My overarching goal for September was to become more self-controlled [to use self-constraint in the midst of temptation] by giving up one meal a week to pray, sticking to a strict budget in order to save for a romantic outing with John, only watching entertainment from Friday through Sundays, breaking the habit of chewing my nails, avoiding technology until housework was done daily, and avoiding all negative comments. I used a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.
- Faith- (I) Pray every day that God would increase my self-control, (II) Memorize and meditate upon an entire Book of the Bible this month and (III) Give up one meal per week to pray.
(I) Praying for an increase of self-control kept me reliant upon the Lord, knowing I couldn’t avoid temptation without being empowered by the Holy Spirit.
(II) Wow was this hard! I’d heard of other people memorizing whole Books of the Bible in short periods of time, but they never let on how difficult it can be!
I decided to memorize 2 Timothy, not because it’s a favorite Book of mine or because I’ve always had a hankering to, but because there were four chapters (1 per week) and the content seemed practical and profitable enough to commit to memory. Once I chose the Book, I sat down with a Bible and a calendar and planned out all the verses I was to memorize on each day of the month. There were days when I slacked off and failed to memorize the verses I had planned, but thankfully I pressed on and caught up.
I was definitely more diligent at the beginning of the month about memorizing than toward the end. I always began my day by writing out the days’ verses on index cards, but some days I’d practice them aloud multiple times a day, reciting them while brushing my teeth, while driving in the car, while in the shower, and right before bed. Other days I’d merely go over the verses once. But on these latter days, I’d have to spend extra time reviewing these same verses on the very next day.
I told my husband on more than one occasion, “This is hard!” But you know what I found? When I was being super diligent about hiding 2 Timothy in my heart, I didn’t have time to think about lesser things. My mind was filled with God’s Word; my thoughts consumed with Paul’s letter to Timothy.
If you desire to memorize more Scripture, here is a good rule of thumb:
- Read the verse out loud 3X.
- Write out the verse 3X.
- Read the verse out loud from what you wrote down 3X.
- Say the verses 3X out loud from memory.
(III) I wish I could say I did better with this goal. I did give up one meal a week, but I only dedicated one lunch period to prayer out of the four. Pathetic, I know. Fasting is new to me. Before now, I only remember having fasted once, while in college. I’ve been sick for 7 out of the 11 years I’ve been a Christian, so I always kind of used that as an excuse. I can’t skip a meal, since I can’t take my medication on an empty stomach. Or If I skip a meal, I’ll lose even more weight… I definitely can’t afford to risk it. While these may have been legitimate excuses, they were none-the-less excuses.
Jesus did not speak of fasting as though it were optional. He said, “When you fast…,” not “if” you fast. And he gave no qualifiers for who should fast. But clearly the whole point of fasting was for the purpose of seeking God in prayer. Clearly I missed the mark this past month. Skipping a meal doesn’t count as fasting unless you spend that mealtime praying. While I may have tried to be more mindful of and communicate with God while accomplishing other tasks, He was not my sole focus and thus, I wasn’t practicing true, Biblical fasting.
2. Marriage– (I) Stick to a strict budget and save for a romantic outing to enjoy at the end of the month and (II) Only watch t.v. or movies from Friday-Sunday (find other more meaningful and interactive activities to do together, instead).
(I) I budgeted and spent $25 less on groceries this past month than in previous months. John was impressed with me since I usually spend more on groceries than the budgeted amount… without fail. But because of my self-control in this area, we were able to “splurge” a little on a $53 lunch and corn maze date (usually we only spend $25-$30 on a monthly date)!
(II) I think there were only a handful of weekdays this past month in which I didn’t watch something, with or without John. It’s a bit disconcerting. Even one 40 minute t.v. show 5 days a week adds up to 3.5 hours of wasted time in a given week, 14 hours in a month, or 168 hours in an entire year (or 7 whole days!). I think I’ve heard a statistic that stated the average child watches 4 or more hours of television A DAY. If somebody watches four hours a day, 5 days every week, that translates to 40 twenty-four-hour days a year spent watching television! Surely we can be better stewards of our time than this!
This project revealed to me just how addicting entertainment can be, as well as how easy it is to justify it. At the beginning of the month I’d tell myself, “It’s okay to watch something as long as I’m doing something productive at the same time… like strength training or washing dishes or cooking.” It was also difficult to convince my hard-working husband to do some other activity with me instead of watching an episode from Netflix, since by the time he gets home at night he’s literally been gone for an average of 12 hours and is exhausted. I can’t blame him… sometimes all you feel like doing is vegging on the couch, unable to think clearly enough to read or play a game.
Yet, I would like to continue to make an increased effort to watch less on netflix and redbox. One day (hopefully soon) we desire to have children and our entertainment habits are inevitably going to affect them. The sooner we develop greater self-control in this area, the better.
3. Health- (I) Stop chewing nails, (II) Be strict with medical diet and (III) Don’t slack off with marathon training.
(I) I DID IT!! The first week and a half were the most difficult in my endeavor to break my bad habit of chewing my nails. However, I found that keeping them painted daily with clear nail polish prevented me from giving in to the temptation. After the initial couple weeks of being aware of my triggers and letting some white show on the tips of my fingernails, it was far easier to avoid chewing them from then on.
Interestingly, I discovered my husband has the very same triggers as I do: sitting and listening to a sermon on Sunday mornings, while watching a t.v. show, while driving in the car, or before the start of a prayer meeting. There were times he would start chewing his nails and I would put a fingernail to my mouth about to chomp down when I realized what I was about to do, and quickly dropped my fingers into my lap.
Below is the plan I outlined and followed throughout September in order to break free from my bad habit:
Identify Your Triggers:
- Sitting and Listening to or waiting for someone/something (Prayer meeting, car, doctor’s office).
- Seeing John Chew his nails.
- When Nervous.
- When I see white on the ends of my nails.
Practical Solutions to Triggers:
- Hold hands together when sitting and listening. Paint nails DAILY.
- Tell John to stop chewing his nails. Grab some gum. Paint nails, instead.
- Chew gum, instead. Keep nails painted DAILY. Tell John and others to tell me to stop when they see me chewing.
- Keep them painted. When I see white, think to myself, “Look, they’re growing! I’m making progress!” instead of chewing.
(II) I did okay with staying away from foods I’m not supposed to eat (simple carbs, sugar, corn and potatoes, chips, beans, etc.). I have had to stick to a strict gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and recently grain-free diet for the past 5 years. Avoiding processed, sugary “foods” is easy for me, now. My struggle lies with passing up the occasional bag of potato chips or that third piece of fruit.
Having been on antibiotics for over 5 years straight, I had become suspicious that maybe I was having issues with candida. Thus, this past month I tried to cut out as much fruit from my diet as possible, along with grains and beans. I was able to avoid all fruit for 8 days straight (a personal record!), but it was not without complaint or temptation. My poor husband had to hear the brunt of my complaints as my cravings for fruit were relentless the first several days. When I happily announced, “It’s been 6 whole days since I last ate fruit,” he responded with, “Really? It seems like it’s been longer than that.” Clearly my complaining had made him weary.
(III) I logged almost 30 more running miles this past month than in the month of August. I also completed my longest run, yet: 20 miles in 3 hours, 3 minutes, and 46 seconds. My third month of marathon training started off really well and was enjoyable, but by the end of the month I was feeling much like I had after my first month of training: strained and fatigued.
My long runs this month consisted of 16 miles (3 different weeks), 20 miles, and 17.8 miles. But it wasn’t these that hampered me. Every week I do a hill workout and a fartlek workout in addition to my long runs. It’s the latter workouts I most dread. As an example for those of you who are not familiar with fartlek training, here was one such workout:
2 mi E + 4 x (10 min T + 2 min rest) + 2 mi E
To translate, this is what the formula means:
Run 2 miles at an easy pace (E); Run 10 minutes at a hard pace (T), then rest 2 minutes; Repeat 10 minutes T pace and 2 minute rest 3 more times; finish with an easy 2 miles.
Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Give me a long run at an easy pace any day over a fartlek workout. Despite this, I was bound and determined not to slack off, even on these more trying training days. Thankfully MOST weeks I only have one fartlek workout. And there’s only 1 month remaining in my training!
4. Homemaking- (I) Avoid technology until household tasks are finished daily.
(I) I did fairly well with this… most of the time. Sometimes I would use technology while doing housework. But I did find that on the days I logged into facebook before doing dishes or sweeping or laundry, I was far less productive overall than I would have been if I had completed my to-do list, first.
Social media has a way of sucking up your time and leaving you with regrets at the end of the day. This is precisely why I set this goal for myself. There ended up being just a handful of days in which I put technology before my housework. I definitely plan on continuing the habit of avoiding technology until I’ve crossed off several items from my to-do list each day.
5. Interactions– (I) Refrain from all negative comments, (II) Avoid gossip and (III) Refrain from judging others.
(I) I think a lot of my negativity this past month came in the form of complaining, as mentioned earlier. But there were other comments directed toward others that God convicted me of, too. Thankfully, God helped me keep my mouth shut on other occasions rather than making pessimistic comments. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Since I am known for being quiet, talking a lot is not one of my vices. However, if the few words I do utter are negative, how can Christ be displayed in my life? For it is “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (see Matthew 12:34b).
(II) Thankfully, God gave me the wisdom to avoid gossip years ago when I was still in high school. I was saved when I was 16 and received a heightened awareness of how words can cause great harm to people. After all, it only took 4 painful words to turn my own world upside down when I was merely 11 years old.
So this past month whenever individuals around me began to gossip, I would tune out or quickly change the subject. One time while walking with friends I purposely quickened my pace a bit to be excused from the conversation.
(III) Though my chart displays that I didn’t struggle with judging others at all this past month, it’s misleading. After all, even if I have one fleeting judgmental thought, isn’t that still considered “judging someone”? If I were to grade myself according to that standard, I’m not sure there would have been even one day through out the month of September that I didn’t have a judgmental thought. It’s a sobering reality.
I hate this about myself, and as quickly as the thoughts appear I confess and forsake them, but it doesn’t change the fact that those thoughts entered my mind in the first place. Matthew 7:1 clearly commands, “Do not judge, lest you be judged.” These are Jesus’ words. He goes on to tell the crowd to first take the log out of their own eyes before attempting to remove the speck from their brother’s eye. John Piper says,
“Now compared to a log, this person’s behavior is a speck. Or even if it is a log, I’ve got my own log. I can’t go to him with a log hanging out of my eye because the log will hit him on the head and do more damage than if I took my log out first.”
But the Apostle Paul made it clear, “Who are we to judge those who are outside? It is those in the church that we are to judge” (1 Corinthians 5:12). So in regard to unbelievers, I am to present the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to convict of sin. To judge them is to foolishly forget how utterly sinful I once was, too, before Christ rescued me.
I think a lot of my judgmental thoughts spring from wrong assumptions about an individuals’ actions. One afternoon while pushing my nephews in a stroller, a car made a very fast, sharp turn while we were nearing the corner. As the car drove by- I am ashamed to admit it- I cast a glare toward the driver.
Later, on that same walk we witnessed another driver slow down at the bottom of a hill and rev his engine before completing his ascent. My sister voiced what was on all of our minds- that he was trying to impress with his noisy antics, but then I surprised myself by saying, “Maybe his car is having trouble getting up the hill… it looks like an older car, after all.” She then answered, “That’s true. I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.”
In that moment I felt a slight victory over my judgmentalism. It was very short-lived, however, because the Holy Spirit quickly reminded me of how I had responded toward the previous car we had encountered on our walk. I failed to mention it earlier, but that particular driver so happened to be an elderly man. Why couldn’t I have extended him the same grace I did to the man whose car struggled to reach the top of the hill?
WHAT I LEARNED
If you’ve already read the update to my goals above, you are well aware of many of the lessons God taught me, already. I think the month of September is by far the most difficult month I’ve experienced, yet. Self-control is difficult!
Self-control is needed in all facets of life. I found that spiritual discipline is quite similar to physical discipline. I suppose I’m not the first to discover this, as the Apostle Paul penned these words 2000 years ago:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Marathon training is difficult, not always fun, requires hard work and much practice. Yet, the training prepares you for the race and increases your endurance. Without the practice, the race would either be excruciatingly painful and/or impossible to complete. In the same way, spiritual disciplines like memorizing God’s Word, fasting, or spending time praying each day can be arduous, not always enjoyable, and require a great deal of endurance. Still, if we were to neglect these disciplines we would not grow in our faith and the smallest of trials would greatly discourage and hinder us in our walk with the Lord.
While running 200+ miles during the month of September I listened to the audio book, Teach Us to Want. At one point the author talked about temptation for fleshly desires. She encouraged her audience to “disobey yourself.” This is a concept that immediately peeked my interest and got my wheels spinning. Though I have been crucified with Christ and am a new creature, my old nature still likes to rear its ugly head now and again. There are still times when my desires don’t line up with Christ’s. It is in these moments that I am to disobey myself; to not give in.
Interestingly, self-control is mentioned twice in the book of 2 Timothy. The first time Paul tells Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of self-control” (1:7). This is Paul’s reasoning for Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God that was within him. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to love, who gives us power, and who enables us to be self-controlled. Other versions translate “self-controlled” as “disciplined” or “well-balanced mind”. Strong’s concordance defines the Greek word sophronismos as “self-discipline, with an implication that this discipline demonstrates prudence and wisdom.” It is a calling to soundness of mind.
As I memorized the book of 2 Timothy this past month, many times I would face a situation and immediately a relevant verse I had been committing to memory would pop into my mind. I think this is why Christian meditation is so different and so much more powerful than Eastern meditation. As Christians we are to FILL our minds with God’s Word, while worldly meditation instructs you to empty your mind. When you empty your mind, you’re just opening yourself up to lies and deception from the enemy. When you fill your mind with the Truth of God’s Word, you are equipping yourself with weapons against the attacks of the enemy and guarding your heart and mind from lies and deceit.
Jesus Himself used Scripture to overcome temptation in the wilderness. Without God’s Word, we really have no power over temptation. The mind is so powerful. Thus, what we put into our minds and what we dwell on is crucial.
“Self-control is… the external expression of our relationship with God. Holy restraint is the seed of this fruit. It’s the internal experience of living with Christ and really applying His Truths to my life.” -Lisa Terkeurst
The second time self-control is mentioned in 2 Timothy is in chapter 3: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be…without self-control” (v. 1-3). The Greek word rendered “self-control” in this passage is enkrateia, from the root kratos, which means strength. The same word is used in Acts 24:25 following the word “righteous,” which one commentator interprets as self-control being man’s response to God declaring him to be righteous. For the unbeliever, however, it is impossible to be self-controlled. They do not have the power of God, the Truth of God’s Word, or the desire to please God. Thus, addictions are an epidemic in our world and the Apostle’s warning is being played out before our very eyes.
But even as a follower of Jesus, avoiding fruit, memorizing the entire book of 2 Timothy, limiting my entertainment, and breaking the habit of chewing my nails was far from a walk in the park. I found myself praying over and over, “God, help me. Don’t let me give in/give up.” I honestly would not have been able to accomplish even one of these goals without Jesus’ strength and empowerment. Sheer will power wouldn’t have even gotten me through one single day! More than once I found myself telling God, “My spirit is willing, but my flesh is so weak, Lord. Help!”
I think that’s the beauty of walking with Christ. The more I know Him, the more I see my weakness, and the more I depend upon Him to help me.
What are your thoughts on self-control?