Spiritual Disciplines to Help with Growing Self-Control

shhContinued from here.

Jesus said that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Denying yourself requires self-control because it’s quite unnatural for us to do. Spiritual disciplines that involve denying yourself can help you grow the seed of self-control into fruit more quickly.

Fasting can be a particularly powerful way of help you develop the fruit of self-control. While people tend to think of fasting as abstaining from food, you can abstain (deny yourself) from other things as well, such as words (spiritual discipline of silence) or social interaction (spiritual discipline of solitude). Each of these practices places you in a position of denying yourself so you can gain the greater reward of recognizing that you do, in fact, have the ability to exercise self-control.

As an example, let’s say I had reacted differently in the situation I shared in my introductory blog entry for this series: instead of refraining from saying anything negative, let’s say I cussed the person out. This fruit would show that I lack self-discipline over my mouth. A great way to combat this is to fast from words for a period of time by practicing the discipline of silence. I could check myself into a hotel for a weekend or, better yet, go away alone to a cabin in the woods and NOT SPEAK for 48 hours. I could spend that time praying, studying the Bible, going for walks, etc. Whenever I am tempted to speak, I can silently thank God for this opportunity to learn how to exercise self-control over my mouth. After not speaking for 48 hours, I will be more mindful that I do, in fact, have the ability to control what I say … not through willpower but through the fruit of self-control that God implanted in me as a seed.

The spiritual disciplines of fasting, silence, and solitude can be applied to any area of your life where you struggle with controlling yourself, even in areas of addiction and compulsion. To change the way you behave, you must first change the way you think. Spiritual disciplines that involve denying yourself can be powerful ways to help you take your focus off your problem and align your thoughts with God’s ways. As you do this, you will become more effective and productive in God’s Kingdom.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her finger over her lips, saying, “Shhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Recognizing Self-Control is Possible for You

trafficContinued from here.

I stated in my last blog entry that changing your thoughts is pivotal to growing the fruit of self-control. The first step is to stop saying you have no self-control, such as “I cannot control myself when I’m around a chocolate chip cookie.” When you became a Christian, God planted the seed of self-control inside of you, so you actually DO have all the self-control you need to resist eating that cookie or taking that next hit. However, you must do it God’s way, and that involves changing how you think.

I used to believe that I had no ability to control my urge to binge eat. God showed me that was not true by challenging me to wait five minutes before giving in to the temptation to binge eat. During that five minutes, I was to do something else that was constructive, such as watching a comedy, calling a friend on the phone, or writing in my journal. Today, I would replace that “something constructive” with reading the Bible or spending time singing praise & worship songs to God. At the end of the five minutes, if I still could not resist the temptation to binge eat, I could give in with no guilt. I found that about half the time, I was able to continue engaging in the constructive activity and not give in to the urge to binge eat. God then led me to extend the “cooling off” period to 10 minutes … and then to 15 minutes … and then 30 minutes … until the binge-eating dragon lost its hold on me.

What I failed to grasp at the time was that this process taught me that I did, in fact, have the fruit of self-control inside of me. I simply had not been exercising that muscle. With each success, I built more confidence in my ability to exercise self-control, but it was not through willpower: it was through changing the way I thought. I believed that I was powerless to control myself around food, and what I believed became my reality. As God challenged my thinking about my ability to control myself, I gradually developed the fruit of self-control, the seed for which had been planted inside me all along.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting in traffic. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

We are Powerless to Exercise Self-Control on Our Own

weakContinued from here.

One of the biggest lies people tell themselves is that they can exercise self-control through sheer willpower. Anyone who has ever blown a diet knows how useless willpower is when facing down the object of their temptation. Been there, done that more times than I can count.

For decades, I wrestled with binge eating disorder, and no amount of willpower, shame, or guilt was strong enough to overcome the lure of overindulging in food to “stuff down” my emotional pain. If it were possible to overcome an eating disorder by sheer force of will, I would have done it because I put my heart and soul into the fight, but I repeatedly lost. I did not experience victory over the eating disorder until God changed me, and He did this by changing how I thought. As I grew to recognize that my God was bigger than my eating disorder, the seed of self-control that God planted in me when I became a Christian took root and began to grow. Today, fasting is not difficult for me whereas it was once one of the most difficult things I was asked to do, such as fasting overnight before a morning doctor’s appointment.

One reason the binge eating disorder controlled me was that I fixed my gaze upon my problem rather than upon my God. I thought about food all the time, and I saw food as a refuge – as an idol that would provide me with temporary relief from my emotional pain. This was idolatry because I repeatedly turned to food to meet a need that only God could meet in me. For a long season, God allowed me to experience repeated disappointments so I could recognize the folly of seeking comfort through food. Before he could break me free from the eating disorder, He had to awaken me from the self-delusion that I was addicted to bingeing on food.

One of my greatest struggles was trying to slay my binge-eating dragon once I became mindful of the power the eating disorder wielded over me. I did not appreciate that my thoughts were fueling my bondage. If you want to develop the fruit of self-control, you must change your thoughts to align them with God’s thoughts.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace’s legs sticking out from under the words, “I’m Weak.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Meekness as One Form of Self-Control

cover_faceContinued from here.

Meekness is a topic I don’t hear discussed much in church settings, but it’s a very important aspect of developing self-control. I used to think that meek = weak because from the outside, it can appear that way, such as in the story I shared in my last blog entry. Apologizing to someone who is being unreasonable and rude can look like weakness from the outside. It can look like giving the other person his or her “own way” as that person walks away triumphantly after forcing an apology out of you.

However, that’s not what’s happening on the inside. Here is Merriam-Webster’s definition of meek:

enduring injury with patience and without resentment”

Meekness is actually quiet strength. It took much more strength, or self-control, for me to endure the injury of this person’s sharp words patiently, and especially without resentment, than if I had chosen to take offense and fight back. When someone comes at you with a knife in hand, the natural response is to take out your own knife and fight back. It takes much more strength to leave your knife sheathed and allow the other person’s knife to plunge into you. People only do this for two reasons: (1) They are too weak to fight back; or (2) They love too much to fight back. People mistakenly believe that allowing someone to metaphorically plunge a knife into them is always a sign of weakness, but it can actually be a choice motivated by strong love.

God values meekness:

But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.” ~ Ps. 37:11

“But I will leave within you
the meek and humble.
The remnant of Israel
will trust in the name of the LORD.” ~ Zeph. 3:12

“Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.” ~ Matt. 5:5

This person was looking for a fight but instead received what was most needed: grace. People who seek to bully others with their words don’t “win” when they plunge their knives into the meek. They instead get a glimpse of God, whose Son embodied meekness as he submitted to the cross.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace covering her face. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Fruit of Self-Control

fistI recently had the misfortune of interacting with a Christian who was not behaving like one. This was in my capacity of my position in professional ministry, so it was doubly important for me to model Christlike behavior, even while this person did not. The situation arose out of a simple misunderstanding that was nobody’s fault and was easily and quickly corrected, but this person was determined to remain offended nonetheless. When it became clear that no matter what I said, or how kindly I said it, this person’s reaction was only going to escalate, I said in the most sincere and gentle voice I could that I was very, very sorry. And despite that end to our conversion, this person then escalated the complaint to my superior, who responded with a mild and much-deserved rebuke, which ended the “complaint process.”

When I recounted this experience to my husband, he asked how I could have remained so calm and even apologize when this person was being so unreasonable. I responded that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and that God enabled me to control myself and respond in a way that honored Him. In addition to this, I prayed for this person because something was driving this over-the-top reaction to a simple misunderstanding that truly was not a big deal. I am praying that God will reveal His grace to this person because those who have received more grace give more grace. Perhaps this person has never known grace and thus has no idea how to extend it. I cannot imagine how miserable this person must be in day-to-day life if every single time something doesn’t go as expected, offense is taken. When I view this person from that perspective, I feel pity rather than anger or offense. I truly hope and pray that God will heal whatever is broken inside of this person and for grace to be experienced.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that enables us not to allow the unreasonable actions of others to steal our joy. This week, I’ll share what I have learned about developing the fruit of self-control and encourage you to apply it to your life as God places you in situations ripe with opportunity for growing this fruit.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace balling her fist. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Importance of Representing Christ Well

hangryContinued from here.

This week’s message may have been difficult for some of you to read, but it needed to be said. I do not claim to represent Christ well 100% of the time, but I’m doing it much better today than I was five years ago, and I hope that in five years, I will be able to say the same thing again. In addition to exercising more self-control than I used to, I also find myself apologizing much more than I once did.

As an example, I recently had an appointment run late, leaving precious little time to eat before taking my son to another appointment. I got “hangry” as my blood sugar dropped. I called my son and asked him to fill a bottle with water so I could eat the food I grabbed in the drive thru as I drove him to his appointment. When I got home, he has misplaced the water and had the dog running around the front lawn, so I had to grab the dog and pour my own water (making us late) and then race out to get him to his appointment, all without any food in my stomach. I did not react in a Christlike manner. However, once I got some food in my stomach and my blood sugar rose, I felt convicted and apologized to my son for my behavior.

Years ago, I would not have apologized. After all, my 17-year-old son did not follow my basic instructions, and my bad attitude was fueled by my lowered blood sugar. I had good reason to give him an attitude, right? That would have been my rationale back then. However, I have grown enough in my walk with Christ to recognize that only I have the power to choose my attitude, regardless of how I feel or what anyone else does. What type of Christian example am I being to my son when I fail to extend him grace? I’m not going to get it right every time, but I can apologize when I blow it, which also provides my son with a good example.

The next time you are tempted to let your feelings drive your behavior, stop and ask yourself how God would like you to behave. People are watching you to see what Christ is like. Let’s be a good example to the world, and if we blow it, take responsibility and apologize.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a knife and fork over the word, “Hangry!” and creating a Godzilla shadow. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Representing Christ Well by Submitting to Authority

teamworkContinued from here.

One glaring area for improvement in Christian circles is obeying God about submitting to authority. The Bible is very clear that God expects his people to submit to all forms of authority, such as God’s laws, secular authority, and those in authority over you in ministry. The Bible also tells wives to respect and submit to their husbands. This is not a popular message, particularly in the United States, which was founded upon rebellion from England. However, as Christians, we cannot pick and choose which biblical admonitions to follow. If you are disciple of Christ, you will obey what God tells you to do.

One reason I never wanted to go into professional ministry is that Christians can be the most difficult people to lead. I have led both Christian volunteers and secular volunteers and have found that the secular volunteers are more easily led, which is ironic considering God’s Word emphasizes the importance of walking together in unity. In the secular realm, leaders are not going to put up with much attitude from volunteers. However, in the Christian realm, leaders want to extend grace, and many take advantage of that grace and behave in ways that secular volunteers would not consider doing. This should not be, Church. I make it my mission to be the most easily-led volunteer at my church. One must learn to be a good follower to ever become a good leader.

One thing that the enemy does better than the Church is working together in unity. Even Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand. However, the church has not learned that lesson, which is one reason the Church has divided itself into so many denominations. “Being right” takes priority over being unified, even though the Bible is clear that we are all members of one Body and need to learn to work together in unity, following the Head, who is Christ.

If you have trouble working together in unity with your Christian brothers and sisters, you are spiritually immature. It’s time for the Church to grow up. If everyone in a ministry is following one Head, then they should be able to work together in unity rather than split apart every time the Head makes a decision that they do not like.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace waving pom poms and cheering under the word, “Teamwork!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

You Represent Jesus Wherever You Go

fruitContinued from here.

Because I wear a cross necklace, I communicate to the world that I am representing Jesus, even if I never have a conversation with the people around me. If I meet disappointment or aggravation with anger, the cross around my neck communicates to the people around me that God is an impatient and angry God. Conversely, when I have every understandable reason to blow my stack but, instead, react with grace and compassion, I communicate to those around me that God is both patient and loving. I do not need to say a word to evangelize those around me. My behavior communicates my faith.

Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit. It doesn’t matter how many crosses you wear on your body or how many fish symbols you display on your car. What’s communicated to the world is what you DO, not how you choose to adorn yourself. How heartbreaking when the atheists are the ones showing compassion while the Christians behave badly. While those Christians might be heading to heaven and avoiding hell, they are unlikely to bring anyone else along with them until they start behaving in a Christlike manner.

The reality is that our sinful nature makes each of us selfish. Just because you receive Jesus as your Savior does not magically make this selfishness go away. Replacing our natural selfishness with Christlikeness takes time and requires much effort as we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

I work in professional ministry with a prison ministry. My colleague and I repeatedly remind our volunteers that the inmates are not the only people they are ministering to. How they represent Christ as they go through security and interact with the prison personnel affects how those people see God as well. Are our prison ministry volunteers more patient about delays in going through security than other volunteers? Do our volunteers accept being turned away from volunteering for the night with grace, or do they pitch a fit about not getting to go into the prison that evening? Every action we take communicates something about God to the people around us. How well are you representing God to others?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace leaning on a giant peach. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Being Respectful of Those Who Serve You

really_appreciateContinued from here.

I have a couple of relatives who make me cringe whenever we eat out because they behave in a less than kind and gracious manner whenever they are displeased with the service in a restaurant. I frequently remind them that their server has the ability to sneeze in their food, so they might want to consider this before responding. However, that’s not my primary motivator for extending grace and kindness to servers: I do it because God has extended me so much grace and kindness when I did not deserve it.

Jesus said that if you want to be first in heaven, you “must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35) as he was. Jesus deserved to be highly respected and treated as a king. Instead, he served others by washing their feet. If Jesus is truly your master, then you need to follow his example in how you treat other people.

When [Jesus] had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:12-17).

Jesus could have pulled rank and ordered a disciple to wash his feet, but he didn’t. He humbled himself and served those who were beneath him. That is our example to follow. We need to look for ways to honor those who serve us. Serving a Christian should be a joy, not a challenge.

As an example, as I was waiting for my friend to come to the sinks in the bathroom, I noticed the janitor sweeping up pieces of paper towels that the Christian concert festival attendees had left strewn all over the floor. I walked over to her and thanked her for all she was doing to keep the bathrooms clean. After this, my friend came to the sink to wash her hands, noticed the janitor, and said the same thing to her, adding “God bless you!” She had no idea I had said the same thing – she was simply being Christlike in noticing this servant and honoring her. At a Christian event, this reaction to a janitor should be the norm, not an anomaly.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hands on her heart saying, “Really appreciate.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

You are Christ’s Ambassador

my_badOver the weekend, I attended a Christian music festival and had a wonderful time. I haven’t been to concert in a year (was too busy with school and work), so it was quite the treat to praise God amongst thousands of other Christians. My soul soared as I danced and sang praises to my God and King.

So, you can imagine my surprise to learn that many of the same people who were dancing around and worshiping God in their seats were not carrying that joy out to the people who were hired to serve them during this event. My friend and I waited in line to order soft pretzels and water, and the line wasn’t very long. When we got to the window to order our food, my friend made a simple mistake, and the cashier was very gracious. We both thanked her for her grace, and my friend said some kind words to the cashier.

And then the cashier did something that astonished me: she actually thanked my friend and me for being nice to her. I replied, “Please tell me that at this Christian event, you are not encountering people who are NOT being nice to you.” Her response was that my friend’s and my “niceness” was not the norm at this event. WWHHAATT?? I apologized to her on behalf of the Church and told her that a Christian event should be the most enjoyable event to serve, and if that is not the case, then the Church is not behaving in a Christlike manner.

Church, please hear me: You are an ambassador of Christ, so everything you say and do as you go about your life sends a message to the people around you about who Jesus is. When you are kind, the World sees Jesus’ kindness. However, when you behave in the same way the World does (or worse!), you are representing Jesus as being that kind of person as well. This is why Jesus said that whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to him. You will be held accountable for the way you treat other people because how you behave reflects who God is. You don’t want to learn that your selfish behavior turned others away from the One True God.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulders under the words, “My Bad.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]