Self-Control: Like an Athlete
-Rev Jamie Brame-
Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize? So run to win. Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. So now this is how I run—not without a clear goal in sight. I fight like a boxer in the ring, not like someone who is shadowboxing. Rather, I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 CEB
I spent my college years visiting a small monastery and soaking up the wisdom of the monks. These monks looked like anyone else: flannel or work shirts, jeans, sneakers; some had hair to their shoulders, others wore short hair. The only time they wore robes was when we went to church for the prayer times. Not stereotypical monks!
Because of their influence, I would go to the church I served as a student minister and talk to the youth about prayer and what the monks were teaching me. “Can we go to the monastery?” I asked the monks, they said yes, so 20 of us went there one afternoon.
After a tour, Brother Jim walked us to the big field, and sat cross-legged on the ground. My group saw him getting into a meditation position and did likewise, closing their eyes and sitting quietly for 15 minutes. Then Jim opened his eyes and said, “Any questions?”
“Brother Jim, how long should I pray each day?” I was so proud of the questioner (my similar question to Jim earlier drew the answer about 20 minutes a day three times a day). Jim answered, “Three minutes a day.” I could see the relief as it registered to my youth that a disciplined prayer life was in reach! But I was shocked.
Talking to Jim later, I asked him why the difference between his answer to me and to them. “Well, you’re planning on being a professional, aren’t you? Takes more work!”
Disciplined spirituality takes practice. We don’t run five miles the first time we run, and we don’t pray for hours on end at the beginning. We don’t become Christian and do all things correctly. Like an athlete, we practice, we set our goals, and we move towards them. Some will do more, some less, but all of us have the goal of being close to God and living a meaningful life.
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God, give us strength to keep going, to keep trying, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Rev Jamie Brame is the Program Director at Christmount Conference and Retreat Center, located in Black Mountain, NC. He has served there for over 27 years, working with both youth and adults. His interests include the study of spirituality and prayer, with an emphasis on eastern spirituality and its application in a Christian context. In addition to his ministerial vocation, he is also a musician who performs with his wife, Renae. He holds an M. Div. from Duke Divinity School and B.A. from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College.)
-Rev. Barbara Taylor Minton-
Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 CEB
God’s presence already lived in Jesus’ body, but it was only after the resurrection that his disciples began to understand the importance of his words. God was on the move and God’s moves had implications!
Now, several decades later, the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, extends the thought Jesus initiated! Paul says to each person in the community of faith, ‘…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit!’ Earlier, in the same letter Paul referred to the entire congregation, collectively, as God’s temple.
It behooves us to notice God’s movement through the Holy Spirit—from residence in the Jerusalem temple, to the person of Jesus, poured out on all believers on Pentecost, promised to all who believe, and now, personalized by the Apostle Paul. Not only does the Spirit reside in the congregation (the body of Christ in the world today), but the Spirit also lives in the heart of each disciple.
What are the implications for those of us in whom the Spirit resides? God’s presence in us connects us to God and to one another. We no longer belong to ourselves! Giving the Spirit room to work in us begins to sensitize us to our own selfishness, our own inadequacies and creates in us a desire for God’s purposes.
The good news, simply put: the Spirit at work in us produces the character of Christ in our lives. Love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This godly love is revealed in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. With God’s help we can control ourselves!
Also read: 1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5.
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Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with your love.
Excite us with your joy. Calm us with your peace.
Produce in us your patience. Keep us in your kindness.
Goad us with your goodness. Invigorate our faithfulness.
Guide us in your gentleness… and, above all, strengthen our self-control.
Rev Barbara Minton, ordained April 1, 2001, now semi-retired, gladly serves a small rural congregation in Henry County KY, Berea Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She also volunteers in local interdenominational outreach ministries. Barbara describes herself as wife of one, mother of three, and Mamaw to eight. She enjoys journaling, which she began while living in Switzerland and Germany for 16 years. Now she will occasionally write on her blog, which she fondly entitled Muesli. http://bjm-muesli.blogspot.com/ Her hobbies include bird-watching and word-botching. She claims to get her exercise by jumping to conclusions, running at the mouth, and climbing the walls. Her partner in these adventures is Thomas, her husband of 53 years, and presently pastor of Eminence Christian Church in Eminence, KY. (When she grows up she wants to become a retreat speaker!)
Self-Control: Last Adam
-Brandon William Peach-
Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.” Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God. ”After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.
Luke 4:1-13 CEB
Self-control may be the most difficult of the virtues expressed in the Fruits of the Spirit. Since the Fall of Adam, our natural proclivity is to give in to temptation, not to resist it. It exists in decisions we make in our everyday lives. Refuse self-control enough, and you begin to develop patterns: one more drink, one more episode, one more slice. The patterns turn into addictions. They become idols.
Why is self-control so difficult? In part, because temptation hits us at our personal weaknesses. When we give in to temptation, we’re “scratching an itch” that’s unique to our desires. When we begin to address one area of temptation with self-control, it’s often not long before we give into another. This business of sanctification, it’s a lifelong process—a process that requires self-control.
When Christ was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, He was confronted by the Tempter who tormented Him mercilessly over forty hungry days. We’re not told the details of those forty days, but we know that He was tempted in every possible way [Hebrews 4:15]. The final three temptations exploited his weakened state ruthlessly, yet He displays self-control of a degree we cannot imagine, using the words of Scripture to combat His attacker.
The story of Christ in the wilderness is rich with lessons, but in the context of self-control, there's a striking parallel made between the first Adam and Christ, the "Last Adam." [1 Corinthians 14:15]. Sin nature came through Adam. Self-control nature came through Christ. With Christ as not just the example of self control, but also the source of it, we have the power to overcome temptation and avoid sin.
“Self-control” therefore is not about controlling our selves, despite how the term may sound. Christ’s example in the wilderness and His finished work on the cross allows us to give the control of ourselves to Him. As we determine to do so, and as we begin to hone this virtue, our desires begin to conform to His and the temptations of the flesh—our areas of weakness that the Enemy takes advantage of—become weaker and weaker.
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Lord, help me develop self-control. Purify my desires and bring my will into alignment with Yours. Amen.
Brandon William Peach is, first and foremost, the husband of Kathleen O'Neill and the father of William Sean O'Neill. He is a writer with a degree in literature from Penn State University, and a frequent contributor to various blogs, magazines, and podcasts.
While his career is in marketing, Brandon's primary interests include historical Christianity, literature, art, and pacifism in practice. He lives in the heart of Amish Country in Central Pennsylvania, where "getting stuck in traffic" often means being stuck behind a horse and buggy on a windy backroad. His hobbies include reading, writing, watching good movies, cooking, and most importantly, spending time with his wife and son.
He is owned by his cat Tiger and his dog Millie.