The alarm goes off at 6:30am and I lay in bed thinking about the day ahead. I have the best intentions—I will eat healthy, exercise, limit my time on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and email. I will be cheerful and present for my family, friends, co-workers, and keep my tongue in check. “I am in control” is the unsaid message exchanged between my head and heart.
My feet hit the floor and, in less than an hour, I have already spent too much time scrolling through social media, resulting in a rush to get breakfast on the table. Now feeling anxious and angry, I yell at everyone in the house for being late. The personal and work emails that arrived overnight overwhelm me, and the sight of dishes piled in the sink and clothes left on the floor exasperates me. Today’s exercise, I rationalize to myself, will be walking from the car to Starbucks and back again.
My good intentions have evaporated all too quickly, and I am ready to throw in the towel and surrender the white flag before it’s even time for lunch. The control I thought was mine seems lost. I am wiped out and done in with self-defeat. And with that, I have left an open door for the enemy to wreak havoc.
A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.
- Proverbs 25:28, NLT
I’m sure I’m not the only one reading these Scriptures today whose good intentions become muddled in the presence of daily stresses, desires and demands. The determination to exhibit self-control can deteriorate quickly in the reality of the day, leading us down a path of guilt and discouragement, fear and shame. But does biblical self-control simply mean the ability to do what I’m determined to do, and avoid what I’m determined not to do? Is it just about trying harder?
Scripture teaches that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, not a fruit of our determination. As believers in Christ’s saving grace, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, guarding our life which is now hidden in Christ. The Spirit is a sort of wall, protecting our mind, heart and soul. In His love and mercy, God rebuilds and redeems our broken pieces as we learn to abide in Him. We may not always exhibit self-control the way we want to or ought to, but His presence is here in us—Jesus promised us this!
The Holy Spirit in us is not subject to our desires, but rather He conforms our desires to Christ’s will. As we’ll read tomorrow in John 15, Jesus explains His relationship to His disciples as a vine into whom they are grafted. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” He says (John 15:5). When we are grafted into the Vine, we already have the power and authority to say “yes” or “no,” or just “not right now” because the God who lives in us has all power. Abiding in Christ’s power releases us from striving to muster up our own. In His presence we are free to move forward in grace and with courage, knowing that He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
I still wake up most days with a mental list of all the ways I’ll control my behavior, my words, my time and my disposition, but God is teaching me that true victory is not found in controlling myself—true freedom and victory are found in being led by God’s Spirit who dwells in me. Self-control comes when I relinquish ultimate control to Jesus, my Vine and my strength. When we find our identity in Him, the fruit will come in abundance.
Lord, may we experience fulfillment today, not because of what we determine to do or not do, but because of what we know you’re doing in us. Amen.