When we talk about self-control, we mean a number of things. Perhaps the type of self-control that springs most readily to mind is impulsive behavior: the giving in to immediate gratification, such as, the fattening food that you don’t need, another alcoholic drink, another unnecessary purchase. Giving in to gratification makes us feel good for a moment but there’s no lasting joy. Self-control is also about emotional control: not saying the unkind word, not lashing out to strike someone in a moment of anger. Self-control requires perseverance: sticking at something, despite the fact that you’re tired and would rather be doing something else. Psychologists define self-control as follows:
- ‘The ability to control behaviors to avoid temptations and achieve goals.’
- ‘The ability to delay gratification and resist unwanted behaviors or urges.’
- ‘A limited resource that can be depleted.’
Researchers have found that people who have self-control tend to be healthier and happier. The ‘Marshmallow experiments’ conducted by Walter Mischel in the 60s and 70s suggested that those children who had high levels of self-control were more likely to have higher academic performance.
Has it really taken 2,000 years for us to understand the importance of self-control? The Bible mentions the term self-control 174 times but clearly words like ‘discipline’, ‘restraint’, ‘ moderation’ and ‘abstinence’ are also closely related to the idea of self-control.
‘For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. With the Holy Spirit inside of us, we are able to possess self-control and demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit. As a result we can live in a way that is honorable to God.’ 2 Timothy 1:7
Self-control is a gift from God. When we pray we are filled with the Holy Spirit and ‘the fruits of the Spirit’ bestow upon us self-control. If we lack self-control we are defenseless against evil.
‘Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.’ Proverbs 25:28
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask: ‘lead us not into temptation’. God enables us to strengthen our self-control by teaching us to avoid temptation. When Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, he was tempted by the devil. He was tempted to assuage his physical desires by turning stones into bread; he was tempted to use his divinity to avoid physical pain and he was tempted to give himself over to the pleasures of the flesh. Knowing the agony that he was to face, Jesus gave us the supreme example of self-control. And when Peter lashes out physically, in a desire to protect Jesus, Jesus insists on self-control.
‘Then said Jesus unto Peter, put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my father hath given me, shall I not drink it?’ John 18:11Self-control is central to a Christian way of life, but it requires constant vigilance to maintain healthy behaviors. Use your gratitude journal to help you keep focus on how you are building your self-control through prayer. Set yourself goals and use your journal to look back and see how the Holy Spirit is working through you.