Impulse Control and Motivations

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Most of us don't like being told what to do nor how to do it. Especially nowadays, when you can learn how to do most anything via the internet or on YouTube.

On the other hand, we can be appalled at the lack of restraint and viciousness of others—in verbal and physical ways—from bullying to terrorism. We are shocked by the actions of ISIS or Boko Haram, or the indiscriminate violence of school shootings.

Yet, when we lack restraint, we create fertile ground in ourselves for destructive, unrestrained behaviors.


Wine [makes people] mock, liquor [makes them] noisy, and everyone under their influence is unwise. The rage of a king is like the roar of a lion. Whoever makes him angry forfeits his life. Avoiding a quarrel is honorable. After all, any stubborn fool can start a fight. A lazy person does not plow in the fall. He looks for something in the harvest but finds nothing. [vss 1-4]

A motive in the human heart is like deep water, and a person who has understanding draws it out. Many people declare themselves loyal, but who can find someone who is [really] trustworthy? A righteous person lives on the basis of his integrity. Blessed are his children after he is gone. A king who sits on his throne to judge sifts out every evil with his eyes. Who can say, “I’ve made my heart pure. I’m cleansed from my sin”? A double standard of weights and measures—both are disgusting to the Lord. Even a child makes himself known by his actions, whether his deeds are pure or right. [vss 5-11]

The ear that hears, the eye that sees—the Lord made them both. Do not love sleep or you will end up poor. Keep your eyes open, and you will have plenty to eat. “Bad! Bad!” says the buyer. Then, as he goes away, he brags [about his bargain]. There are gold and plenty of jewels, but the lips of knowledge are precious gems. Hold on to the garment of one who guarantees a stranger’s loan, and hold responsible the person who makes a loan on behalf of a foreigner. Food gained dishonestly tastes sweet to a person, but afterwards his mouth will be filled with gravel. [vss 12-17]

(Proverbs 20:1-17 GW) [Context– Proverbs 20]

Key phrase— A motive in the human heart is like deep water

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Digging Deeper...

Which of these admonitions have to do with impulse control? Which ones deal with motivations of the heart?

What assurances or benefits do you see in these verses, and which ones speak of consequences?

Which of these admonitions stands out or surprises you? Which one is your favorite?

How have you seen any of these admonitions played out in your life or in the lives of others around you?


Why do we do some of the things we do? It may be hard to understand at times, but often there are patterns of thought and behavior in our life. One leads to the other. This is one of many reasons we need other people in our life—those who are reliable friends and mentors, even our spouse.

Many times I thought I had a brilliant idea until I shared it with my wife or someone else I trust. Then they begin to ask questions I can't easily answer, or point out flaws in my "brilliant idea" that I haven't considered. There's always a motive buried within us that impacts our behavior, even though it may seem hidden to us at the time.

Getting a handle on our impulse control—those immediate reactions we tend to have—requires an inner discipline. This inner discipline requires a foundation of truth in our hearts and minds. This is the wisdom so often spoken of in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom—godly wisdom—will help us develop healthy and godly motives, which answer the question of why we do what we do.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

Have there been times in your life where you've wondered why you reacted or acted a certain way?

Are there certain patterns or habits that have developed in your life that you don't seem to have much control over?

Who are trustworthy people in your life, who will be honest with you and have your best interest in mind?

What are you doing on a daily basis to develop a foundation of truth and wisdom in your heart and mind?