Friday, June 20, 2008

15 things God has taught me about self-control

We could all do with more self-control.

Perhaps you battle your temper daily, indulge in too much TV or novel reading, or are regularly tempted to look at pornography. Perhaps you have lost control of your spending, give in to gossip or slander, or sleep too long each night. Perhaps you seek comfort regularly in something other than God, whether alcohol, food, or caffeine.

Just last week, I taught my Sunday School class about self-control. My new year's resolution was to grow in self-control and self-discipline. You may also remember my earler post on what self-control means in the Bible. God has taught me a lot about self-control when it comes to spending, eating, and computer use. It's a slow, hard battle, but it no longer feels like a losing one.

I though I'd share some small things I've learned about self-control:

  1. Expect the first week when you're "kicking the habit" to feel completely impossible. Maybe you've been eating for comfort for years, or rushing to check your inbox every spare moment. It's become like a drug for you, and your body and mind miss it when it's not there. You'll feel acutely uncomfortable every time you say "no" for a few days ... or weeks!
  2. Expect this to be followed by a rush of victory to the head. At some point (many points!) you'll think "I've nailed it!" You'll go into a shop, sure you can resist this time; or buy a block of chocolate, believing you can limit yourself to a couple of pieces each day. Ha! You're a better person than me if you can over-confidently expose yourself to temptation and win.
  3. If at all possible, cut temptation off at the root. "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away" (Matt. 5:29). Pornography? Use Covenant Eyes. Shopping? Only shop when absolutely necessary; avoid sales; take a detailed list, even for sock shopping; shop with someone else.
  4. The struggle will get easier ... then it won't. You'll get sick of fighting the same battle day after day. The novelty will wear off. You'll start to wonder what the point is. Some weeks will feel easy, some impossible. A time of sickness or sorrow may plunge you back into the thick of it again. Don't give up!
  5. Remember that self-control in one area spreads to other areas. Eating or sleeping too much may seem insignificant. It isn't. Self-control has muscles: practise in one area, and your muscles get stronger for other battles.
  6. Habits are like animals, they grow with every tiny tidbit. When you feed a habit, however insignificantly, it grows in power. Choose to feed a good habit, not a bad one, and watch it grow.
  7. Don't be a legalist! Rules breed despair. When you don't keep rules, it's easy to think "I'm hopeless!" so you give in and fail spectacularly. Instead, think "Oh, well, I stuffed up today, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying again tomorrow." Sensible, flexible self-discipline, which bends when necessary, is more useful than rules, as I discovered here.
  8. Instead, remember the law of love (Rom. 13:10). I find it helpful to ask at each point, "What would be a loving decision to make right now? Would eating this / buying this / reading this benefit my family and those around me?"
  9. When you fail (which you will, often!) remember you are already perfect in God's eyes. He forgives you ... and forgives you ... and forgives you again. His Son died for you. Don't throw that back in his face! Weep, enjoy his grace, get up, and go on. Learn to live in the centre of his grace.
  10. Get some weapons for the fight! Memorise relevant Bible passages and verses. Repeat whenever necessary.
  11. Pray. It is God's Spirit who enables you to obey! Pray daily for God's help in the particular area you struggle with.
  12. Don't fight alone. Ask another Christian to help you fight. Call them once a week for an update. Be honest with them. Ask them to pray with you, and for you.
  13. Make sensible use of the world's resources. Exercise, go for a walk, take a cold shower. Whatever it takes, within reason.
  14. The temptation won't go away. This life is a battle. Expect it to last to the end. But expect joy along the way, too! What a joy it is to discover God's grace in our sin, God's power in our weakness, and God's comfort in our discouragement.
  15. It's never too late to learn to exercise self-control. I struggled despairingly with over-spending for more than 15 years. If God can help me to begin to overcome this problem, he can help you.
If you have serious physical addictions to alcohol or drugs, the issues will be more complex. An excellent book to read is Edward Welch's Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave which gives a Biblical view on how to overcome addictions. I highly recommend it!


Susie said...

Hi Jean,

Have you been listening to Covenant Life Church's series of the Psalms? There is one on addiction. A good series....I suspect you have. Hope you are well.


Jean said...

Thanks for reminding me, Susie! I haven't heard this talk, I just started on the one on depression today (for a seminar I'm giving). But I'd forgotten there's one on addiction! I'll have to post a link. Thanks.

Luke Gilkerson said...

Great thoughts on self-control! Thanks for mentioning Covenant Eyes. We hope that our software helps to build self-control in its users.

If your church would like to have some free brochures or bulletin inserts about Covenant Eyes, please let me know. If there is anyone at your church who can benefit from our software, we want to get it into their hands.

God bless,
Luke Gilkerson
Internet Community Manager