I want to grow stronger in the character trait of self-control so that I am not controlled by my flesh, my sin nature, the world around me, and the devil. There are seven fundamental, foundational principles that govern our pursuit of self-control.
1. We are in a partnership with God in this pursuit. He will work in us and empower us to change and to grow, for apart from Him we can’t change anything. In Galations 5:23 self-control is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit. In 2 Peter 1:3 it says that it is His power that changes us, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,” But Peter goes on and says in 2 Peter 1:6 that we have a part in acquiring this important character trait as well, “that you may become partakers of the divine nature. . . Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control,” The balance between our humble dependence on God, and our faithful obedience, diligence, and discipline is very important in our journey to maturity. We apply this balance by crying out for help everyday and also having personal goals and strategies that we are pursuing.
2. We train ourselves to greater levels of self- control, not by trying harder. Trying harder is the natural route, but it doesn’t work, at least not for very long. Training implies a plan or a strategy. If you decide to learn how to play the piano you would immediately launch into following a plan or strategy. Tomorrow I will tell you what my plan is. You can follow it or invent your own, but without a plan you will go in circles, and continue to struggle with self-control.
3. The key part of the strategy is adding disciplines to our life in small, achievable doses, incrementally. My motto for this is, “a little bit more, just a little bit, a little bit more, just a little bit, but always more.” It is like lifting weights to get stronger. I do 5 different kinds of lifts, each one 25 times, in groups of 5. I take a 3 minute break between each set of 5 lifts. If I do 25 lifts successfully I add 5 lbs the next time I lift. Faithfully, systematically training, adding just a little bit more, just a little bit, I end up getting stronger and stronger. When I turned 50 years old I was fat, out of shape, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, border line diabetic. I decided to do something about it so I started running. I ran one lap in our gym, 1/20 of a mile, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The next night I ran two laps, each night adding one lap. I got to a mile, then 2, then 5, then I ran a 10k, then a half marathon, then a full marathon. “A little bit more, just a little bit, a little bit more, just a little bit, but always more”.
4. The disciplines that we do to get stronger in self-control are like the weights that we add to get stronger physically. It is important that once a discipline is added that we do them everyday, everyday, everyday. Disciplines that are done sporadically never increase our self-control, in fact decrease it because we train ourselves to justify our lack of self-control with excuses. Some disciplines will be done less than everyday, so we maintain the discipline of doing them when we committed to doing them. I lift weights 3 times a week, and only when I am gone do I miss my routine.
5. Bible reading is the first and most important discipline to add to our life in order to grow in self-control. Most Christians don’t read their Bibles everyday, but they always have a good excuse why they don’t. I get asked often, “If I am so tired that I don’t really get anything out of my Bible reading, isn’t it alright to skip it for a night?” Not if you want to grow in self-control, everyday, everyday, everyday! Start with a Bible reading plan that takes no more than 10 minutes to do, and don’t miss a day, if you do miss, make up the reading the next day. When you have been successful for 3 months straight without a single miss, add one chapter to your plan, and then again 3 months later. When you are faithfully reading 30 minutes everyday, everyday, everyday you can move on to the next discipline.
Some more tomorrow.