Encouragement From The Word

Self-Control

Call me Captain Obvious, but it’s axiomatic that apple trees produce apples, and pear trees produce pears, and pine trees produce pine cones.  (I don’t recommend eating that last one.)

You won’t get an orange from an apple tree, and you won’t get a lemon from a pear tree.  A tree bears the fruit it was designed to bear.

Followers of Jesus, according to the Bible, receive the Holy Spirit when they name Jesus as Lord and believe that he was raised from the dead to cover our sin.  So if the Holy Spirit lives in us, it makes sense that we should bear the fruit of the Spirit.  That’s what the last eight weeks of Encouragement have focused on.

Today, we come to the final fruit of the Spirit (as outlined by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians).  And it may be the least popular.

We’ve talked about love, joy and peace (wonderful), patience (who doesn’t need more of that?), kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness (all great).  But self-control? Oh, boy!

We live in an age where self-control is less admired than pitied.  We live in a time of more, a time of excess, a time not of self-control, but of self-indulgence.  I think that may be, in part, why the restrictions of the pandemic have proven to be exceedingly difficult for many of us.  And I’ll readily admit that it’s probably the fruit of the Spirit that I least exude.  You might be in the same boat as I am.

So what do we do about that?  Moving to a hermitage is probably not the answer for the vast majority of us, and that simply takes us from one extreme to another.  Self-control is not austerity, though in some cases it may lead to that.  The word in the original language has to do with the mastery of the self.  It is, as one commentator has put it, the Christ-follower’s overcoming of the works of the flesh that Paul outlines in earlier verses in the same chapter (Galatians 5).  The term also refers to the way an athlete disciplines her or his body in preparation for competition.  

In short, self-control is our refusal to give free reign to impulse and desire.  Or, perhaps better put, it’s about submitting our desires to the One who has given us the ability to desire.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires”, says Psalm 37.4 (NLT).  I think it was St. Augustine who said, “Love God and do as you please.”  The concept is the same:  when you truly submit to the Lordship of Jesus, he will transform your desires, and help you (by the Holy Spirit) to bear all of the fruit of the Spirit, including self-control.

Maybe it’s as simple as Charles Sheldon made it seem in In His Steps: if we evaluate each move we make by asking, “What would Jesus do?”, self-control will not be as unattainable as it may seem.

Give it a try!

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

The desires of your heart

We are only marking the beginning of the season of Advent this weekend, but the commercials advertising everything we should want for Christmas have been bombarding us for a few weeks now. I’m reminded of the reality of desire.

A verse I long ago committed to memory was Psalm 37.4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It sounds kind of formulaic, doesn’t it? “If” I delight myself in the Lord, “the result” will be to gain the desires of my heart. But it’s not so simple, is it?

Context is everything. Consider what that verse looks like in context, in verses 3-6: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Considering the immediate context of the verse, and the wider context of the Bible as a whole, verse 4 doesn’t seem so formulaic, does it? We are called, in the context of delighting in the Lord, to trust in him and commit our way to him. And doesn’t it follow, then, that if we trust in, delight in, and commit our way to the Lord, that the desires of our hearts will begin to look a lot like the desires of God’s heart?

My prayer is always that my will will be so knit into the will of God that mine will be indistinguishable from his. It’s a daily discipline, but there is much peace, and much joy, in finding our desires resembling the Lord’s.

As the ads bombard your eyes, telling you what a truly loving person would give another (or oneself) for Christmas, keep in mind that the Lord will give us the desires of our hearts, when we truly delight in him.

Those desires won’t sell much advertising, but they’ll make a difference for eternity.