"Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control" (Proverbs 25:28).
Self-control brings with it the good feeling of competency. Like a finely tuned precision automobile, your life stays on course with the slightest touch of steering. The results of self-control are confidence and an inner sense of security.
Self-control and self-discipline are also key factors in any success you hope to have in this life. Without self-discipline, you are unlikely to achieve anything of lasting value.
The apostle Paul realized this when he wrote, "Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever" (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Olympic athletes train for years in order to have a chance to win a brief moment of glory. But the race we are running is far more important than any earthly athletic event. So self-control is not optional for Christians.
How do we gain true self-control?
Admit your problem. The starting point for developing self-control is to face what God has already said about me: I am responsible for my behavior.
James 1:14 says, "A man's temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires, which can be enormously attractive."
Do you realize what that says? It says you do things because you like to do them! When I do something I know is bad for me, I still do it because I like to do it. I want to do it; it's an inner desire.
Do you want more self-control? Admit you have a problem and be specific about it. Begin praying specifically about your problem areas.
Put your past behind you. Philippians 3:13-14 says, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal..."
This verse exposes a misconception that will keep you from gaining self-control: once a failure, always a failure.
Failure in the past does not mean you'll never be able to change. Focusing on past failures, however, does guarantee their repetition. It's like driving a car and looking in the rearview mirror the whole time. You're going to collide with what's ahead of you.
Ask God to help you put your past behind you.
Self-Control Is Not an Option
"For the grace of God...teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives" (Titus 2:11-12).
As we discussed yesterday, self-control is not optional for Christians. The race we are running is for eternity, and so we're to develop a strict discipline (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Here are some other steps to self-control.
Talk back to your feelings. Do you let your moods manipulate you? God doesn't want you to be controlled by your feelings. He wants you to master your moods. With Christ as the Master of your life, you can learn to master your feelings.
Talk back to them. Learn to challenge your emotions: "For the grace of God...teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives..." (Titus 2:11-12).
God's grace gives us the power to do what is right. God gives you the ability to say no to that feeling, to that desire, to that impulse.
Believe you can change. The fruit of the Spirit begins in your thought life. The seeds must be planted in your mind: The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act.
God gave us the power to change our habits when he gave us the power to choose our thoughts. Does Romans 12:2 tell us to be transformed by working hard at it or by sheer willpower? "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
What are we to be transformed by? The renewing of the mind. When your self-control is being tested, you need to fill your mind with the promises of God. First Corinthians 10:13 says, "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
That's a fact. If you are a Christian, you can't honestly say, "The temptation was too strong; I couldn't help myself." The Bible says God is faithful. If you're a Christian, he won't let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
He never asks you to bear something that is bigger than the strength he puts inside of you through his Holy Spirit.
Self-Control Is Christ's Control
"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
There's nothing you can do as well without Christ as you can with him. Any struggle you're facing will be easier to conquer with his help.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you have to clean up all your messes before you ask God for help. That's like curing yourself of a disease before you go see the doctor. Go to God first and get his help in all your battles.
The secret of self-control is Christ's control. Then, as you face temptations that are too strong for you to resist, remember he is with you and turn them over to him. Remember, Christ provides the power to change your life!
But there are two things you must still do to develop self-control:
Avoid temptation. It is just pure common sense: Don't put yourself in situations where you'll face temptation. If you struggle with alcohol, don't go into a bar. If you're struggling to lose weight, don't load the refrigerator with ice cream. Do whatever you must to avoid temptation.
Make yourself accountable. Find someone who will check up on you, pray for you, and encourage you in the areas where you want to develop more self-control. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
If you're serious about self-control, find another believer you trust and say, "I have this problem. I've confessed it to God. I've asked forgiveness, and now I want to ask you to help me. Will you be my 'buddy,' a person I can call on the phone when I need support and encouragement?"
I believe God intends for every church to be filled with "buddy" relationships where people are accountable to each other, where they help and encourage each other in the Lord.
Having someone hold you accountable is tough, but it works.
Building Margin Into Your Life
"Jesus said to his followers, 'Go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone'" (Mark 16:15).
A lot of people are on overload and headed for a crash. Consider these statistics among U.S. citizens:
• People now sleep 2 1/2 fewer hours each night compared to people from one hundred years ago.
• The average work week is longer now than it was in the 1960s.
• The average office worker has 36 hours of work piled up on his or her desk. It takes three hours a week just to sort through it and find what we need.
• We spend eight months of our lives opening junk mail, two years of our lives playing phone tag with people who are too busy to answer, and five years waiting for people who are trying to do too much and are late for meetings.
We're a piled-on, stretched-to-the limit society; chronically rushed, chronically late, chronically exhausted. Many of us feel like Job did when he said, "I have no peace! I have no quiet! I have no rest! And trouble keeps coming" (Job 3:26).
Overload comes when we have too much activity in our lives, too much change, too many choices, too much work, too much debt, too much media exposure.
Dr. Richard Swenson says, "The conditions of modern day living devour margin. If you're homeless we direct you to a shelter. If you're penniless we offer you food stamps. If you're breathless we connect you to oxygen. But if you're marginless we give you one more thing to do. Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor's office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the hairdresser because you were ten minutes late dropping the children off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from a gas station and you forgot your purse. That's marginless."
You need margin in your life. When you're not hurrying and worrying all the time, you have time to think. Time to relax. Time to enjoy life. Time to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10).
Three Benefits of Margin
one handful of peaceful repose is better than two fistfuls of worried work..." (Ecclesiastes 4:6).
Margin is the space between your load and your limit. Your load should never be heavier than your limit. But the truth is, most of us are far more overloaded than we can handle; we have no margin for error in our lives.
Dr. Richard Swenson explains, "Marginless is not having time to finish the book you're reading on stress. Margin is having the time to read it twice. Marginless is our culture. Margin is counterculture, having some space in your life and schedule. Marginless is the disease of our decade and margin is the cure."
Here are three immediate benefits you'll receive by building margin into your life:
1. Better health. Unrelenting stress harms our bodies. We all know that, yet we let it continue day after day after day. Many times the only time we get margin in our lives is when the heart attack almost happens (or does happen) or the blood pressure skyrockets. Why do we wait until our health plummets before we make this decision? Why not realize that we need to build some margin into our lives now? The truth is, your body needs downtime in order to heal.
2. Stronger relationships. Lack of margin is one big reason for the collapse of the American family today. When we don't make relationships a priority and make time for each other, our relationships suffer. The truth is relationships take time, and margin provides that time to sit and talk, to listen and enjoy one another, and to provide the comfort we each need.
3. Usefulness in ministry. When you're overloaded by activity, you can only think of yourself. You're in survival mode, just trying to make it through another day. But being available to God for his use makes all the difference in this world.
When you have no margin in your life and God taps you on the shoulder, saying, "I'd like you to do this for Me," your first response isn't joy. Your first response is, "Oh, no! Another thing to do! Sorry, God, I'd like to do that, but I'm just too busy."
We end up resenting the great opportunities God brings into our lives. But when you have margin, you're available for God to use.
You don't have to live on overload. You don't have to live in survival mode. Begin today to build a buffer around your schedule, then enjoy the benefits of margin and see what God does next!
Steps to Un-Stuff Your Schedule and Increase Your Margin
"Reverence for God adds hours to each day" (Proverbs 10:27).
Do you ever get to the end of your day and think, "Did I accomplish anything?"
Where does all the time go?
If you don't master your schedule, it will master you!
Here are three suggestions from the Bible for reducing the stress of your schedule and increasing the margin:
1. Line up your priorities. Obviously, you don't have time to do everything, so you must make choices. You must decide what's really important and what isn't. Take some time to consider the direction of your life. The Bible says, "An intelligent person aims at wise action, but a fool starts off in many directions" (Proverbs 17:24); "It is stupid to waste time on useless projects" (Proverbs 12:11); "We should make plans—counting on God to direct us" (Proverbs 16:9).
2. Lighten up your attitude. Do you really have to do everything on your to-do list? No one is holding a gun to your head; a lot of your stress is self-imposed. The Bible says, "Worry weighs us down..." (Proverbs 12:25); "A relaxed attitude lengthens a man's life" (Proverbs 14:30); "Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time" (Proverbs 17:22).
3. Look up to God. Stress is always a warning light that you've taken your focus off God and are looking at your problems from your limited viewpoint.
I believe the single greatest cause of stress is this: We take ourselves too seriously and we don't take God seriously enough!
Margin Comes From Managing Your Time
"Then Jesus said, 'Let's get away from the crowds for a while and rest.' There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and His apostles didn't even have time to eat" (Mark 6:31).
Jesus experienced enormous stress and pressure, yet it didn't seem to disturb His peace of mind. In spite of opposition, constant demands, and little privacy, His life reflected a calm sense of balance.
What was His secret?
1. Identification: Know who you are (John 8:12). Eighteen times Jesus publicly defined Himself. There was no doubt in His mind as to who He was. If you are unsure of your identity, you'll allow others to pressure you into their molds. Trying to be someone you're not causes stress!
2. Dedication: Know who you want to please (John 5:30). You can't please everyone. Even God can't! Just about the time you get "Crowd A" happy, "Crowd B" will be upset with you. Jesus never let the fear of rejection manipulate Him. No one can pressure you without your permission.
3. Organization: Set clear goals (John 8:14). Jesus said, "I know where I came from and where I am going." Preparation prevents pressure but procrastination produces it. You work by either priorities or pressures.
4. Concentration: Focus on one thing at a time (Luke 4:42-44). You can't chase two rabbits at the same time! Jesus knew how to handle interruptions without being distracted from His primary goal.
5. Delegation: Don't try to do everything yourself (Mark 3:14). We get tense when we feel it all depends on us. Jesus enlisted twelve disciples. Don't allow the fear that others may not do as good a job as you, or that they may do a better job than you, to keep you from asking for help.
6. Meditation: Make a habit of prayer (Mark 1:35). No matter how busy Jesus got, He found time to get alone to pray every day. A daily quiet time is a great stress decompression chamber. Use this time to talk to God about your pressures and problems, evaluate your priorities, and discover the rules for successful living by reading the Bible.
7. Relaxation: Take time to enjoy life (Mark 6:30-31). Balance is the key to stress management. Work must be balanced with fun and worship.
PurposeDriven.com by Rick Warren