Developing Biblical Self-Control
O blessed Jesus, give me stillness of soul in Thee.
Let Thy mighty calmness reign in me;
Rule me, O King of gentleness,
King of peace.
Give me control, great power of self-control,
Control over my words, thoughts and actions.
From all irritability, want of meekness, want of gentleness, dear Lord, deliver me.
By Thine own deep patience, give me patience.
Make me in this and all things more and more like Thee.
—St. John of the Cross (1542–1591)
We are never going to enjoy stability, we are never going to enjoy spiritual maturity until we learn how to do what’s right when it feels wrong, and every time you do what’s right by a decision of your will using discipline and self-control to go beyond how you feel, the more painful it is in your flesh, the more you’re growing spiritually at that particular moment.
Self-control is the ability to keep cool while someone is making it hot for you.
The secret to building self-control is to yield our lives to God and let His Holy Spirit guide our thoughts, our actions, and our life. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,” Paul advises, “but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
That doesn’t mean we won’t face temptation or continue to work to overcome bad habits and weak areas in our lives. We need to do our part, of course. We need to put up some resistance when temptation comes knocking, and we need to work on strengthening our weak areas. But the fact of the matter is, we all sometimes fall prey to temptation, give in to our personal weaknesses, and overindulge in some things that would be fine in moderation. The apostle Paul could have been speaking for us all when he wrote:
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:18–19, 21–24)
But then Paul hit upon the answer:
Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:25)
The fruit, or effect, of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is that we become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and we have more self-control. In short, we become more godly or holy. With our increased self-control, we are better able to resist becoming angry with others, as well as impatient, unkind, unloving, and hateful. We are less likely to act in ways that hurt others, or ourselves, through negative and ungodly actions and attitudes. We are better able to rise above our inherent human sinful nature.
Some people naturally have a great deal of willpower or self-control, but that’s not typical. If you have a hard time sticking to a resolution, developing a consistent routine, or building a new habit, I have good news for you: With Me in your life, you have a special advantage—the Jesus advantage.
My Spirit can work in your life in many ways, including by empowering you to manifest self-control. The key for partaking of this help is prayer. The first reason is that I work when you pray. In some way or another, and maybe in an unexpected way, I will do something toward answering your prayer.
Another is that asking for My help in a given area draws My insight and wisdom, and causes you to see your situation from a clearer perspective. Last but not least, when you pray, I can show you things you can do that will help toward your goal. I am very practical, and I know you and how your mind works, so who better can give you ideas and tips of things to do to make your resolution or routine “stick” and work for you?
Even though you have the “Jesus advantage,” you will have to do your part. I’m not going to put on and lace up your running shoes. I’m not going to throw out the cookies you bought shortly after making a resolution to cut down on sugar. However, I can help you find your individual key, your impetus, your motivator, to help you do the things you need to do, and not do the things you need to stop doing. You’re always going to face normal human struggles. But with the Jesus advantage, you can face them with beyond-human resolve.
—Jesus, speaking in prophecy
People with self-control master their moods. They do not let their moods master them. Most of what gets done in the world is accomplished by people who do the right thing even when they don’t feel like it: “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” (Proverbs 25:28)
People with self-control watch their words. They put their minds in gear before opening their mouths: “Be careful what you say and protect your life. A careless talker destroys himself.” (Proverbs 13:3)
People with self-control restrain their reactions. How much can you take before you lose your cool? “If you are sensible, you will control your temper. When someone wrongs you, it is a great virtue to ignore it.” (Proverbs 19:11)
People with self-control stick to their schedule. If you don’t determine how you will spend your time, then others will decide for you: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16)
People with self-control manage their money. They learn to live on less than what they make and they invest the difference. The value of a budget is that it tells your money where you want it to go rather than wondering where it went! “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” (Proverbs 21:20)
People with self-control maintain their health. That way they can accomplish more and enjoy their achievements: “Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body ….” (1 Thessalonians 4:4)
In what areas do you need to develop for self-control? The disciplines you establish today will determine your success tomorrow.
But it takes more than just willpower for lasting self-control. It takes a power greater than yourself: “For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
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