Someone once discussed his difficulties with self-control and temptation. He described them to me in this way:
"In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate . . . I know that my selfish desires won’t let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot. Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong."
Do you find yourself in the same boat as this person? Do you strive to do the right thing, but always seem to fall short? Do you approach situations with the right way, but look back and wonder what happened? If so, fret not; you are in good company. This person is none other than the apostle Paul, and his description can be found in Romans 7:15-19 (Contemporary English Version).
Take comfort in knowing that God is aware of your situation and is in ultimate control. You are not alone.
In emotional situations, it can be very easy to lose control. Let's look at three common emotions that can tempt us to lose our self-control—and how to thwart them.
This one is pretty obvious looking back at Paul's words above. He wrote that his "selfish desires" trapped him from doing what he knew was the right thing. Of course, everyone has wants and needs, but nothing should come between you and your relationship with God.
"He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich" (Proverbs 21:17). This proverb demonstrates that a materialistic focus on only "the good stuff" and decision-making based on present pleasure are damaging in the long run. How can we combat these threats to self-control?
When you find yourself tempted to lose control on a spur-of-the-moment desire, ask yourself whether your action will produce treasures on earth, or store "treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:19-21). God will provide you with everything you need (Psalm 23:1). Walk with God to become less dependent on physical amenities and regain your self-control.
Moses learned this lesson the hard way in Numbers 20:1-13. God had instructed Moses and Aaron to speak to a rock in order to grant Israel water. Instead, Moses furiously smacked the rock twice with his rod, took credit for the miracle God was performing through him, and did so in front of the Israelite assembly. Moses allowed his anger to take control and disobeyed a direct command from God. As a result, God did not permit him to enter into the Promised Land.
Anger can be an emotional expressway to impulsive sin. Our challenge is to maintain control while angry and heed God's instruction to "be angry, and do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). Take a minute to seek advice and calm down when you are upset rather than immediately venting everything that enters your head (Proverbs 29:11). Go to God and ask for guidance in making the right decision. "People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness" (Proverbs 14:29; New Living Translation).
Jesus Christ was walking with Peter and the other disciples when He was suddenly arrested by a detachment of troops (John 18:1-11). Peter was not yet able to understand the events that were taking place and attacked one of the men with a sword, perhaps out of fear or anger. Later, Peter was even confronted about being a follower of Jesus Christ and hotly denied it three times: "He began to curse and swear, 'I do not know this Man of whom you speak!'" (Mark 14:71).
Peter's fear of being found a follower of Christ was very real. He almost certainly faced arrest, torture, and even death.
How can you maintain self-control in the face of your fears, real or imagined?
Take comfort in knowing that God is aware of your situation and is in ultimate control. You are not alone. God is much more powerful than anything you fear, and will deliver you if you seek Him: "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4). You can go to God with any fear or worry, no matter how big or how small. Ask Him to guide you with His Spirit, which brings power and not fear (2 Timothy 1:7).
Mastering self-control is a difficult, life-long battle, but it is one we can't throw in the towel for. The apostle Paul worked at it for his entire life, and in the end, he was able to say this about his walk with God: "I have fought well. I have finished the race, and I have been faithful" (2 Timothy 4:7; CEV).
Continue to grow in self-control and you can share the same words at the end of your race.