Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gaining Self-Control

I {written by Ken} didn’t realize until recently how much God’s Word emphasizes self-control as a vital godly discipline. Sure I knew that self-discipline was important, but this was the first time I went through and tried to find every verse in the Bible as it related to this vital personal discipline. I am in most respects a very disciplined person when it comes to my work and my goals, but in other areas of life I do not keep my flesh under control as well as I should. Is that not what self-control is really all about? Telling one’s flesh “no” when what it wants to do, say, see or eat is not the best for us? How many of you are like me and find yourselves at times settling for “short term gain with long term pain” or “short term pleasure with long term destruction?” Is this not a lack of self-control?

My three greatest weaknesses with self-control are wanting to eat too much junk, wanting to watch too much junk, and at times saying things that I should not have said, or in a way I should not have said it. The reality is that each of these things is simply the feeding of my flesh and fleshly desires. Don’t misunderstand as I am not some zealot for perfection, nor do I want to sensor everything a Christian eats or watches on TV. Each of us are at a different point in our journey with the Lord and you are most welcome to your Big Mac and ice cream without feeling an ounce of guilt if you can eat them in moderation and your main diet is healthy, natural whole foods. If you saw what I eat with my protein shakes and huge organic salads almost every day at home you might laugh that I am even concerned about self-control in my eating. I am not a total slob when it comes to self-control, but I do at times lack it, and need to do a better job of saying “no” to self.

My greatest struggle with self-control comes when I am traveling. I just got back from three weeks working in Europe and if there is one thing I love it is French bread and pastries. To be honest, I love almost everything about French food except for the various innards they like to eat as delicacies. But give me a French hotel breakfast buffet and the baked goods will be my undoing. One, two or three croissants and "pain au chocolate" is not quite enough. Have you ever had one of those snail pastries or one loaded with almond paste? If the flesh is not completely satisfied, you can always make your own designer pastry with ten different jams and my favorite, Nutella.  And of course you have to get your monies worth, and finish it all with a little discipline of eating some prunes.

Then there is the French bread that is bar none the best in the world. I can’t tell you how many different varieties I experienced but why is it that the French can make bread taste so much better than we do? Maybe it is because it is made fresh daily? So the first evening with a client and friend we decided to have pizza, and of course in Europe you each get your own. When it came out I exclaimed that it was huge and we should have gotten one and not two, but when it was all over, only a few pieces of crust remained. Wow it was good because it was on that French dough. So the next night, we decided to display some self-control by not going out to eat. Instead we bought one very long French baguette along with some toppings and watched France lose to Brazil in soccer. The sausage slices turned to great cheeses and then I finished up with the Nutella… one, slice, two slices, four slices of bread covered with chocolate frosting. I am glad I do not live in France as I might be the fattest Frenchman ever. 

You get the point. I lack a certain amount of self-control in my eating, and this same lack of self-control shows up in some other areas of my life. Yet God tells me: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 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{I Corinthians 9:25-27}. And 2 Peter 1:5 tells us we are to supplement our faith with self-control. It seems that as a mature believer I have all the fruit of the Spirit in my life, but at times, what is missing is self-control and the ability to say “no” to the flesh, and "yes" to godliness.

It seems to me that the church too often gives a free ride to the sin of a lack of self-control. It’s tough for a pastor to preach on the subject when he knows that what he is eating and watching are things he should not and he is snapping at his spouse from time to time when stressed out. Think about the areas you lack self-control and many times you cannot even see how often you give in to the flesh because it is now a bad set of habits. If you want to really see how often your flesh speaks for you instead of your spirit, ask your spouse to catch you each time they see it and call you on it. Maybe in your toughest areas of a lack of self-control, ask your spouse to hold you accountable.

I am on a thirty day challenge to say “no” to the flesh and I have asked my spouse to help me do so. If she sees my flesh speaking or acting in any way that is not with self-control, I want her to catch me on it so I like Paul can discipline myself and learn greater self-control. This may be a lifelong project, or it may be learned in a month, or year, but regardless it is what God calls each of us to be: Self-controlled in all areas of our lives, even the hidden areas of what we eat, what we think and what we see in private.

In some ways, most of us are addicted to certain fleshly desires even as our struggles may be different. We think we can regularly get away with a lack of self-control, but eventually it shows up in pain and destruction. A husband’s struggle with what he looks at becomes an unfulfilling marriage bed. A wife’s struggle with a lack of respect or control over her tongue results in pushing her husband away and closing down any possibility of real intimacy. A father’s snaps and angry outbursts results in angry and rebellious teenagers, and a mom’s unwillingness to cook healthy and nutritious foods can lead to a myriad of health problems and perhaps a whole family gradually becoming overweight. There is no free lunch in life and most often “we reap what we sow.” So let’s sow the seeds of self-control and self-discipline realizing that this is God’s call on our lives to be at our best in all areas of life and godliness. Is this not what He means when he calls us toput on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” {Romans 13:14}. Ask your spouse to hold you accountable and let us honor the Spirit that is within us, knowing that this is what pleases the Lord.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear,
 but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7