Self-control, like patience, is a fruit of the Spirit that makes us cringe. It seems unattainable, elusive, impossible, and we can beat ourselves up over our lack of it in many areas. Now I don’t have a magic formula that I found in some obscure verse in the Bible. But here is some practical, and I hope biblical, advice.
God is perfect, but He is not a perfectionist. He gives us commands, and He promises to enable us to obey Him by means of the grace He abundantly provides. But we are pretty thick and our flesh is obstinate and won’t go along quietly at all. So we flub up consistently, which should be a potent reminder that Christianity is the religion for us: we need a Savior.
Sometimes we don’t have self-control because we are not defining it biblically, but in a worldly way. We think that if we had self-control, we would all wear a size 6 and be in great shape because we were getting in an hour of exercise everyday after having our two-hour quiet time and a bowl of granola. And since very few of us attain to such things, we all think we are pretty pathetic, and we look with envy at the woman who is wearing the size 6, and think to ourselves, “If I only had self-control, I could look like that. But I don’t, so I am a big loser.” And then we go on to confess our lack of self-control, when what we should have been confessing was the envy, the discontent, the self-absorption, and the melodrama.
Self-control begins in the heart, and it works its way out in our thoughts, words, and actions. James says that if a man can control his tongue, he is perfect. The tongue is a pretty unruly animal and requires a strong hand. This is a great place for all women to begin to acquire self-control. We can begin by listening to ourselves. Do we need to tighten up? How do we talk to our husbands? Children? To we confide too much in friends, and do we excuse one another for our indiscretion? If so, then we should pray for God to set a watch at the door of our lips and make restitution when we sin with our tongue. We easily excuse ourselves when we sin with our tongue, attributing to ourselves the best of motives. But we beat ourselves up for imaginary sins, like having chips with lunch. And you can confess false guilt all day long, and it does not go away.
If we have bad thought habits, self-control names the sin correctly (lust, greed, ingratitude, etc.), confesses it, and then asks God for grace to overcome the ungodly habits of mind. Sometimes this means IGNORING the ugly thoughts. Spurgeon said that you can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair. So shoo them off, don’t analyze them to death. But analyzing them seems like the spiritual thing to do; it’s what our flesh wants to do. But self-control won’t have a bit of it, but presses on to better things.
If you have a besetting sin, this is an area where the city wall is broken down, and the enemy has easy access. It may take a long time to overcome this, but as my husband has wisely reminded me, “If you weren’t resisting this sin, you would be busy resisting another one.” In other words, we are all being sanctified, and that will take a long time. Don’t waste time being discouraged about what kind of sin you are fighting. We don’t get to choose our enemies. And temptation is not the same thing as sin. You may have a day of resisting temptation successfully, but you feel worn out and defeated at the end of the day, and somehow think you have lost when this was a great day of victory.
Emotions are nice but unreliable. Women in particular need to wield control over their own feelings rather than letting the feelings control them. They can really work us over good if we let them. Self-control has the wisdom to see what is going on. I think it is as equally unwise to get really excited and buoyant as it is to get down in the dumps. Mood swings are not fun for anyone in the room. Self-control is like a thermostat, setting the temperature, and keeping things at an even keel. Emotions are like the thermometer, affected by the surrounding climate or conditions, and given to great fluctuation.
In all these things, we need God’s Spirit to fill us, teach us, and open our eyes to what it is we are about. We are foolish creatures, in great need of wisdom. And God has promised to give it to us when we ask.