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. – 2 Peter 1:5-6
As my feet hit the pavement, with each stride my body screams for me to stop. I will myself to keep going.
“Keep running!” I tell myself. “This is good for you.”
“So what!” I think to myself. “Good for me or not, I’m tired, I’m sweaty, and my body is aching. I don’t want to keep running.”
I think of a verse, anything to keep my mind off of running.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13”
I begin saying this over and over to myself.
Focusing on something else always helps when I’m fighting with myself over something I don’t want to do but know I should.
Do you ever do this? Do you ever make yourself do something even though you hate it? Out of nothing but sheer discipline and self-control, there are times when I either have to make myself do something I don’t want to do or keep myself from doing something I really want to do. It’s a battle! Let me share another example with you.
Just the other day, I found myself facing a circumstance in which I needed to control my tongue (or should I say my email response). Someone sent me an email which needed a response and I had a choice to make. I could either send an email flavored with emotion that would soothe my own fleshly nature, or I could choose to use restraint and allow my response to be peppered with grace, while still addressing the issue at hand. I’ll be honest, my original email (the one I did not send) was seasoned with unbridled emotion. But I had a friend read the email and help me word my response in a way that was grace-filled and controlled. Thank goodness God helped me respond with self-control and disciple that day. Otherwise, my own selfish desires would have taken over and taken out the person receiving this email.
Self-control or discipline is the fourth of eight virtues we are learning about this summer. That word—self-control—simply means “mastery of one’s desires and passions, power to restrain oneself.”
When exercising (which I loathe), I had to master my desire to quit. I had to restrain myself from stopping, going home, and relaxing on the couch. When fighting the urge to respond emotionally to an email, I had to master my desire to be unkind and restrain my words.
Everyday we encounter opportunities to practice self-control. With our tongues and responses, with our purchasing power, food choices, with our work, chores, and even with our downtime, at all turns we must make choices, and those choices require discipline.
We read about self-control numerous places in the Bible. These two passages give us a clear picture of the self-control needed to battle our flesh in daily living.
- But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:16-17, 22-26
- So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:26-27
Notice that self-control is a “Fruit of the Spirit.” That’s right. As believers, the Spirit of God dwells in us and His job is to control us. The Holy Spirit helps us fight against our flesh, but we must allow the Spirit to work in and through us.
Practically speaking, how do we do allow the Spirit to work in us?
Remember when I was running, and I began quoting Scripture? That is one of the main ways we can help the Spirit help us.
His Word is our sword. (Ephesians 6:17) We must be reading and remembering God’s Word moment by moment.
Prayer is another way we can practice self-control. We must ask the Spirit to help us in our time of need. When you begin your day, begin with prayer. Admit to God that you are weak and that you will need His Spirit to have self-control. Literally open up your hands to the heavens and surrender your will to God.
Another way is to set up accountability. That’s what I had to do with exercise. I called upon a friend to ask me everyday if I did my daily workout. This simple gesture helps motivate me to do something I don’t want to do. The same is true with anything else. Ask a trusted friend to give you some accountability in your area of need.
When you intentionally work on this part of your life, you will begin to see God pour His grace on you as you choose to grow in the area of self-control. He will tame your tongue when you want to lash out, curb your cravings to satisfy the desires of your flesh, and supply you with the strength to do what He has instructed you to do when you would rather quit. All He wants is a willing heart—a heart that desires to please Him and grow in His abundant grace day by day.