Raise your hand if you have problems with self-control.
You can’t see me, but mine is raised. This is a characteristic and fruit of the Spirit that gives me the most trouble. Maybe it’s because I’m just a passionate person, so most of the time I live in extremes. I seem to go through life with an “all or nothing” attitude. This can be good in some ways, but in others, it’s my downfall. For example, when I’m watching a tv show on dvd, I don’t just stop at one or two episodes – 8 hours later I’m half-way through the season. But come on, have you seen LOST?
The Bible says that when we’re in step with the Spirit and spending time with the Lord, self-control is a natural by-product (Galatians 5:22-25). This gives me trouble because I think that I can somehow DO self-control. That if I discipline myself enough to study the Word every day, then I’ll be self-controlled. Now, this is actually true – the spiritual disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, solitude, service, etc.) are real and something I’m going to start taking very seriously. But I can never seem to be consistently self-controlled. I try to be disciplined and I might be okay for a little while, but my determination always wanes. So how does this work?
Last week, a friend and I listened to a sermon on self-control by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC and my entire viewpoint has shifted. Dr. Keller talked about self-control being a matter not of the mind and will power, but a matter of the heart. Joy power. If we set our heart on the higher thing, on the pearl of great price, we will have self-control in all things. Well, what is that higher thing, that higher joy? JESUS. When He becomes our heart’s passion and all-consuming desire, then we will find ourselves exercising self-control.
Why is this true? Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 – he likens our spiritual journey to an athlete training for a competition. Athletes are disciplined and self-controlled because they have their hearts set on a higher thing – on a prize. Just like these Olympians we’re watching compete in Vancouver. Yes, they may want to stay out late partying with their friends or eating tubs of ice cream, but they don’t. Why? Because they want the prize, the gold. Paul says this is how we should live. We are disciplined so that we are not disqualified and in the end, we receive the prize.
What is the prize, you may ask? It is knowing Jesus and sharing in the blessings of the gospel. Jesus had the ultimate self-control in his life and journey to the cross because He had a “joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). That joy was us! You and me! Before then, He didn’t have us, we were separated from God because of our sin – but after He died, took our sin, and conquered death, He did. He made a way to God, a way to be in relationship with Him. We are the joy of God’s heart, the passion and delight of His Spirit, which led Him to sacrifice everything to be with us.
If we fix our eyes on Jesus, if He becomes our one and only delight, we’ll have self-control. Because knowing how much He loves us will compel us to love Him back, to give Him everything. And when we set Him as the higher thing, as the joy of our lives, we’ll want to spend time with Him and we will be disciplined.
Okay, so I basically (although not as eloquently) just reiterated Dr. Keller’s sermon to you. But to me, this is revolutionary! The key to self-control is JOY power. It’s turning our eyes to Jesus. I know that I currently have self-control problems, but I pray and ask God to give me a passion and love for Him that makes everything else pale in comparison. I want to set my heart on things above, not on earthly things so that I’ll be able to put to death anything belonging to my sinful nature (Colossians 3).
During Lent, my desire is to fix my eyes on Jesus and, in so doing, have the desire to spend time with Him daily and do less of the things that distract me. I can already see this shift taking place. Because I want to look to Him and because I want to minister to high school girls and share God’s unbelievable love with them, I want to spend time studying His word and listening to Him. I want to be plugged into what He is doing in the world around me and I can only do that when I am setting my heart on Him. I can only hear when I take the time to listen. I can only learn by studying. I can only find by searching.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus – Look full in His wonderful face – And the things of earth will grow strangely dim – In the light of His glory and grace.