The key to self control

Some years ago we were invited to a baptism service for the daughter of some friends of ours. It was a lovely occasion and after the service we were invited for some refreshments to the church hall. They are really hospitable people and had done all the catering themselves. The invitation was for some desserts and tea or coffee as the service took place in the middle of the afternoon.

When we walked into the hall, the tables were laden with very lovely things. There were pavlovas and cheesecakes of various kinds. There were tiramisus and apple tarts, there were chocolate mousses and fruit salads, not to mention a gorgeous cake and home baked biscuits and shortbread.

I was attending to the children at first, so it was a little while before I made my way to the tables. There were so many good things to choose from I thought I might have a little sliver of two or three. The child’s grandfather saw me cut a little slice of cheesecake and rushed over. He wondered what size of cheesecake was that for a grown man and proceeded to cut me an enormous wedge. His hospitality is legendary, so he suggested I try something else which was really nice that his daughter had made, and then advised me a little bit of something else might make my plate look a bit more respectable. But, of course, the little bit was more than a little bit, so I made my way back with something resembling a mountain of dessert on my plate. Like a man on a mission, I set about the task of clearing my plate and, eventually, made my way through it.

By the time I was leaving to waddle out to the car, I had eaten far too much. I had lost any sense of restraint or self control. My eyes were bigger than my tummy and I spent the rest of the day feeling quite uncomfortable.

The last Fruit of the Spirit that we consider, as we think about those fruits that should be visible in the lives of Jesus’s followers as He dwells within us through his Holy Spirit, is ‘self control’.

Some of us struggle with this when there are lots of good things to eat in front of us. Others may find that it’s alcohol or internet shopping or pornography or work that becomes the thing that takes over our lives and we can no longer control it.

In any cycle of addiction to whatever substance or behaviour, it’s the thing that is bad for us, the thing that we struggle with, we find we cannot do without. St. Paul put it like this in his letter to the Romans – ‘For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.’ (Romans 7 verses 19-20).

For that reason many addiction counsellors and support groups try to instil behaviours or strategies to replace the destructive habits. One of the keys is to remove yourself from the environment that triggers the behaviour, or to remove the substance from your house so it no longer easily available.

If you struggle with junk food, you need to clear the cupboards of the sweets and the chocolate. If it’s internet shopping or pornography, maybe you need to get rid of your smartphone.

Our son, Conor, loves to go climbing at a centre called Boulderworld. When you watch the coaches and the experienced climbers it’s a very controlled activity. They work out the sequence of moves that will be required to get to the top of a particular climb before they start and, with good techniques and controlled movements, they get there easily and gracefully. Others seem to expend all their energy hauling themselves up a couple of holds and run out of steam before conquering the climb.

There are a lot of parallels there with the way we try to live our lives. We very often seek to live in our own strength and do things our own way. How many of us as teenagers and young adults believed our parents didn’t have a clue? We set off on our own path ignoring the advice we had been given and the consequences were rarely positive.

One of the biggest struggles most of us have is in the area of managing our time. We try to cram too much in and end up stressed and exhausted and not completing any of the many tasks we have set ourselves. We are all seeking this elusive work/life balance the gurus tell us we need.

I’m reading a very challenging and illuminating book on this subject right now called ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ by John Mark Comer. Sometimes we hear ourselves saying things like, ‘If only there were 10 more hours in the day I would get everything done I need to get done.’ But, of course, the reality is that if there were ten more hours in our day, we would fill them with other things. We would waste some of them, like we do the ones we have, with getting sucked into unnecessary articles on our social media or responding to more emails or going shopping for more things we will never really need or use.

The key to self control is not getting more or doing more. It’s actually found in surrendering or yielding our lives to Christ. It’s like saying very simply ‘I invite you in and I give you the controls’. If, in lockdown, you have had to use a lot of Zoom technology, as I have, it’s like clicking that button that says you control the meeting. That means you can ‘mute me’ when you need to speak, or you can mute all of the participants that are drowning out the speaker that needs to be heard.

It sounds simple, but it’s a huge leap of faith and trust and, yet, it’s crucially important as we yield our lives to Jesus, as we recognise that therein our freedom is to be found. As Eugene Peterson translates the well known verses of Matthew 11 verses 28-30 in his Message translation of the scriptures – ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’

Let’s ask God for self control in whatever areas of our lives we struggle with – maybe its giving Him time and making that a priority in our lives? Let’s surrender afresh and rediscover what it is to be truly free.

Please keep an eye out for the video explaining the procedures for coming back to church on 2nd August. It should appear on the church website and facebook page in the coming days. Please ‘like’ and share it on your social media to ensure it gets around as many as possible.

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.