By Jenni Saake © 2011
When I was a little girl I was in a musical. One of the catchy tunes included the words, “Self-control is just controlling yourself. It's listening to your heart and doing what is smart. Self-control is the very best way to go, so I think that I'll control myself.”
Cute song, but I'm afraid the definition of “listening to my heart” doesn't always lead me in the best direction. In fact, Jeremiah 17:9 tells me, “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out” (The Message). When I'm listening to my heart, I'm prone to be swayed by my own selfishness. Selfish motives rarely lead to smart decisions!
It may sound funny, but when I think of self-control, I think of television commercials for bladder incontinence products such as Depends. Why? Because when the Bible talks about self-control, the original Greek word used actually means “continence,” or the ability to control one's own bodily functions and discharges, especially in the context of sexual urges. With that picture in mind, it's easy to see that I can't depend on my own heart to always lead me down the right path, otherwise there would be no urges in need of control.
The tricky part about self-control is that little word, “self.” What if I replace “self” with “God,” so that rather than listening to my heart, I'm intentionally seeking God's best for me in any given situation? If I'm asking God to be in the driver's seat, I can fully depend on Him to help me make smarter choices in life.
A lifestyle of asking God's direction in every circumstance can be described as “dying to self.” I know, dying doesn't sound like an attractive invitation at all, does it? What does this dying-to-self kind of self-control (God-control) even look like? How does it work?
The good news is that God never asks for any form of death without offering His abundant life as greater replacement value. What may seem like painful sacrifice, like saying no to the offer of physical love when someone temps me to look for sexual gratification outside God's guidelines of marriage, yields rewards like peace and self-respect, far greater than the momentary thrill I'm turning away.
“So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2, The Message).
While listening to my heart may lead to nothing but heartache, God doesn't leave me guessing about His best for me. I can trust that His plan is the most dependable one around. If I could sit down with the little girl I was 30 years ago and teach her a new song, I think it might go something like this. “Self-control cannot just depend on myself. It's listening to God's heart to find out what is smart. God-control is the very best way to go, so each day I choose to die to self.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Saake, know as “InfertilityMom,” is the author of Hannah’s Hope: Seeking God’s Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage & Adoption Loss. She blogs about natural beauty, seeking hope in the midst of life’s heartaches, and life as a homeschooling mom. Jenni lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and XMRV, a retrovirus related to HIV. She is currently writing a book on the life of Paul as encouragement for facing chronic pain and illness.