Fruit of the Spirit: Self Control

No. You can’t go there. You can’t eat that. Stay in your lane. Do not touch this. Don’t run over there. From a very young age, we’re always taught to control ourselves. We’re told what to do, what not to do, what to eat and not to eat, where to look..etc. At first, all of these boundaries are placed on us by those around us – our guardians and caretakers. Eventually, we learn ourselves that touching an open switchboard is a bad idea or climbing to the very top of a tree will probably bring us falling down to its bottom, very fast (true stories). Eventually, we start to put boundaries for ourselves and start controlling our own curiosities and urges.

Controlling our “self” is a very strange thing. If we ask someone not to do something and they talk back to us, it’s rebelling. If they comply, they’re good kids. What about when we rebel and we don’t listen to ourselves? Who are we fighting against? It’s ourselves. When we say “no” to something we want to do, we’re also admitting that we really desire to engage in that activity.. We are admitting that we really want to figure out how electricity works. Again, the truth is, we refrain ourselves from something we realllllllly want to do. Most of the time, we place our desire to not get electrocuted and die over our desire to touch something shiny hanging from the switchboard. However, sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes, we don’t really believe that our consequences are worse than our actions. We become blind to ourselves.

Often, we don’t realize that our actions are a result of our deep rooted desires and this gets us in trouble. Not being able to couple our actions with our desires leaves us thinking that we just made a one-time mistake. Then, we can’t figure out why we keep making that same mistake over and over again. Every action that we take is a result of the thoughts and desires we’ve cultivated within us. Our mistakes are actions driven by the desires within us. The Bible continually teaches us that man’s problem is his heart. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person. “(Matthew 15:19). We need to change how we think in order to control how we act. Romans 12 teaches us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It all starts within ourselves.

“A Native American Elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’  When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, ‘The one I feed the most.'” I believe I heard this story at an Intervarsity camp a long time ago but it’s an imagery that has stuck with me all these years. Every desire that we have within us has an opposing desire that we suppress. I want an ice cream sundae; I want to live healthy. I want to go 85 mph; I don’t want a ticket. I want to be married; I want my freedom. 😀 The desires that win over the other is the one we feed the most. Our sinful desires keep getting fed every time we ignore its counterpart. We must exercise love to combat lust, service to combat pride, generosity for greed, and so on.

The best thing to do is to get out of the business of controlling ourselves altogether. Our desires are driven by the things that capture us the most. Psalms 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s nice to think that God accompanies us in fulfilling our desires. The caveat here is that we delight in the Lord. The more time we spend with Him, the more our desires align with His. We suppress our desires by feeding the “good dog”, the good desires that come from our Father. Self-control begins with realizing that we need to be controlled, that we have desires in us that don’t align with what we want. Paul says in Romans 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Sometimes life decides to be funny and throw us an easy opportunity to fulfill the desires that we’ve tried to suppress all week. Today, we live in a world where we can do whatever we want without judgement or without anyone finding out. Technology allows us to live in anonymity and to hide from the actions we take. One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Joseph and I think the best lesson he teaches us is simply: Run!. We are weak. As I stated in the beginning of this blog, our temptations are OUR desires. We WANT to do these things. Paul says “Flee the evil desires of youth.” The best thing we can do to control our evil desires, to starve it and not give it an opportunity. Do not place yourself in a situation where your weakness is tested without an escape. Run!

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