What’s the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat? I never really grasped the importance of these unique instruments until I made a really big mistake. When I was first married, we lived in Kansas City. In January, we took a trip to Florida, and being a frugal person, I turned the thermostat to “off” so that we’d save money on heating while we were gone for a week. Upon returning to our house, I observed the important difference between the thermometer, which had been well below freezing for several days, and the thermostat, which regulated the temperature in the house. This lesson became massively expensive because the pipes in our house froze and broke. When we turned up the thermostat, the water in the broken pipes unthawed and began to pour out of the broken pipes, and we had lots of damage to the drywall, carpet, cabinets, etc.
I’m very clear now that a thermometer measures temperature, and a thermostat controls temperature. I also think it’s important to consider that people can be thermometers or thermostats. This means that some people merely reflect the pressures of life like a thermometer reflects the temperature. Other people can be thermostats. In this case, people who are thermostats endeavor to regulate how they respond to the intensities of life rather than merely reflecting what’s happening.
I think a really good example of the contrasts between people being thermometers and thermostats can be seen in 2 Samuel 16:5-14. These verses are set in the context of King David fleeing from Jerusalem when his son, Absalom, overthrew his dad from the throne, and David ran for his life. During David’s flight, Shimei (a relative of King Saul) followed David and his entourage, cursing them as they fled, throwing rocks and dust on David along with his servants, mighty men, army leaders, and others.
If you were with David at that time, running for your life being chased, cursed, and having rocks and dust hurled at you, perhaps you might be really cranky with such circumstances and pressures. Maybe you’d pick up a rock and hurl it at Shimei, reflecting his behavior. Or maybe you’d pause to consider your reaction. This is the point where a decision is made related to being a thermostat or thermometer.
I’m bringing this decision point to your attention because of the contrasting behaviors and words of David and Abishai, the brother of David’s army leader. In 2 Samuel 16:5-14, there’s a stark contrast between Abishai being a thermometer and David being a thermostat. In these verses, Abishai wants to cut off the head of Shimei because of Shimei’s yucky words and behaviors. Abishai is nothing but a thermometer, reflecting the tension and awful circumstances.
In contrast, I would suggest that David is a thermostat in this situation. I say this because of David’s words in 2 Samuel 16:11-12, David says, “Behold, my son [Absalom] who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.”
It’s important to pause and consider David’s choices on how he responded to Shimei. By choosing not to react in kind to Shimei’s actions, David set the tone and temperature for everyone who was with him. Because of David’s choices, the people around him kept their actions in check and recognized that they could follow David’s example rather than reflect Shimei’s behaviors.
So let’s be aware that we can actively choose to be a thermostat and regulate our responses, or we can be a thermometer and reflect the pressures and intensities of what’s happening around us. May we choose to live from genuine love more than reacting to the stimuli in our environment!