I'm not talking apples and bananas and what's cheapest in the supermarket here.
I'm talking about the fruit of the heart - you know Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
Me and my life group lovelies are taking one fruit at a time to really do some soul searching about the meaning so for me I want to think on what it means to me, how it could impact my life if I let it, and what might be holding me back from embracing it. So without further ado:
Week One: Self-Control
I have to admit I really struggle to think of self-control in a positive light. To me it just brings to mind negative thoughts like 'I know I shouldn't be doing this - where is my self-control?'
And doesn't even the word itself sounds like it is something we should be able to easily do it in our own strength and willpower? I mean isn't that the whole point, it's just about you being in control of yourself?
But it's here where I first fall down. Thinking that self-control is something I CAN do on my own, instead of asking and receiving and accepting it as a gift from the One who CAN give it.
If we're honest, we all know deep down the areas which we struggle the most to have self-control over. For me, there are a few things right now that spring to mind. One is this 'need' for something sweet that leads me to give into chocolate or other treats most nights after dinner. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Yes. Do I say no? Hardly ever.
You might look at me and say, but you can afford to eat chocolate, what are you even worried about? It's not so much about whether I can afford to or not, it's about being able to say no and mean it, and to actually follow through. And to know when to stop.
And then there's the late nights. I know I should be getting more sleep than I am, particularly when I'm out the door so early these days. But that little computer screen sucks me in, and despite me looking at the clock and seeing the minutes ticking by past my own imposed curfew, I seem to easily find more reasons to stay up than I do for getting a good night's sleep.
And how about that moment when I'm just about to blow my stack with the kids when they won't play nicely with each other? And in that instant I could choose to breathe deeply and count to 10 or I could just go ahead and lose it at the top of my voice? My kids seem to be on the receiving end of more shouting than they are of quietly calm, controlled discipline.
That passage in Romans 7:14-22 is such a picture of the inward battle that goes on in my own heart and head day after day.
14-16 What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions.
21-23It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
I'd never really thought before about why self-control is last on the list of all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I think perhaps I've seen it as less important than the others simply because it's mentioned last. But in fact, I've come to realise that it easily could have been first because here's the revelation: Self-control is actually the glue that holds all the other fruit together. How can we practice and live out other fruit like kindness and gentleness in our lives without consciously 'choosing' them over the alternatives like cruelty
and pride? Like other fruit of the Spirit, self-control is a gift of grace. It has been called 'disciplined grace', grace because it is a gift we are free to choose, but disciplined because there is also something for us to do in the equation.
I know until now I've probably thought of self-control in a negative way, and if I'm honest I still find it hard not to. But it is such an important part of accepting grace itself. When we fail to control ourselves—our feelings, our appetites, our drives—then they control us . So, we must choose self-control under the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Or inevitably, the alternative is that we accept being controlled by someone or something else.
We are the ones who decide. Daily, hourly and sometimes even by the minute when we have to.
Every skill has to be practiced . Self-control does not come in a day . It comes in hits and misses, in successes and failures, as we try to practice it day after day. But it's still the trying that counts. Despite missing the mark, and finding ourselves doing the very thing we wish we wouldn't, we choose to hold on like Paul does in Philippians 3.
12-14I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
And this, dear friends, this is what we hope for.