Thirty Days To Self Control – Day Five

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. [Mat 7:13-14 NASB]

A friend and I were talking about the struggle for self-control. On the one hand our most mature and wise self can know that an action will not work out for our long term good but the impulse to do that action is because in the short run we will know excitement, pleasure, satisfaction, or peace.

This “temptation” we know will produce immediate positive results and therefore it is hard to deny ourselves the pleasure of indulging in it. When we habitually give into such “temptations” then the power of habit is added to the equation and our ability to resist such temptation goes radically down.

The key question is how does one practice a lifestyle offering larger long-run benefits when it conflicts with a temptation offering greater immediate pleasure?

To do this we must first identify the conflict between our long term good, greater pleasure, and/or more valued good and our short-term pleasure. Unless we see such a conflict we will not attempt to use methods or strategies to keep us from enjoying the short-term pleasure. We only avoid short-term pleasure if it prevents us from reaching some long-term goal or some greater pleasure or more valued good.

Facing Temptation

Stage 1: Conflict Identification

Identify Self- Control Conflict

or

Do Not Identify Conflict (Indulging)

Stage 2: Conflict Resolution

Successful Self-Control Strategies (Restraint)

or

Unsuccessful Strategies (Indulging)

(See “Self-Control: A Function of Knowing When and How to Exercise Restraint” by Kristian Ove R. Myrseth and Ayelet Fishbach for more informaiton on this model)

The first step in gaining self control is to identify the conflict between the immediate desire to do something to gain immediate pleasure and the need to deny this desire in order to reach some greater goal, good, or pleasure.

Those without hope of success in reaching a greater goal, good, or pleasure will find it hard to exercise self-control. Both Messiah Jesus and Paul warn that without connection to judgment day then our ability to see the need of self control can diminish.

19 ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” [Luk 12:19-21 NASB]

32 …..If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE. [1Co 15:32 NASB]

Messiah Jesus would tell us that the only way to make a wise decision is in light of the fact that we will have to give an account for how we lived at the end or our lives.

The wise person would live life backwards from seeing himself or herself at the judgment seat of Christ and then to the present moment in which a decision has to be made.

We need to imagine reporting the current decision to the LORD and then reflect on if this will be choice will be approved or disapproved on that day.

This exercise can help us identify a conflict between what should be our ultimate goal of pleasing and glorifying Christ and this current desire to take an action which will give us pleasure or provide us a win by doing a wicked thing.

Why do we not identify a conflict between a particular temptation to do wrong and our long-term goal to live a sane, stable, and spiritual life. The reasons can be many but include.

Denial – Don’t think about it.

Minimize it – This one time won’t matter in the long run

Misuse of grace – I am saved by God’s grace in Christ so I can sin without fear

No hope in long term – I am going to lose anyway so why not enjoy myself today.

So the first step in gaining self-control is to be able to identify at the moment of decision that there is a conflict between taking a particular action and my long term good. To do this I must slow down my decision-making process and not give in immediately to the impulse to gain some pleasure or escape some pain at the expense of my conscience.

Speed in decision-making normally means that temptation will win. Carefully and prayerfully considering our decisions before making our decisions will give us a greater ability to decide we have to use some method or strategy to the situation in order to avoid doing something we will regret in the long run.

We can only solve a problem we admit we have. So the first step is to identify that moment of decision as a moment of temptation and a there is a need to exercise self control.

In the next few days we will be looking at successful and unsuccessful self control strategies.

Exercises

Do a “Decision Journal” for one week: At the end of the day for the next week evaluate your decisions in light of your long-term goals, good, and greater values. Imagine you are reporting your decision this day to Jesus Christ. Would he be pleased or unpleased by your decisions? Why?

Cost Inventory: Choose one particular “temptation” that normally wins in your life. List all the long-term cost of giving into this “temptation”. Note all types of cost. What has it cost me financially, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually? Read this list daily for one week. If you really want to see change then do this for 90 days.