By Stormie Omartian
Before I met Jesus, my life was out of control. I would eat a one-pound box of chocolates in a single sitting and drink alcohol until I couldn’t stand up-all because I couldn’t stop myself from doing
something that felt good. There was so much pain, loneliness and rejection in my life that I grabbed at anyone and anything I thought could possibly alleviate some of it, no matter what the consequences.
Self-control, I thought, was choosing marijuana over the equally available but far more prestigious and unpredictable LSD.
Even after I received the Lord, I still needed to be set free from the results of a lifetime of wrong choices. A Christian counselor, a pastor’s wife, helped prepare me to receive God’s supernatural deliverance from the bondages of my past. When she suggested a three-day fast, I winced.
Having gone to bed hungry too often as a child, the thought of deliberately doing that seemed out of the question. But I had grown enough in the Lord to know that living in obedience to Him would be for
my greatest good.
“Lord, I want to do Your will,” I prayed, “but You know how undisciplined I am. If I’m supposed to fast, You’ve got to help me.”
I was amazed at how the Lord answered that prayer, sustaining and strengthening me through a difficult time. Not only did I receive the sought-for deliverance from fear and depression. In addition, the entire incident became the first hard evidence of true self-control blossoming in my life.
I learned that self-control is not just gritting your teeth and doing everything perfectly. It’s actually a condition of the soul that begins when there’s an all-consuming desire to live God’s way. It has to do
with saying, “Self, get out of the way-God is in control here.” It’s having the inner strength to stand up and proclaim as Jesus did, “For the glory set before me, I will endure this” (see Heb. 12:2).
That’s what self-control is: inner strength. Inner strength is actually His strength in us, enabling us to do what we cannot do on our own. If our inner strength is stronger than whatever tempts us, then we have
self-control. If it isn’t, we have no control.
Not Just a Resolution
When we make resolutions of the New Year’s sort- “I will not lie,” “I will not gossip, “I will not overeat,” “I will not look at pornography,” “I will not be sexually immoral,” “I will not overspend” we’re doomed to failure from the start.
Mere human effort has a rather dismal success rate when it comes to overriding carnal lusts. That’s because strong-willed self-determination produces rigidity, not life. Only the power of the Holy Spirit working in harmony with our own will can overcome the lust of our flesh.
Today’s society suffers from a major deficiency of self-control because people will to be lovers of fleshly lusts rather than lovers of God. And it’s not just “the world”; Christians fall into that trap as well.
Too often we entertain the darkness that lurks in our hearts rather than fleeing from it. Too often we give place to a secret life of sin, somehow deceiving ourselves into thinking God doesn’t see. We frequently act as if being controlled by the flesh is without consequences.
We don’t see that our actions not only produce death in us, but they also affect everyone around us, even if we practice our sin in complete secret. We mistakenly think we’re exercising our freedom in Christ as
we indulge our flesh, when actually we’re becoming enslaved to it. We think we’re happier doing whatever we want, but the truth is that we’re happier when we choose to restrain ourselves.
The only way to gain the inner strength needed for self-control is to surrender completely to God in humble confession, prayer, praise, worship and obedience. Only then can we become empowered by His Spirit to stand up and make right choices. Only then can we become God-controlled.
Once God has control of our heart, there are other steps we can take. First, with regard to the things we know we’re not to do, we must admit the areas where we’re weak, and then avoid setting ourselves up for failure. If the weakness is in the realm of our sexual nature, we shouldn’t have lunch alone with an attractive co-worker. If the problem is alcohol, we can’t go to places that serve or sell it. If overeating
is our downfall, we mustn’t bring enticing food into the home. If the problem is gossiping, we shouldn’t talk with people who love to hear it.
Instead, we must continually ask the Holy Spirit for divine enablement to walk away from temptation of any kind. We’re not just innocent victims of our lusts; we’re responsible for aiming ourselves in the
right direction-away from temptation.
It’ s our responsibility to ask the Holy Spirit to plant the seeds that grow the inner strength to make the right choices. We’re also responsible for preparing our hearts with a good environment to nurture
self-control. Otherwise, the total wholeness and successful, long-lasting ministry that we all desire will elude us.
Another step we can take is to recognize that some things aren’t bad in themselves but can become an object of obsession, thus paving the way for out of-control, harmful behavior. “Everything is permissible for me,” said the apostle Paul, “but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12, NIV). Desires for things that are permissible but not beneficial can trip us up, so we must ask God to show us what they are.
Before I came to the Lord, I couldn’t control any part of my life. I still can’t. But the difference is that now I know I can’t control my life. Yet I also know that God can.
God helps me to “discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27, NKJV). He works in me to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). God also helps me to avoid compromising situations: to tell the truth when it would be easier to lie, to refrain from repeating juicy gossip, to avoid retaliation when someone is rude.
Just now I’ m once again on a three-day fast along with our entire congregation. It’s no easier now than it was 20 years ago when I did it the first time. But once again, God is sustaining me and giving me
inner strength to control my desire to visit the refrigerator. I’m able to fast-not because I’m self-controlled, but because I’m God-controlled. He has graced me today with the fruit of His Spirit; and for the glory set before me, I will wait on Him.
(The above information was published by CHARISMA, May 1993)
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