David Jeremiah — A Life of Self-Discipline
The last characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Let's face it, if you wanna love more but you don't have any self-control, you won't do it. If you want to have greater generosity in your life, you don't have any self-control, you won't be more generous. If you wish that you were more compassionate, you gotta get a hold of yourself. Someone has said, "Self-discipline is choosing to do what's right when you feel like doing what's wrong". It's knowing you can but deciding that you won't. I love this one. It's not eating all the popcorn before the movie starts.
My favorite description of this character trait is this: self-control is the ability to maintain progress toward a goal even when you're not in the mood, when you don't feel like making the effort, when you would momentarily enjoy something else, or find working towards your goal downright unpleasant. The New Testament uses a word to describe this characteristic that I wanna share with you tonight, and it's related to our English word, "democracy". In other words, self-discipline is about governing yourself. And contrary to the opinion of many, this is not a limiting life. This is a life that totally frees you up to be the person God created you to be.
Let me explain to us all tonight so we understand it why we all struggle with this, no exemptions. This is a message for everybody here, if you will receive it. The Bible tells us very honestly that, as Christians, we have a struggle going on within us. Here are the words of Paul to the Galatian church. He said, "For the flesh," that's the old nature, "lusts against the Spirit," that's the new nature, "and the Spirit against the flesh; and these two natures are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish". Can I get a witness? We live in a conflicted state, even as believers. And if we don't understand that, we will never be able to have any kind of self-discipline in our lives. We will be victimized all the time.
Years ago, somebody gave me a little bit of poetry that set this in my spirit so that I would never forget it. I hope you'll never forget this. I am not a poet and I don't use a lot of poetry but listen to this poem. "Two natures beat within my breast. The one is foul, the one is blessed. The one I love, the one I hate. But the one I feed will dominate". Isn't that true? So one of the first things you learn when it comes to self-control is that you gotta take control of which of your two natures you're gonna feed. I mean, let's face it, if you spend all of your time watching modern television, you're feeding the old nature. In fact, you might have to spend hours finding anything on many televisions that would feed the new nature. If you're into pornography, you're on a road to destruction. You will self-destruct because you're feeding your old nature and your old nature has one purpose and that's to destroy you and your influence for God. The battle for a disciplined life.
Let me talk to you about the blessings of such a life. As you and I mature as Christians, we increasingly experience the many battles of self-discipline. Think about what commonly derails all of us: impulsiveness, procrastination. How many of you have ever been on a diet? Just about everybody here has been on a diet. We all have our diet. We all have our diet stories. So here's what I've tried to do in this book more than any book I've ever written. At the beginning of a chapter, I kind of explain what the discipline is. But I spend most of the chapter trying to help us find strategies that we can put to work that help us become the people God wants us to be. So let me run through some of those tonight in this message. The building blocks of a disciplined life. Here are some strategies. First of all, here's one that I never really thought of but this is so powerful I don't want you to miss it: embrace your dissatisfactions. Say that with me. Embrace your dissatisfaction.
Now, if that doesn't sound like double-talk, I don't know what does. In fact, I remembered thinking about this as I read the Beatitudes one day. One of the great Beatitudes that's misunderstood but should be understood better is this one: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness". Do you know how we read that? We read it this way: "Blessed are those who are righteous". That's not what it says. I mean, that's true but that's not what the Beatitude says. The Beatitude says: "We are blessed when we hunger. We are blessed when we thirst. We are blessed when we are unsatisfied with where we are and want to get on to the next place," amen? The Bible says God wants to make something beautiful out of us. He wants us to have an amazing life but it's not going to happen if we don't understand there's more to this than what we are experiencing and we hunger for it and we desire that God would give it to us. And I believe that when we do that, God will respond.
So ask yourself this tonight. Have I just kind of mailed it in? Have I just come to the place where, hey, I'm not where I should be, I know that, but I'm okay with it. I'm gonna just kind of coast on into heaven? If we're not unhappy and dissatisfied with how much and what kind of love, joy, and peace we have in our hearts, nothing will change. If we're not convinced that we fall short in generosity and compassion, we'll stay the same. And if we think we're humble and resilient when we're not, we fool ourselves and a life beyond amazing for us will just be a nice title to a new book. So embrace your dissatisfactions. Go home tonight and say, "Lord, I'm thankful that I don't have this 'I'm already there. I finally made it. I'm all the way,'" 'cause none of us are. Give him praise that he's put within your heart this hunger and thirst for righteousness. It will take you places you never thought you would ever go.
Number two: beware of good intentions. Be careful that you don't fool yourself that you're doing something when you're not. And don't get vicarious blessings when you read the stories of other people who are doing it. Get motivated but if you're not careful you'll say, "Oh, that is so wonderful. It's like it happened to me". But it didn't happen to you. It happened to them. Now, this one, you're gonna have to hang in there with me 'cause I'll explain it and you'll feel better about it when I'm done. But here's the third principle: begin working out. Now, wait a minute, don't get mad at me. I'm gonna tell you the Scripture tells us that we should do this. When Paul wrote to young Timothy to instruct him in his Christian life, he gave him the secret to godliness and this is what he said. 1 Timothy 4:7: "Train yourself to be godly". When he says, "Train yourself," he means train with a plan and with discipline. When the text says: "Work out your own salvation," in Philippians chapter 2, it means working something through to its full completion.
Working out our salvation is working out what God has already worked in. One way to master self-discipline is to create new habits. Begin to read the Bible. I know I'm speaking to the choir tonight and I'm sure your pastor talks to you about this all the time. You have to begin working out. Here's one: talk back to your body. Do you ever have conversations with your body? In one of the great athletic passages of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul likens the Christian life to an Olympic event and zeroes in on the rigors of personal training. Here's what he wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 9: "Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize". Then Paul gives his own personal testimony.
Listen to what he said. "So I run with purpose in every step. I am not shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself The older I get, the more this passage resonates with my life. There are some days when my body tells me it doesn't want to obey me anymore. I have arguments with my body. I talk back to it. My body wants to sleep. I need to get up. My body wants to eat. I've eaten enough. My body wants to stop exercising. I know that if I stop, I might not ever start again. My body resists the effort to pray and read the Bible but I cannot let my body win this battle. My body wants to give up when the going gets tough but I know I must go on. Paul gives us this clue. He says, "I keep my body under". Under what? Under control.
And I find more and more as I've gotten older, there are a lot of days when I sit on the floor after I get up and pray and I say, "Body, I don't wanna do today. I just want to, body, let's just stay here today". Then I know better than that. The battle with our bodies is an all-inclusive struggle because, listen to this. I wrote this down many years ago in my Bible: "our bodies and our souls live so close together that they catch each other's diseases". I don't know who said this but it has been in my spirit for all these years. When I don't feel good physically, it has an impact on my spiritual life. Can I get a witness? And when you get in a spiritual funk, it tears your body apart.
So we do well to talk about that and, at least, once in a while, visit it. If you wanna serve the Lord for a long time, you gotta take care of your body. I used to have a chiropractor back in Fort Wayne when I was getting started, and he had a sign on his wall and it was a very important sign 'cause I've never forgotten it. It said this: "So when you wear out this body, then where are you gonna live"? So isn't that a good thought? Here's another thing for all of us here tonight who are Christians. Almost all the ministry we have is in our body. We pray. We pray, that's a ministry but the vast majority of ministry we have is in our body. So we gotta talk back to our body.
Number five: fast forward your life. The writer of Hebrews captured this principle in the life of Jesus. Here's what he said, and listen carefully to the motivation in this passage. "And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he's seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; and you won't become weary". Here's what I know.
Look around at your neighbors for just a moment. You know who you guys are? You know who we are tonight? We're the joy that the Lord Jesus endured the cross for. We're the reason he went to the cross. The Lord Jesus was willing to go to the cross and suffer the indignity of a Roman crucifixion because he saw beyond the cross and beyond the grave to a day when several thousand people would be seated in an arena in Tampa, Florida, giving him honor and glory and praise. And he saw that and he went on. And all of us are in the process here tonight of trying to figure out what it is that God wants us to do and trying to sort through decisions that we have. Don't ever minimize the importance of your decisions. And don't ever think that God has finished with you because you are at a certain place where you don't have clear direction. You keep doing what God tells you to do every day, knowing that when you get to the place where you need to make a move, he'll help you.
I wanna tell you what I know about you 'cause it's true about me. There are moments in life when we get discouraged about how things are going, maybe where we are in our walk or what's happening around us, and we think about quitting. Wherever you are, whatever God is doing in your life, whatever discipline you're walking through, don't quit. You will never ever recover from quitting. Ask God to give you special grace. Get through the challenge you're in right now and keep going. Almighty God is saying to us, "Keep going. Keep running the race with endurance.