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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!