Wednesday, September 1, 2010

archives: 15 things God has taught me about self-control

One of the best things about blogging is that the "you" of the past gets to encourage the "you" of the present. Sometimes when I read an old post, I've forgotten the wisdom God taught me back then, and it encourages me all over again!

This happened the other day when I noticed a link to my posts on self-control over at in tandem (thanks Nicole!). I clicked on it, out of interest to see what I wrote about this topic, and discovered these practical tips on self-control. I found them helpful, so I'm sharing them with you.

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. ...

Here are some small things I've learned about self-control:

  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Habits 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • When you fail, 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.
  • Get some weapons for the fight! Memorise relevant Bible passages and verses. Repeat whenever necessary.
  • Pray. It is God's Spirit who enables you to obey! Pray daily for God's help in the particular area you struggle with.
  • 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.
  • Make sensible use of the world's resources. Exercise, go for a walk, take a cold shower. Whatever it takes, within reason.
  • 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.
  • 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.
And one extra hint from this post which I quoted here:

  • Practice self-denial. Learn to say no to your feelings. Learn to do what you know to be right even if you don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes it’s even beneficial to deny yourself things that are acceptable to have, like a doughnut in the morning or dessert after dinner. Exercising such self-restraint helps you develop the habit of keeping other things under control. Cultivating discipline in the physical realm will help you become disciplined in your spiritual life.

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!

image is by allison marisa from flickr


Nicole said...

Yep, some great stuff here! Definitely worth bringing out again! : )

Deb L said...

Thanks, Jean. Some really helpful advice and very timely given that I have a throbbing headache today from trying to cut back on my tea-drinking habit. Bad news for the Sri Lankan tea industry.

I was especially encouraged by your exhortation to "cut temptation off at the root". One of the other areas in which I struggle for self-control is using the computer too much. I'm a chronic email-checker. A good thing taken too often. To increase my self-control in this area, I've taken to shutting my computer down after I've checked my email in the morning. God has blessed me with a machine with an extremely slow start-up and that alone usually kills off the temptation to check too often. If I find myself gravitating to the computer for a quick-fix during the day (usually in an effort to escape the duty to love my children), the fact that it is off will make me re-think whether I really ought to be doing something more profitable with my time.

And it's also really helpful (and counter-cultural) that you reminded us that self-control is a virtue we are to seek, even without reference to a particular sin. It's a fruit of the spirit to be pursued!

Funnily enough, I've never had to zip up my Bible cover to stop me checking on God's word too often when I've felt overwhelmed by the children.... Hmmm, might be a problem there.