If you’ve never taught a room full of 5th graders a Bible lesson right before lunch, let me paint you a picture. With each passing minute, they become increasingly restless, and they cannot resist the urge to squirm, wiggle, sigh, and fidget. There I am, pouring my heart out, and I can’t understand why they aren’t sitting still and listening with rapt attention. But you see, I am the one thing standing between them and having lunch, laughing out loud, and enjoying each other’s company. In short, I don’t stand a chance by the end of class.
Parents and teachers attempt to train children to exhibit self-control, though it runs counter to everything their bodies and minds are telling them: Get up! Move! Run! Laugh! Move some more! They seem determined to rail against any directive to control themselves physically. (It would seem the training has not been effective.)
Meanwhile, I’m facing my own internal struggle. As I push through my lesson, straining toward the finish line, I grow more and more impatient with the rising tide of squirminess. My heartbeat quickens as initially innocent wiggles evolve into a full-blown mutiny against my authority. At this point, I am outside of myself; any internal fortitude of my own has been exhausted. There’s nothing I can do by my own strength to meet this ostensible insubordination with the peace, patience, gentleness, and joy that I know the Lord desires from me, and that I know the children need.
Ironically, I’m standing before them essentially preaching the “more excellent way” of love in Christ, and I am on the verge of demonstrating the exact opposite. How much easier it would be to raise my voice and foam at the mouth in order to regain control of the class! Students sense the end of class, and some of them start to pack up because they just can’t sit still one moment longer. Chicken tenders and chocolate milk are just around the corner, and they have forgotten I exist. As I feel myself teeter over the edge, I am convicted by the words of Matthew 23: I am like a whitewashed tomb, appearing righteous and clean on the outside, but filled with hypocrisy and wickedness (vv.27–28).
“Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything.
They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown” (1Corinthians 9:25).
But I simply cannot manufacture the self-control I require. If I rely on my own strength, I become a blind and ineffective guide to the precious children He has placed in my care. I need to remember that the Spirit of the Lord lives within me, bringing freedom. As I contemplate His glory, I recall His promise to transform me into His image (2Corinthians 3:18). I need the Lord Himself to bear the fruit of His Spirit within me. Only then can I exercise the self-control I need to love my students as Jesus would have me love them—with justice and mercy, with faithfulness and patience, with peace and gentleness.
Written by Alex Florez