What’s Controlling You?

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Let’s be real a minute: we all struggle. We all struggle with something significant. Actually, to be really real, let’s just admit that we struggle with several somethings and they are always significant, at least to us. Off the top of my head I can name three things I have struggled with my whole life, all three in a significant way: food, sex, and anger.

Food. I cannot remember a time in my life in which I have gone more than six months without food being an issue. I have (almost) always been overweight, and even when I wasn’t for a period of time on a couple occasions, food and weight were still constantly on my mind. It is something that has the ability to quickly take over my thoughts and actions.

Sex…that’s a loaded topic. Lots of different views on it; lots of different opinions. I think most people would agree that men think about it far more often than women throughout the course of everyday life. For me, it wasn’t just about the physical or even emotional appeal. It was something that struck at the very core of my being. My temptation for sex is two-fold. There is the temptation to allow my identity to be wrapped up in sex rather than in Christ as well as the temptation (as a visually-oriented male in a society in which “sex sells”) to entertain impure thoughts about women who are not my wife.

And anger, my long-hated companion. There are tools for dealing with anger. Unfortunately, they never seemed to find their way into my tool belt. There are times that things happen that set me off and my anger builds to the point of giving me a splitting headache and a desire to break something. Even with the strides I have taken and the work I have done to deal with anger before it grows into rage, I am still keenly aware of the shortness of my temper.

None of these things (food, sex, anger) are inherently evil. We need food to live – it is what gives our bodies energy and sustains us. We need sex for procreation and relationship – it produces progeny (offspring) and helps create intimacy in our most significant relationship. We need (yes, need) anger for protection – it exposes unmet needs inside us and springs us into action when something is wrong or dangerous. The danger is that each of these things has a tendency to control me, to be a motivating factor, to exercise an undue amount of influence on my decisions. In a sense, they are borderline addictive for me. And anything that has that much power in my life is a dangerous hindrance to my relationship with God and with others.

You may not find yourself struggling in these same three areas, but, as I said at the beginning, we all have significant struggles. So, what do we do with these struggles?

“We all have significant struggles. So, what do we do with these struggles?”

 

A couple weeks ago I was pondering this very question when a God-given thought popped into my head – “I can CHOOSE not to give in to these temptations.” Profound, right? I mean, it’s kind of a “Duh” moment, but, still, it’s easier said than done. But that’s where the God-given part came into play. As I continued considering this thought, I was reminded of the phrase “self-control.” Control has always felt like a bad word for me because I have most often seen it played out in the form of others-control – trying to force the will of another. Because of this, I have never really liked the term self-control. Yet there it was in neon lights right in front of me. And then I was reminded of a verse in the Bible that says, “The fruit of the Spirit [of God] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and” (you guessed it!) “SELF-CONTROL” (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s not just some concept that’s a good idea. It’s actually something that SHOULD be present in my life if I am truly following God and living like Jesus.

This tells me two things: (1) I am SUPPOSED to be able to control myself; and (2) I am not the one who makes me able to do so. Self-control is not the product (fruit) of my own individual efforts. It is something that is produced in me by the Spirit of God who is at work making me able to be like God. And it is only by God’s Holy Spirit that I am fully able to proactively practice self-control. I know this is true because, after coming to this realization, I did incredibly well practicing self-control…for about two days…and then I tailed back off into my old habits. Why? Precisely because I was trying to practice self-control all on my own. It is not the FACT that God wants me to have self-control that enables me to do so, but rather the RELATIONSHIP I have with Him that then allows HIM to empower ME to turn away from temptation when it arises.

“It is not the FACT that God wants me to have self-control that enables me to do so, but rather the RELATIONSHIP I have with Him that then allows HIM to empower ME to turn away from temptation when it arises.”

 

So, how do we develop this relationship with God? The best way to find out is to look at the life of Jesus. Jesus once compared our relationship with Him to that of a vine and its branches (Jn 5:5-8). If a branch is connected to the vine, it receives all the nutrients, protection, and structural support provided by the vine. If the branch becomes disconnected, all this support is lost and the branch simply withers away. This connection is built up in multiple ways:

  1. Jesus often spent time alone with God in prayer. He did this after performing great miracles (Lk 5:15-16); after teaching large crowds (Mk 1:35); before making big decisions (Lk 6:12-13); in times of grief (Mt 14:13, 33); when needing rest (Mk 6:31-32); and many other times. Basically, He made time to be alone with God often to make sure He was connected to God in a deep, meaningful way.
  2. Jesus turned immediately to God when faced with temptation. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus was faced with the internal temptation to walk away from the cross, to NOT BE CRUCIFIED. In the midst of this temptation, He went to a quiet garden and prayed. He literally asked God if there was any other way to save the entirety of humanity other than through his death on the cross. But even in His request, He included the words, “not my will, but Yours (God’s) be done.” He could have just run away and not faced the cross. Instead, He turned to God, leaned deeper into the relationship, and followed what God said instead of His own will.
  3. Jesus knew God’s words (through the Bible). Immediately before Jesus started His ministry, He was faced with three different temptations. After each temptation was presented, Jesus countered with something specific from the Bible that let Him and His tempter know He would not give into the temptation. Without knowing what God has to say about life, it is nearly impossible to stand up to temptation and practice self-control. How can I if I am not prepared for the situation? If I know what God would have to say about a particular situation, I can turn to what I already know about God and the situation at hand and use this understanding to help me turn away from the temptation to give in.
  4. Jesus lived in community with other God-followers. He has 12 close disciples and many others who went with him wherever he went. Although he didn’t necessarily stand to gain much from them, he modeled this type of community as a way to help encourage one another in our walk with God. This community can help encourage us to continue connecting with God even in times when we struggle or feel distant from God.

For the better part of 33 years I have attempted to overcome my struggles with food, sex, and anger. I am now on a path toward overcoming these temptations by the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in me to make me able to do so. As I look back on my journey, I can see that He has always been the one who has sustained me through every time of great victory in these areas.

Self-control is possible. Victory over our great struggles is right in front of us. What’s controlling you? When will you ask God to empower you to turn the tables and start controlling yourself?

 

Contributor: Kris Shepherd

Like what you read? You can find more EDC blogs here or listen to the EDC podcast here. Podcasts go live on the EDC website the 1st and 15th of every month!

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Chapter 1
    OUR EXPERIENCE

    I find then the law with me who wills to do the good,
    that is, the evil is present with me.
    Romans 7:21

    For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
    Romans 3:23

    THE LIFE THAT GOD
    HAS ORDAINED FOR A CHRISTIAN

    The Bible shows us that God has ordained for every Christian a life that is filled with joy. This life is completely at peace, has no barriers in its fellowship with God, and is not contrary to His will in any way. The life that God has prepared for a Christian is one that does not thirst after the world. It walks apart from sin and is victorious over sin. It is holy, powerful, and victorious. It knows the will of God and fellowships with God without interruption. This is the life that God has ordained in the Scripture for a Christian.

    God has ordained a life that is hidden with Christ in God. What can touch this life? What can affect or shake this life? Just as Christ is unshakable, we also are unshakable. Just as He is transcendent over all things, we also are transcendent over all things. Our standing before God is the same as Christ’s standing before God. We should never consider that we are destined for weakness and failure. There is no room for such a thought for a Christian in the Bible. Colossians 3:4 says, “Christ our life.” Christ is far above everything. Nothing can touch Him. Hallelujah! This is the life of Christ!

    The life that God ordains for a Christian is one that is filled with peace and joy. It is a life that is full of activity, vitality, and God’s will. But what kind of life do we live? If we are not living the life that God has ordained, we need to overcome and break through in this matter. Consequently, we need to consider our experience today. This is not an easy subject to speak on. Some of our experiences may be quite sad. However, we will see our lack when we humble ourselves. Only then will God grant us grace…

    “The Overcoming Life”
    W. Nee (messages given in 1935)

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  2. More riches from:
    “The Overcoming Life”
    W. Nee (messages given n 1945)

    Chapter 2
    THE CHRISTIAN LIFE AS
    REVEALED IN THE BIBLE

    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
    who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing
    in the heavenlies in Christ.
    Ephesians 1:3

    THE EXPERIENCE OF FAILURE

    When we were saved, the grace of God filled our hearts with joy. At that time, our life was filled with hope; we thought that from that point on, all our sins would be under our feet. We thought that, henceforth, we could overcome everything. At the time we were saved, we thought that no temptation was too great for us to overcome and no difficulty was too much for us to surmount. Our future was full of a glorious hope. For the first time, we tasted the peace of forgiveness and the savor of joy. At that time, it was so easy and sweet to fellowship with God. We were filled with joy and happiness. Heaven was so close to us. There was nothing that was impossible for us to do. At that time, we thought that every day would be a day of victory.

    However, that wonderful condition did not last, and that wonderful hope did not materialize. The sins that we thought were gone suddenly came back. The sins that we thought we had overcome returned. We thought we had left them behind, but they came back to us. Our former temper came back. Pride returned, and our old jealousy flared up once more. We may have tried to read the Bible but to no avail. We may have prayed, but the sweet taste was no longer there. Gone was the former zeal for lost souls. Love began to wane. Some matters were indeed dealt with, but we found others impossible to deal with. Our daily song became one of defeat rather than victory. We saw more failures than victories in our daily life. We began to feel a great lack within. When we compared ourselves with Paul, John, Peter, and those in the first century, we felt that there was a great difference between their experience and ours. We could not help others. We could only speak to others about the victorious part of our experience. We could not tell them of the part in us that failed. We felt that our days of victory were few and that our days of failure were numerous. Daily we lived in misery. This is the common experience of many Christians.

    When we were saved, we thought that since our sins were forgiven, they would never come back to us. We felt that once we had joy and peace, they would abide with us forever. Unfortunately, the sins and temptations came back. There were fewer high experiences, and low experiences became common. There were fewer joyful times, and sorrowful times became common. In these circumstances, we experience two things. On the one hand, temptations, pride, jealousy, and temper return. On the other hand, we endeavor to suppress ourselves. As soon as these sins come back, we struggle to suppress them and to stop them from manifesting themselves. Those who are successful in suppressing themselves think that they have overcome. Those who have failed live in a cycle of failure, victory, sin, and remorse. As a result they become extremely discouraged. Shortly after they are saved, either they consciously suppress their sins, or they resign themselves to the thought that victory is impossible. They become despondent and discouraged. On the one hand, they experience some victory; on the other hand, they also experience many failures. When they succeed in restraining themselves, their sins are temporarily stopped. But when they fail, they concede to the inevitability of committing sin.

    Brothers and sisters, I would like to ask you a question before God: When the Lord Jesus went to the cross, did He expect us to have the kind of experience we have today? When He was crucified on the cross, did He know that our life would be victorious one day and defeated the next? Did He know that we would be victorious in the morning and defeated in the evening? Are His accomplishments on the cross insufficient to make us serve Him in holiness and righteousness? Did He shed His blood on the cross only with a view to deliverance from the punishment of hell, without a view to deliverance from the pain of sin? Is His blood shed on the cross only sufficient to save us from the coming eternal pain of sin, without saving us from the pain of sin today? Oh, brothers and sisters, I cannot refrain from saying “Hallelujah!” The Lord has accomplished everything on the cross! When He was on the cross, He dealt not only with the pain of hell but also with the pain of sin. He was reminded not only of the pain of the punishment of sin but also of the pain of the power of sin. He has prepared a way of salvation for us. Such a way enables us to live on earth in the same way that He lived. Brothers and sisters, not only did Christ take care of the suffering of hell; He also took care of the suffering of sin. In other words, His redemptive work has given us not only the position and basis to be saved in a shallow way, but also the position and basis to be saved to the uttermost. We do not have to live the way we do today. We have to say “Hallelujah!” because there is a gospel for sinners and a gospel for “Christian sinners”! The gospel for Christian sinners is preached in the same way that the cross was preached to us before. Hallelujah! There is a gospel today for Christian sinners!…
    Much more to this!..

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