Have you ever totally lost your cool and flown off the handle? In the heat of the moment, you felt completely out of control. It was almost like a demonic force had taken possession of your body, mind, and mouth.
Perhaps you’ve struggled with self-control as it relates to an addiction of sorts or to some embarrassing excess in your life. Maybe it has felt nearly impossible to get a grip on yourself, because you struggle to muster up the necessary willpower and self-discipline, which seem to evade your reach.
It’s not uncommon as human beings to find ourselves saying and doing foolish things, which are obviously not very well thought through. We act both impulsively and compulsively. And when it’s over and too late, we sorely regret what we’ve done. It’s extremely exasperating, not to mention embarrassing.
We can often be our own worst enemies when it comes to holding back our tempers, maintaining proper sobriety, curbing our physical and sexual appetites, and avoiding impulse buys. Self-restraint is much easier said than done! So many times I’ve wanted to smack myself on the forehead and shout at myself, “What is the world ever possessed you to say/do that – you big dummy?!”
Many of my counseling clients confess various humiliating indiscretions and improprieties like affairs, pornography, gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, angry outbursts, or even shoplifting. Shame and remorse usually accompany these deep personal regrets and compunctions.
I’m not sure about you, but I can definitely relate to the apostle Paul’s frustration when he exclaims in Romans 7:15, 18-19 (ESV), "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."
Self-control is mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:23 as the final fruit of the Spirit. Perhaps he saved the most difficult one for last in his well-known list. He knew from personal experience and, no doubt, from observation of others just how difficult it is to achieve this Christian virtue in view of the inordinate amount of willpower it requires.
During the late hours of the evening in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to his drowsy disciples, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41, ESV).
In 2 Peter 1:6, the apostle Peter admonishes his readers to supplement spiritual knowledge with self-control. Knowing what is right versus doing what is right are two very different things. So how may we go about exercising better self-control in our lives?
First, consider the consequences of your actions.
Think it through before reacting. How will speaking or acting in a certain way impact other people, and what might the eternal ramifications be for yourself? Hebrews 11:24-25 (ESV) says, "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin."
Second, keep your eyes focused on Jesus, the founder and finisher of your faith (Heb. 12:2).
Look to his perfect example of meekness and self-restraint when facing severe stress in his own life. He consistently said “No” to the devil and “Yes” to God!
Third, surround yourself by trusted friends who will help to hold you accountable to yourself.
Confession and prayer are powerful tools that are good for the soul and efficacious (James 5:16).
Fourth, come up with a viable alternate strategy in advance.
Preparation and practice make more perfect. Rather than being caught off guard in situations that bring out the worst in you, develop a playbook in your mind so that you are more likely to respond appropriately when you’re blindsided. Joseph ran from sexual temptation when it had him in its sordid grip (Gen. 39:12).
Fifth, and most importantly, put your faith in Christ and don’t rely on your own strength or insight.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”