The Battle for Self-Control

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“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;I refused my heart no pleasure.” – Eccl 2:10

One thought hit me when I realized I had eaten half a bag of powdered donuts that I had planned to use for my Galentine’s Party that night: I have lost the meaning and importance of self-control. It sounds ridiculous, but I do what I want. If I want to eat three cookies, I eat three cookies. Not on special occasions, but any time I darn well please. If I want to spend $200 online at Gap.com or Victoriassecret.com, I do it. If I am tired and don’t really feel like working out, I lay on the couch. This is me being completely honest. These are areas that I struggle with when it comes to self-control. There are other areas I find easier to be disciplined in but these, I simply forget the word self-control altogether. My battle with self-control hasn’t put us in debt or caused any specific health issues, but it makes me cringe to think how willy nilly I behave sometimes. I really want to learn how to exercise self-control better in these areas.

I seriously came to a point this past week where I thought I can’t keep trying to figure this out with my own limited knowledge. I did some research that led me to a few helpful articles and tons of great Bible verses. Doing research and digging deep is not something I do often, but I am learning so much through it and had to share with all of you.

WHAT IS SELF-CONTROL?

The definition of self-control is “control or restraint of oneself or one’s actions, feelings, etc.” Self-control is basically thinking before I act. Biblically, it’s a fruit of the spirit that the Lord gives to believers. I’ll get to more of that a little further in. 

My word for the year STEADFAST, is all wrapped up in self-control, though I never really thought about it till now. Steadfast is gaining self-control over our emotions, abiding in God’s truth and hopping off the rollercoaster that we let dictate how we feel and thereby respond.

Self-control in areas like food and spending happens when I remain steadfast in God’s truth. When I listen to thoughts that say food will make me happy or spending will satisfy, I am believing lies and much more likely to not exercise self-control. 

WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING ON THIS?

We can get this twisted. Is it all God? Is it all me? Who’s doing the work? As I mentioned earlier, I simply have forgotten what self-control is and that it is important, but maybe another reason is that I forget who makes this happen.

There are two parts to self-control: the part God does and the part I do.

God’s role: Verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 and Galatians 5:22-23 encourage me and remind me that I have been equipped by God to resist temptation. Striving for self-control without God remains a self-centered pursuit. It might look noble and like I’m trying hard but the result doesn’t glorify God, it glorifies myself. 

“We want Jesus to get glory. We want to control ourselves in the power he supplies. We learn to say no, but we don’t just say no. We admit the inadequacy, and emptiness, of doing it on our own. We pray for Jesus’s help, secure accountability, and craft specific strategies” Source

My role: If we played no part in self-control, we would all exercise this fruit of the spirit but we don’t And it’s because we don’t look at what our role is in this.

“This of course, does not mean that the battle is over and we can “let go and let God.” Rather it means that we are now empowered to engage in the battle. As the Hebrews were promised the land, but had to take it by force, one town at a time, so we are promised the gift of self-control, yet we also must take it by force.” Source

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF NOT EXERCISING SELF-CONTROL?

1. Foolish in the sight of even our enemies.

In Exodus 32:25, it says the Hebrews chose idols, the result was “the people were running wild and…Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.”

2. Wanting one more/never satisfied

Getting “one more” doesn’t satisfy us. It only feeds our desire to want one more again.

WHAT KEEPS ME FROM EXERCISING SELF-CONTROL?

As I mentioned above, we believe lies that tell us the thing we want will satisfy us. We not only are working with our own sinful flesh, but Satan doubles down on those things we already struggle with and makes sure they look enticing to us. “Ever the opportunist, he comes rushing in when the imaginations of our minds set themselves on the created thing rather than the Creator.” Source

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SELF-CONTROL?

There is FREEDOM in self-control contrary to how we picture it. Proverbs 25:28 tells us “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”

“Self-control begins to stand out as a great blessing rather than a legalistic burden. It stands against the lies of our own hearts as well as those of Satan and keeps us on the lever path that leads to life.” Source

WHAT I WROTE ABOUT SELF-CONTROL

The Lord has been crying out to teach me this lesson and I have been listening half way. I found notes from last summer of the Proverbs 25:28 passage from above with a ton of notes from what I learned while reading. I had included a few other areas where I lose self-control and even those things that tend to cause it:

1. cursing because of pressure
2. grumpy because of pain
3. selfish because of hurt feelings

Self-control is a response set apart from our emotions and instead decided in advance based on a standard I live by.

What is my plan in advance? What is my standard? Just because I feel pressure or things don’t go according to plan does it really justify my behavior? And even if I could justify it, it NEVER benefits myself so it’s silly to think that having a good reason to do it makes it worth while to do.

The Lord desires my steadfastness. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him…But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own design.” James 1:12 & 14

Today we talked about the Biblical principles of self-control. Next we will talk about two practical ways for us grow in self-control: The Contentment Challenge and the Power of Habits. I will also have a worksheet to help work through this.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Is self-control an issue you think of or like me does it completely slipped your mind? 

Leave a Comment!!

  • Val, thank you for writing this and for the encouragement. Steadfastness & self-control over my emotions is something I struggle with. I too need to dig deep into God’s word see what he says about this and do my part. Thanks for the encouragement today and keep going girl!

    Best! Arielle

    • Yes Arielle! I feel silly that it’s not my first response to search His Word with issues like this but am so glad He keeps tugging and reminding me to come to Him!!

  • I read about Plato’s chariot allegory while watching someone I love struggle with a drug addiction. It’s stuck with me, and I find it applicable to areas of self-control where I often struggle. It’s something like this (forgive my “dumbing it down!”):

    We humans are like a chariot pulled by two horses. One of them is wild and unruly, and craves food, drink, pleasure, wrecklessness. The other horse is calm, collected, reserved…and represents our higher aspects, things many of us work toward. The individual steering the chariots represents our mind/intellectual control center. But Plato suggested it’s the spiritual element – being in touch with our Creator through prayer – that gives us balance and enables the mind (chariot driver!) to achieve control and steer the right horse. Kind of a holistically healthy picture he painted there.

    I also think of Hebrews 12:11 a lot…(paraphrasing again) discipline is difficult at the moment, but yields peaceful fruits of righteousness.

    Love your post! excited to read more:)

  • Girl,

    This is beautiful, and I definitely needed it today. My heart has been longing to embrace self-control and seeing how important it is, especially in food and spending. Thanks for letting God speak through you!

    Ashley

    • Thank you Ashley!! It’s scary to post things like this sometimes but always so confirming when I know it speaks to someone else!

  • This is a great post! Thanks for sharing your research. Yes, self-control is an issue I also think about all the time! I also struggle with self control in terms of what I eat and how active I am. I am always finding excuses to not push myself. I loved the perspective you shared about self-control being “freeing.” I find I often resist controlling measures because I’m fearful of my life feeling too structured and restricted, but it’s so true that structure enables freedom. Thanks for the encouragement to pray for God’s grace in this pursuit. Looking forward to your next posts!!

    • I am preaching this to myself. I forget so much that it will be freeing but hoping going through this process and sharing it with y’all will help it take root for me and anyone who reads it! Thanks Alexis!!

  • Hey Val! Thanks for your post:) this has been what this last week has been about for me as well! I have not taken self control of my tongue or actions especially when it comes to John Tyler and big Tyler. I have realized that I’ve been blaming my irrational tongue on pregnancy hormones, tiredness, being hungry etc etc… Instead this issue is a lack of self control and a source of selfishness. I am praying that The Lord give me self control in these areas and swiftly:) thank you again for your post!

  • Thank you for sharing this – it resonates SO much for me. I majorly struggle with self-control, particularly in the areas of eating, sleeping, and activity. I just do what I FEEL like doing, good, bad, or otherwise, most days. And then I’m frustrated with myself for it. But I was thinking a few days ago that if self-control is part of the fruit of the spirit, then it’s not simply about me trying harder (works), it’s about spending more time with the Lord, drawing closer to Him, and subsequently yielding to the leading of the Spirit (who already indwells me) by His power. It’s listening to that still, small voice while pouring a soda or eating a bag of cotton candy (I hardly ever have cotton candy – less than once a year – but I wolfed down a big old bag of it yesterday when I was having a pity party!). The soda is another story. Anyway, this was such a timely post, and as is typical of God, totally weaves in to the work He’s doing in my life. Christ came that we would be set free. I look forward to walking in greater freedom. 🙂

  • What a timely post! I know I struggle with self control in pretty much all areas of my life. Definitely when it comes to eating and exercising – I will have SO much self control for a time and then it all falls away. I think it is because I am also leaning on my own understanding of how to keep it together and not looking toward the Lord for help! I am excited to read the next two posts!

  • This reminds me of a book I recently finished called Extravagant Grace – she talks a lot about the sins we have that we just can’t stop….overeating being one of the main ones she focuses on (as she deals with it herself). I loved her view on grace – God already seeing us as clean and pure. Recommend it based on your post!

  • God has been softly whispering to me about self control the last several weeks and I keep finding a rational reason for “putting it off” or totally ignoring it. Tonight when I opened your post and started reading it I knew that once again God was whispering to my heart and you know what I did….I flicked over to another website and busied myself with that instead. It took three hours before I forced myself to come back and continue reading your post.
    I wish that I could say that by doing that I know feel that I can face this problem head on but I cant. I feel scared that I’m going to fail yet again in the area of self control and food. I feel angry with myself that this is a lesson that I haven’t yet learnt despite knowing better. And then I feel embarrassed that despite having excess weight that needs attending to – I put blinkers on when I go out into the world and pretend like its not too big a deal….but you can’t hide from God. This month I am doing the contentment challenge and it has definitely taught me a few things. Im looking forward to the habits that you spoke about. I feel like i just need to find that one thing that will make everything click into place and will make this whole issue easier for me……..but I guess the reality of this is that it probably isnt going to happen this way and instead I am going to have to work through those uncomfortable, uncertain feelings. ( sorry for the rant – lol ). Anyway, thank you for sharing this so openly. Its encouraging to know that I’m not alone in struggling with self control.

  • Wow the timing of this is incredible! I am currently doing the Breaking Free Bible study by Beth Moore and Self-control is one of my three areas I am fiercely trying to break free from. I struggle with the exact three areas you mentioned,especially food. It’s hard to think that I won’t always want to fulfill that desire to binge and eat what I want, but I believe in the power of God and that he will work with me to reset my desires, not just to not over-indulge, but to want to have that self-control for the purpose of being obedient! It’s not going to be an over-night fix but I am encouraged to hear that others are working beside me on this!

    • I love seeing how God works to get our attention through others! And I need to look into that study!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Alright this hit so close to home today! I have been struggling with a laundry list of things and reading this helped me realize they all fall under the self control umbrella. If you have any resources or good studies on this, beyond this post I would love to hear from you!

    Thanks for opening up and being honest! You are not alone!!

    • Layna!! Yes, I actually will have two more posts on the topic that I hope will help! Also, check out the comments on this post!! There have been some verses and books mentioned!!

  • Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! I thought I was going crazy….Glad to know I’m not the only one that struggles with this – especially the exercise part. I am trying so hard to do this and I have to realize that I just need to let God help me with this first. Your words were right on point!

  • Hi Val,

    This definitely hit home for me when I stumbled across your post on Instagram. I had just been thinking about how I needed a hard lesson in self-control and then I saw your post the very next day. So I decided to sit down tonight and work through your lesson, as well as seeing where the Lord took me in scripture. He led me to 1 Peter 5:8-10. I think your post pairs so well with these verses. In verses 8-9, Peter advises us to be alert and sober because the devil is prowling in order to devour us. As disheartening as it is to think he is constantly about, verse 10 provides the hope that we all need: “after you have suffered a little while, He will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

    It is so encouraging to know we are not alone in this battle! Thanks for sharing your insight!