaviors may have adverse effects on health and relationships, but the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn them as sin. On the other hand, other behaviors are clearly sinful and described as such in Scripture. Some examples would be drunkenness, gossip, rape, adultery, pornography, and stealing.

The point is this. Until a person recognizes certain behaviors as sinful in God’s sight, change will be limited and temporary. No amount of self-control will halt these behaviors because there is no genuine sense of conviction. The individual may apologize and voice a desire to change, but without a deeply held belief that the behavior is wrong, there’s little hope that things will be different.

Scripture makes several references to things God loves and others that He hates. The Apostle Paul sums up this truth nicely: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9, ESV).

Aligning with God’s values happens as we learn about God and obey what He teaches in Scripture.

Godly self-control can’t be achieved without the Lord’s help.

Personally, I have never liked the term self-control because on the surface it might seem like we can accomplish this on our own. Simply exercise willpower and mental discipline, and the problem is solved. Some people who have achieved great accomplishments mistakenly believe they’ve done this through discipline and human abilities alone – athletes, politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists, and even a few military leaders. They are greatly deceived! We cannot achieve godly self-control on our own. We need the Lord’s help.

Self-control can be learned and developed.

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII -- Sgt. Antuan Martin, a communications signals analyst with 3rd Radio Battalion, assigned to Martial Arts Instructor Course Class 1-17, School of Infantry West, Detachment Hawaii, does weighted squats during the MAIC at building 222, aboard MCB Hawaii, Dec. 13, 2016. The MAIC is a three week long course that puts applicants through rigorous training designed to instill teamwork and develop leadership abilities necessary for a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor to teach classes. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson/Released)

One thing is for sure. God never commands us to do the impossible. Even if it seems impossible, He will provide the enablement to get it done. This applies to self-control as well. Our part is to seek God and to read, understand, and obey what He tells us to do. The key is faith and faithfulness. Believe what God says He will do, and be faithful with your responsibilities. As Eugene Peterson wrote, “Christianity is long obedience in the same direction.”

It is essential to remember that the Lord always provides the wisdom, power, and energy to accomplish His will for our lives. God’s will for the Apostle Paul was to preach the gospel. Notice what Paul says: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29, ESV).

Yes, Paul toiled to fulfill his call, but as the verse tells us, he did this with God’s energy working within him. Self-control is no different. The Lord supplies what we need in order to grow in our ability to practice godly self-control.

One more important fact. When God provides the enablement to win our battles with areas of self-control, He gets the credit- not us.

Godly self-control provides unlimited opportunities to impact our world for the Lord.

Pfc. Mark Lacanlale, Chemical, Biological, Radiological And Nuclear (CBRN) specialist, native of Lacey, Wash., 45th CBRN Company, 70th Brigade Support Battalion, 210th Field Artillery Brigade, leaps over the six vaults as part of the obstacle course event during the 2nd Infantry Division Best Warrior Competition, April 15, 2019, Camp Hovey, Republic of Korea. The competition served as a valuable training experience, and the winners will advance to the Eighth Army Best Warrior Competition May 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Daniel Parker)

Whether we realize it our not, our life is like a book being read by others. People observe and are impacted by what we do – good or bad. Consider a few possible examples in your own life as a warrior in God’s Army.

  • The love and respect you show toward all people- not just a select few
  • The composure you demonstrate during times of conflict, even when others are behaving in ungodly ways
  • The ability you demonstrate in crisis moments while others are falling apart
  • The faith and peace you display when adversity strikes you or your family
  • The consistency with which you tell the truth even if it hurts you
  • Your ability to control your words when others around you are losing their temper and spewing words of hatred and profanity

Regardless of where you are now in terms of self-control, you can grow, develop, and have greater impact for the Lord. God wants this for your life, and He will help you.

Are you willing to pursue better self-control, not just as a military leader but in all areas of your life?

Photos: (By Marines, Licensed under US Govt Work) (By Marines, Licensed under CC by NC 2.0) (By U.S. Army, Licensed under CC by 2.0) (By Marines, Licensed under CC by NC 2.0) (By U.S. Army, Licensed under CC by 2.0)

The content of this Devotional comes from “Daily Strength for the Battle (You, God’s Word, 5 Minutes): Volume 6 Developing the Leader in You” (2020) and is copyrighted by Scott and Judy McChrystal. Used with permission.

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