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

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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.]

 

Beauty of being Softer and Sweeter

sweetContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that spiritually mature people are “softer and sweeter.” I have been surprised to recognize that I have become “softer and sweeter” and am excited to see what God plans to do with this fruit that has ripened after a long season of perseverance.

Lately, I have noticed that a lot more people are snapping at me. I know it’s not personal – they are in pain and lashing out simply because I am in the vicinity. When this happened in the past, I used to harden my heart to protect it from being hurt by the next outburst. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that I’m no longer tempted to do that. Because my “fruit” has become softer, the explosion of negative energy from the others seems to “bounce” off the soft fruit rather than harming me. It’s like the other person’s explosion of harshness needs more space, and my soft fruit is able to yield that space (humility) and accommodate the blow without my heart being harmed. I’m able to pray for the other person without feeling the need to protect my heart.

And when the other person is harsh, any cuts release the sweetness of the fruit that is ripening for harvest. When people used to lash out at me, my reaction was either to withdraw & protect my heart or to fight back. I now do neither. This maturing fruit has enabled me to react in sweetness, even when the other person is being harsh. This is a new experience for me, and I’m excited to see what God is going to do with this ripe fruit!

Jacobsen pointed out that being softer and sweeter is not the World’s way. The World says we must harden ourselves and stand first. However, I’ve found a beauty and peace in becoming softer – in yielding the space to the other person’s ego and allowing sweetness rather than bitterness to ooze out of me when the fruit is cut. I don’t need to protect myself. I trust that God is in control, and I react in kindness and love—to God’s glory! Only God could have brought about this transformation within me because I am not naturally a soft or sweet person!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling over the word, “Sweet.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Opportunities to be Softer and Sweeter

sweetestContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen compares a spiritually mature person with grapes that are ready to be harvested. He says that in both cases, you know that the fruit is mature because it is “softer and sweeter.” He says that God “is about finished” with maturing us when “softness and sweetness … floods our demeanor.”

God called me into professional ministry in 2017, and I have learned so much over the past 16 months. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is how to respond gently to those who are not being gentle with me. This comment is not aimed at those I am leading … it’s an issue in every area of my life! I entered into professional ministry naïve – I was unaware that being in professional ministry meant I was putting a bullseye on myself, inviting the enemy to launch wave after wave of spiritual attack. I had lots of experience with spiritual attack at the personal level, so the enemy used a tactic I did not see coming – he launched attacks against the people around me.

Since I have been in professional ministry, I spend a greater portion of my time dealing with people who are in pain … again, this is not a statement about the people I am leading so much as a large percentage of the people I spend my time with, including family, friends, neighbors, church family, as well as those I interact with through my ministry. People who are in pain (myself included!) often lash out at those around them. It’s not intentional – they are reacting to something that is broken and wounded inside of themselves. I used to become extremely ornery whenever I was in physical pain – so much so that my family would avoid me as best they could to protect themselves from my wrath.

The enemy has learned that I’m too stubborn to stop serving God when he wreaks havoc that only affects me, so he seeks to distract me by wreaking havoc in the lives of the people I care about. So, since I have been in professional ministry, I have had lots of opportunities to develop the fruit of self-control as I choose not to react when people lash out at me. It’s only been recently that I have noticed that God has grown me into a “softer and sweeter” person, making it much easier to control myself when those around me take out their frustrations on or around me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling, surrounded by hearts, and saying, “You’re the sweetest.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Lack of Kindness and Gentleness as Signs of Spiritual Immaturity

babyContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen’s asserted,

There is no more accurate sign of maturity than those who treat others, all others, with kindness and gentleness.”

That standard turns on its ear the measures that we typically use to assess someone’s level of spiritual maturity. By this standard, an illiterate grandmother who was never able to read the Bible for herself, never worked outside the home, and lived a quiet life being kind and good to her family, friends, and neighbors could be deemed spiritually mature while a pastor of 30 years who knows the Bible inside and out and regularly debates atheists is not. How can this be? If you consider that the Fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then someone who is kind and gentle in her small sphere of influence better meets this description than someone with millions of followers who uses his influence to get them to fight for their religious rights.

Read Jacobsen’s words on this topic from the Softer and Sweeter chapter:

All too often I’ve seen people loaded with knowledge and zeal but still captives of the world’s system. They are harsh and their words are judgmental. In their wake are a lot of offended people—not by the gospel—but by the way they’ve been treated…Those who have lived deeply in Jesus reflect the same humility and gentleness that Jesus did. They no longer advance their own agenda, angry when they don’t get what they think God has for them. They are not pushovers because they will resolutely stand in the truth, and they do so with a grace for others. They don’t threaten to leave and go somewhere else ‘where their gifts will be appreciated.’ They gently express the compassion and care of the Father to those around them. With simple love and concern they are able to help people engage God…If we don’t live in that place, our misplaced passion can easily crush the very people we’re called to touch with his life.”

These are the types of people who drove me away from “organized religion” for over a decade. When my father passed away suddenly when I was 16 years old, I was in a tender place and desperately needed kindness and gentleness from my church family, but that’s not what I received. While what they said was correct, the way they said it was harsh. I didn’t need them to “be right.” I needed to know I was loved.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed like a baby and drinking out of a baby’s bottle. Courtesy Bitmoji.]