Surely self-control is the most difficult of the Fruits of the Spirit to make manifest in our lives. Showing love, experiencing joy, being kind – those are positive and enjoyable. But self-control is all about self-denial. No fun there!
And yet, self-control is so important in bringing the other fruits to – fruition. It takes self-control to love those who are hard to love, to be patient and gentle and kind and generous. Self-control is a measure of our spiritual maturity as we seek to live the life God wants for us.
Willpower is a secular term for self-control. In their book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney report their research and explain that we use the same source of willpower/self -control/ energy for a variety of tasks, including coping with stress (such a resisting temptation), making decisions, suppressing emotions, coping with pain (including hunger) and completing physical challenges.
And when we’re depleted from doing these things, we experience emotions – both positive and negative – more strongly than the situation warrants, and we may react in a way that is totally out of proportion to what set us off. Have you ever looked back at your behavior and wondered why you were so upset about some minor thing? I have – and it’s usually because I was “running on empty.”
Being self-controlled means monitoring your emotions and your energy so that you can live a Godly life. We can look to Jesus for examples. When he was depleted from teaching, preaching and healing, he routinely withdrew by himself for peace, quiet, rest and prayer. The Willpower authors call prayer and meditation “a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.” Other times Jesus drew energy from being with his closest friends. We can do these things, too.
The Willpower authors suggest coping strategies and again Jesus shows us the way. After 40 days in the desert, Jesus was hungry, thirsty and tired. When he was tempted by the devil, he said, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knew to take his focus off the temptation and the tempter. So move your mind or your body away from temptation, and don’t let temptation come to you (i.e., don’t buy the empty-calorie snacks that call your name).
Getting enough sleep is essential preventive maintenance for self-control. God tells us in Psalm 127:2, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” A healthy diet is also important because of how it affects mood and energy levels.
Building self-control isn’t a weekend project. It takes time and it takes God’s help. But it’s a worthy goal: people with strong self-control will also find the other Fruits of the Spirit blossoming in their lives as they grow in spiritual maturity.
Father God, I want what you want for me. Help me to control my emotions and my actions so I can make choices that reflect your goodness. Amen.
Written by Cheryl Stubbendieck
Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Cheryl Stubbendieck is a member of Sheridan’s Devotion Writing Team. She was the public relations department head for Nebraska Farm Bureau before retiring in 2012. She and her husband Jim are the editors of a quarterly journal about antique side-by-side shotguns and Cheryl is the co-leader of Sheridan’s new Card Makers group. Their family includes their son Aaron and his wife Chaitra of San Francisco, CA, and their son Reed of Madison, WI.