Marching to Easter by Learning Self-Control
I AM STRUCK by the instruction Paul gives to Titus, a young pastor overseeing the church on the island of Crete. Paul’s instruction calls Titus to take into consideration the different kinds of people that make up the church: older men, older women, younger men and younger women.
For each “generation” Paul gives specific instructions as to what Titus is to teach them based on their stage of life. And yet, there was one character quality that remained constant among these differing groups: “self-control.”
So much of living the Christian life is about “self-control.” It is at the heart of what Jesus calls us to when he invites us “to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him.” It is a virtue that helps us do battle with the flesh.
“Self-control” teaches us to think before we speak. “Self-control” teaches us to choose grace over a spirit of bitterness. “Self-control” leads us to a life of simplicity and contentment versus materialism. “Self-control” helps us do battle with sexual temptation. It is even listed as a “fruit of the Spirit.”
How do we learn “self-control?” How do we learn to deny ourselves? May I suggest a principle that is generally true to life: “Practice makes perfect!” We learn how to live a lifestyle of “self-control” by voluntarily denying ourselves and learning to trust God to be our sustenance and our hope.
Christians all around the world are now several weeks into a forty-day period of voluntary self-denial called Lent
Philip Reinders writes of Lent: Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible Through the Year.
“It is a somber journey of spiritual preparation and renewal, marked especially by repentance and prayer. In our pain-adverse culture, Lent stands apart by not shrinking away from suffering but cultivating in us the wisdom and growth that often (some might say only) comes through suffering. In a time and place of religious freedom, where we mostly don’t suffer for following Christ, Lent invites us to willingly identify with Christ’s suffering through fasting or other forms of self-denial.
The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say no to ourselves in order to experience a greater yes in Jesus. It helps to imprint the form of the cross in our lives, recognizing the news of the risen Lord Jesus is not good without the way of the cross."
Perhaps you don’t make it a habit to “give something up for Lent.” Maybe you used to do it but it really didn’t have much meaning to you or was something you did to earn favor with God. Don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Redeem this practice for good.
Consider voluntarily “denying yourself” even if it is just for a day. It could be a fast from a meal or more. It could be taking a break from social media. It could be learning to say “no” to anything that distracts you from God. Practice self-control so that you can get good at it! It is a spiritual virtue. It is a fruit of the Spirit. It is the way of one who follows Jesus.
Think about it. Pray about it. Give it a try!
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