Self-control is not a very prevalent trait in our society. We see the lack of it in the news we read and, sometimes, in people we know. A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania actually surveyed over 2 million people, asking them to rank their own strengths. Self-control was among 24 other strengths on the list, and self-control was ranked dead last on average in that survey result. Not only is it obviously absent in others, but many people realize it’s absence in themselves.
The Bible tells us that, for those of us who are disciples of Jesus, self-control is included in the fruit of the Spirit. You may be familiar with this passage, but have you ever considered what the inclusion of self-control means for us?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Doesn’t self-control seem out of place on this list? Everything else seems possible to be divinely implanted in us – when we have the Spirit in us, we will be people of love, joy, peace, etc. But SELF-control? It’s a really interesting one in the mix. The passage doesn’t say “faithfulness, gentleness, God-controlled…” it says self. It’s a reminder that God wants us to be actively participating in the process of sanctification. He will place that ability in us to demonstrate self-control, but we have a role to play in cooperation with Him.
In order to have self-control, we must start with self-awareness. Self-awareness is one of the most valuable tools you can cultivate, as it is the starting point for almost all areas of growth and maturity. Attaining it takes work, discipline, and humility – and it can be quite uncomfortable and unnatural.
Real, genuine self-awareness is important in many areas of our lives:
– Our skill set: What are we good at? Where is there room for growth?
– Our gifting: How have we actually been gifted vs. where do we wish we were gifted?
– Our interpersonal interaction: How well do you handle people interaction? What areas do you need to work on?
– Our attitude and countenance: How do you come across to people? What affect do you have on a mood or environment? Where can you grow/improve?
– Spiritual development: Where are we at in our walk with Christ? What needs to change? Where do we need to mature?
Self-awareness is essential for us, so how do we attain self-awareness that gets us to self control? I believe these four practices will help to cultivate self-awareness:
1 Corinthians 11:28 – Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.
How often are you willing to reflect on yourself and ask tough questions. Do you have enough awareness to know where improvements are needed? Are you, right now, aware of some areas or do you really have to strain to find anything that could be improved? Do you leave enough margin in your life to even ask those questions of yourself?
Psalm 139:23-24 – Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
How specifically are you praying that God would reveal room for improvement? Are you boxing Him in or compartmentalizing your life? If you want to cooperate with God in seeing self-control be a strength in your life, you need to be asking Him honestly where you need to grow and be sensitive to His voice in ALL areas, not just the ones you feel comfortable letting Him shape right now.
3. External input:
Proverbs 19:20 – Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.
How often have you asked for feedback? Candid, solicited feedback on who you are, how you come across, and what your impact is on people? If you have done that, have you rigged the system? Have you only asked people who’s voices you want in that feedback loop. People who only know part of you or are fans of yours? Consider broadening that scope a bit and welcome feedback that might be a bit less comfortable or complementary. (of course good judgement is needed in whose feedback you seek, but be sure it won’t exclude those who can provide a more accurate picture).
4. Written goals:
Each of these combined helps to paint a picture of who we are, or how we are perceived. Balancing them while using a good filter is healthy, but then you need to write down areas where you have opportunity to grow. If we view this as a singular exercise and then never action on anything we learn, it’s useless. As God reveals areas in your life that need improvement or a more focused level of self-control, write that as a goal and revisit it often.
Self awareness allows us to practice self-control and better examine our heart and posture.
Even if we feel that we have a good grasp on our self-awareness, there can be some BIG blind spots that we are inattentive to. We may be very aware of our words and obvious actions, but what about these common blind spots?
COMMON BLIND SPOTS:
1. Nonverbal responses: Body language and nonverbal cues are almost always a matter of awareness and self-control. These are powerful communication methods, and they will betray us. A look on someone’s face, an exhale, or a motion with hands can impact interaction immensely! And you may not realize that you are doing it! Nonverbal communications require a great deal of self-awareness.
Think of non-verbals in the same way you do verbals – imagine if you weren’t aware or couldn’t control the words coming out of your mouth. If you didn’t know that your internal monologue was actually audible. As someone tells you something frustrating, you say “oh come on. You’ve got to be kidding me.” Imagine how that impacts things. Nonverbal actions say the same thing just as obviously.
2. Internal monologue/belief: We can fool ourselves when we aren’t aware of ourselves. We’d never say it out loud, but we really can convince ourselves that we don’t need to change, we’re better than other people, and that we’re the standard for normal. This position and monologue needs to change before we can dive into a reality check and self-control.
3. A process that ends: people can walk through a season where they are really aware and ready to make changes, but they view it as a one time process. They think they’re done. This is not a process that ends! It is ongoing.
These blind spots can go perpetually undetected if we aren’t willing to seek self-awareness. They can be hard to spot if we don’t intentionally seek that level of self-awareness. Above, we talked about some ways to seek out that self-awareness. But let me also offer you some specific actions that work well in kick starting the process:
SPECIFIC ACTIONS TO KICK START THE PROCESS:
1. Self-examination / God- examination: Get alone with God and take a spiritual inventory.
You need to allow God to make you aware, and it’s hard to do that if you don’t give God time to speak. For myself, I use some specific notes that help to position my heart to hear from God. Obviously, be willing to spend time in prayer and diving into His Word. I’ve compiled a small document for my own purposes that asks some direct questions and points to specific scripture to read – and it’s really helpful in getting this process started. Take the time to walk through this series of questions with a willing heart, and God will begin to reveal your spiritual state. As God reveals some areas of struggle for you in this, you may discover places in your life where you haven’t been very self aware. You can view that document here: Spiritual Retreat Inventory
2. External Input: Specifically ask for it
Broaden your circle of feedback, and be open to what you hear. We all know people that do something or act a certain way, and everyone except them sees it. Don’t be that person – ask for feedback and filter it well without immediately dismissing it. Consider sending 4-5 people a note, asking them specifically to provide you with candid, honest feedback about how you interact with people and are perceived.
3. Long term: Find accountability in community
Don’t do this in isolation – make some notes of your blind spots and then seek out community where you can be held accountable. Small group environments or mentor relationships are perfect for this, and will motivate you to continue in the process instead of drifting away from it.
Self awareness brings about self control which leads to continuing maturity.
Part two of this thought process is captured in another post: HOW DOES YOUR DEFAULT IMPACT OTHERS?