He had to. He has preached about self-control in our college chapel. So, yeah. He couldn't just blow it off.
The message he preached from Titus 2 was really convicting for me because I have so many pockets of laziness in my life, so many examples of a failure to exhibit self-control. It is something I have been working on and meditating on lately.
A few weeks ago I picked up a thought-provoking book and ended up reading it all the way through. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan suggests focusing our life and our efforts of self-discipline on the area most effective for attaining our goals. I always try to analyze what I read in the light of Scripture, so there were a number of things I found myself thinking about after I finished the book, and one of them was the interesting argument that will power is a myth.
They call it a myth because we often make plans with the assumption that when we are dropped into that challenging place of decision or temptation in our lives, our will power will be there to bolster us up. The stark reality, they argue, is that when we lean on our own will power, we often find it has mysteriously gone AWOL.
We probably find this true in our lives. For instance:
- A father knows he needs to come home from work and spend some quality time with his kids. But he is tired at the end of the day. The Lazy Boy looks really cushy. The football game is on. The kids will still be there tomorrow.
- A homemaker knows she needs to do laundry. The piles of dirty clothes in the house attest to that. The bathroom is lined with wet towels. And the sheets haven't been changed in a while. But she just heard that ding from her cell phone, and that means that one of her 1,537 friends on Facebook messaged her. The laundry will be there tomorrow.
- The college student knows that he has homework to do in order to be prepared for class tomorrow, but his buddies are crowding into the dorm room, getting ready to play a video game. The schoolbooks will be there tomorrow.
- The busy mother knows she needs time with the Lord. She knows that the one needful thing in her life is to sit at the feet of Jesus. But she woke up late, and there are kids to feed and a shirt to iron for her husband. Jesus will be there tomorrow.
In the moment of temptation, we often fail the will-power test.
But self-control is NOT a myth. It is commanded by God. Titus 2 actually spells out all the categories of people who are supposed to exercise self-control: old men (vs. 2), old women and young women (vs. 5), and young men (vs. 6). That pretty much means everyone on planet earth, right? And if we aren't clear on that, verses 11-12 mention again that "the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us. . .to live self-controlled."
That means me. My husband. You.
But how can we do this? Here are eight suggestions for specific actions we can take today.
8 Actions We Can Take to Promote Self-Control in our Lives
- Analyze your life. Where are you failing to exercise self-control? If this is a habit, what is the trigger for that habit? Why is this habit so detrimental to your life and the glory of God? What are your besetting sins and the weights that hold you back? (Hebrews 12:1)
- Renew your mind. What should your life look like in that moment of temptation (when you face the trigger)? Why should you exercise self-control with regard to that particular temptation? What is at stake when you fail? What will your life look like in ten years if you continue to fail? What example are you setting for the watching world? What are some verses that can help you to overcome that bad habit, and where can you post them for quick reference, or how fast can you memorize them so that they can begin to bring victory? (Eph. 4:23)
- Form new habits. Habits are the building blocks of a self-controlled life. Habits are powerful. You know this, because you know how powerful your bad habits are. So imagine the power a good habit can have. Read about habits and study how they work. (This is a fascinating book.) Conscientiously work on establishing new habits that can overcome your old habits. This is the put off/put on principle we find in Ephesians 4:22-24.
- Practice radical amputation. (Matthew 18:8-9) What do you need to jettison from your life in order to maintain self-discipline? Is there a friend that constantly tears you down? A road you shouldn't take because of a billboard? A buffet restaurant you should stay away from? A time of day when your Wi-fi should be turned off? A TV to give away? A computer to take outside and smash to smithereens?
- Erect barriers of protection. Even a flimsy barrier is better than none. Brushing your teeth after dinner can provide a barrier between you and a late-night snack. Not buying sweets at the grocery store can protect you from unhealthy eating at home. And having your devotional time far from your computer and cell phone can deliver you from the distractions of the online world so you can focus on the Lord.
- Measure yourself. Don't compare yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself. Each day you successfully put off the bad habit and put on the new one, mark your calendar. Aim for an unbroken string of days. "You can't improve what you don't measure" is a remarkably spot-on adage.
- If needed, find accountability. Do you have a friend who struggles with the same issue, or even a different issue? Can you hold each other accountable? When trying to begin a new habit, I have found great help from an accountability partner or group.
- Pray. You might lack will power, but the Holy Spirit has the ability to help you establish self-control in your life. Ask God for help in the areas in which you struggle. Then clothe yourself in the full armor of God and head back into the war.
These are eight things that I have found extremely helpful in my own battle for self-discipline. It's a battle I'm constantly fighting.
How about you?
It's easy to get discouraged when we know we have failed so often in the past, but God has commanded self-control. Let's take action today to obey this important, life-altering command.