David Jeremiah - Personal Discipline
The Golden State Warriors have a player named Draymond Green who's one of their star players, but his career has really been marked by a lot of emotional outbursts. He gets a lot of technical fouls. In fact, every year during the playoffs, you only get a certain amount of technical fouls, and then, you're suspended for two games, he never does it but he gets so close everybody worries that he's gonna say something or do something and he won't be able to play for the rest of the playoffs. He's known for screaming at referees; arguing with officials; kicking his opponents; turns flopping which is deliberately falling down pretending to be fouled, he turned that into an art form.
But recently, he's been different. According to his own testimony, he met his match. He was playing with his two-year-old son, Draymond Junior, and the toddler was trying to throw a small basketball into this little kid-sized hoop and that's not all he was doing. This little two-year-old boy was stomping around mimicking his dad's emotional outbursts. He was flopping with every shot. Green was so stunned, he suddenly saw himself as he was and admitted that it made him disgusted. For now at least, it's made a huge difference in his performance. His coaches, his teammates, and his fans feel like they have a new player.
I always hate to report something like this because this story's as only good as the next game, but reporters have noticed that something's different about Draymond Green and when they ask him, one of the reporters from the "San Francisco Chronicle", here's what they found out: He gives credit for his newfound maturity and self-control to a two-year-old child.
The point I wanna make is if a child can teach sportsmanship and self-control to a famous athlete, what do you think we can learn from somebody like Simon Peter? Most of you know a little bit about Peter. When he started following Jesus, he was a lot like Draymond Green. He was impetuous, impulsive, headstrong, always argued with his teammates, argued even with his coach. One moment he acted like a leader, and the next moment he acted like, well, like a two-year-old. But Peter met his match when he met Jesus Christ. And it was our Lord who patiently, gradually, brought Peter to a newfound maturity including self-control.
And that's something he can do for all of us. I'm always anxious to learn more about that because it's a need that all of us have. Let me begin this discussion about self-control by saying, first of all, it deserves priority. There's a sense in which every failure that you read about in the Bible is a failure of self-control. For instance, Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden 'cause they yielded to the devil's temptation. Cain killed his brother Abel because he couldn't master his anger. Moses had trouble controlling his temper and it kept him from the Promised Land. And during the days of the judges, the Bible says: "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes, what felt good to them". And one of the judges was a guy named Samson who was the strongest man on the earth but he couldn't control his own passion. And then there's King David whose failure was his lack of control when he saw and lusted after a beautiful woman named Bathsheba, and the nation of Israel was destroyed by Babylon after losing a sense of self-control and spiraling into rebellion and indulgence.
So, you go through the Bible and you say, "Is self-control in the Bible"? Well, the lack of it sure is 'cause almost every story where there's failure, the failure is, somebody who knew what to do, knew what was right and couldn't control themselves to do it. In the New Testament, self-control was one of the main implications of the gospel. Do you know this passage? Jesus said it this way: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul"? And the message the apostle stressed to new Christians in the early church, wherever you look, it's about self-control. Paul wrote to the believers who lived in Rome and this is what he said to them: "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts".
Ladies and gentlemen, self-control is not only about the things we don't do that could destroy us if we did them. Self-control is about the things we should do, that if we did, we would prosper greatly. Self-control involves making everyday decisions as well as long-term goals. Think of it as a trade-off. You deny yourself an immediate indulgence to accomplish a higher-lever goal that won't be realized for some time. Here's what it means. Self-control means saying "No" when you wanna say "Yes". It means saying enough when you wanna say more. It means "I won't" when you'd rather say, "I will". It's thinking before we act and controlling our appetites, our tongues, our tempers, our thoughts, our eyes.
Self-control for the Christian is a make-or-break discipline. It's the difference between success and failure if you wanna live a godly life. So, that's why it deserves priority. It's not just an incidental thing. It's not just something that we should never talk about. I've already told you that if you examine the failures of the Bible they all have one thing in common: they have in common people who couldn't do what they knew to do and did what they knew they shouldn't do.
Now, let me just say something positive about this quality, that it is something that displays maturity in your life. There's perhaps no other quality that displays maturity like self-control. The Bible tells us that the same grace that brought you salvation can teach you to say "No" to ungodliness. The same grace that you used to get saved is the grace God wants to fire up in your life so that when these temptations come because of the environment in which you live, you learn how to have the control in your own heart to say, "No thank you. No, I don't wanna do that. No, I don't wanna go there. No, I don't wanna watch that. No, I don't wanna drink that. No, I don't wanna smoke that, no".
It can support you in living this controlled life as you wait for the blessed hope of the Lord's return. God wants to purify you as he wants to purify me so that I will have the control of my life by the basis of the Holy Spirit who lives within me and I will be a Spirit-controlled, self-controlled, disciple of Jesus Christ. So, self-control deserves priority. Self-control displays maturity. And then the third thing I want you to notice is, self-control deepens your discipline.
You see, true freedom is impossible without some constraint. Let me just talk to you about that for a few minutes because there's a lot going on in our world today about freedom. And most people, freedom means do anything you want, anywhere you want, to whoever you want, whenever you want, no matter what happens, just be free to do whatever you want. Most of us hear that and we know there's something wrong with it as Christians. And the thing that's wrong with it is, freedom is not the absence of restraint. Freedom is the length of a cord from a given stake.
We have a little puppy in our life right now named Benji. We've had him for a year. Benji likes to run, and he runs all over our house like a scared rabbit. And if we let him outside he would run all over outside of our house where the coyotes are and if we gave him no restraint to his freedom, he wouldn't last 24 hours. He would be dead. We used to live, as a young couple when we first got married, on a street called Trier Road in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a busy little street, two-way street. Cars going up and down the street as fast as they could. We didn't let our children play in the front yard. Isn't that awful of us?
We made them play in the backyard where there was a fence. We gave them total freedom in the backyard. If they'd have been in the front yard, there would have been no freedom for them or no freedom for us either. Freedom is always the length of a cord from a given stake. In Christianity, we're free in Christ but we're not free to do whatever we want. We're free within the boundaries of godliness that are set in the Scripture. Once you get understanding of that, you'll get used to it, it just sets you so free because, you know, I don't go there. I won't be free there. I'll be enslaved if I go over this line. I wanna stay here where I'm free. Free in Christ.
So, self-control deepens your discipline but there's also something to be said for a strategy of self-control. And I've saved enough time at the end of this message to do a little bit more here than I would normally do on other messages because this is so important to all of us.
So, here are some ideas that I wanna give you for your little notes and for your lives. Number one, most important of all: ask the Holy Spirit for help. Paul said this: "Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh". In other words, let the Spirit of God control you, and you won't be tempted to go outside the lines. Let the Spirit of God reign in your life and you will have the freedom to live where you are and you won't be casting your eyes on the other side of the barrier where you ought not to go.
Notice the order. The Bible doesn't say: "Don't fulfill the lust of the flesh and you will walk in the Spirit". The Bible says you have to be filled with the Spirit each day under his control and, if you do that, you will be able to say, "No," to the lusts of the flesh. Ask for the Holy Spirit's help. One of the things when you write a book like I've written, that I fear is that people will think I'm giving you a self-help book or a book that you can use to become a Christian and live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. Let me just tell you something, ladies and gentlemen: every word that I've written in this book about what to do is worthless unless it's what to do with the help of the Holy Spirit, because we're incapable of doing that, you know.
You know, somebody says, "Pastor, I can't do that. That's not natural". Absolutely, it's supernatural and that's why you have to have the Holy Spirit. The Bible says: "The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but it gives us power and love and self-discipline". Have you ever read that verse? "The Spirit that God gave us gives us power and gives us love and gives us," what's the last one, class? "Self-discipline". Where does self-discipline come from? It comes from God. How does it work in our life? "Through the empowering of the Holy Spirit who lives within you and in with me".
So, for this reason, I'd say the first step that you need to take if you're trying to work on self-discipline in your life, is just ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Ask the Holy Spirit to take control of those areas of your life that you're struggling with. Number two, adjust your thoughts. Let's go back to Simon Peter, 2 Peter 1:3 through 8 isn't the first time he mentions self-control. This was a lesson he had learned the hard way and he brought it up often in both of his letters. Back in 1 Peter chapter 1 and 13, he said this, "So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world".
C.S. Lewis says that, "Christians often blame their sins on their body, but in most cases the body's just obeying impulses that are generated by the mind. Sometimes, the body even resists what the mind's telling it to do. Almost always, the body hated its first smoke, its first drink, it was the mind that insisted on continuing the habits, thinking indulgence was sophisticated or cool". Likewise, the right thoughts circulating through our minds empower self-restraint. Set your mind on the things of heaven, the things that God has given you, the blessing that it is to be a Christian in a world where Christianity is, little by little, slipping away from us all.
Ask for the Holy Spirit's help, adjust your thoughts and recognize that most of the battles you have with self-control don't begin with your body; they begin with your mind. And you let those thoughts take control of your mind, pretty soon your body will follow along in obedience. And then, there's the third one. Ask for the Holy Spirit help, adjust your thoughts, and acquire new habits. Paul understood that the godliness every Christian desires can be achieved with the right habits.
Did you ever read what he said to Timothy? He said, "Timothy, exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that is now and that which is to come". He's saying bodily exercise profits little. It helps you in the here and now. But spiritual exercise, the exercise toward godliness, is way better because it not only helps you now, but it helps you in the life to come. Not only helps you live a better life now but prepares you for heaven far better than if you don't ever do it. And he says, "Bodily exercise".
You know why I like this verse? Because that word, that phrase, is the translation of a Greek word that sounds like this: gymnasium. That's the word. He says get into the spiritual gym and get your work done. Do your bodily exercise. That's great, but don't forget while you're doing your bodily exercise to do your spiritual exercise, the exercise toward godliness.
You say, "Well, how do I go about that"? Well, here's what I would suggest. Take some area of your life where you struggle with discipline and then ask God to give you a small victory in that part of your life. Maybe you spend money someplace that you know you don't need to do that, so just avoid that place. Don't do that. Go for several days and just don't go there and don't spend that money. It may not be very much but at least it's a start. And then, when you conquer that area, move on to the next one. And after several small individual victories, your habitual self-control will start to get better. No longer will you depend on sheer willpower. Keep doing this and the habit becomes second nature. That's when your life changes, one small step towards self-discipline.
You say, "I don't read books enough". Well, read a page every day. "I don't read the Bible like I should". Read some verses every day. And after you read a few verses, read a paragraph and, after you read a paragraph, say, "This week, I'm gonna read a chapter". And you just start where you can and get yourself some small victories that will build confidence in your life. Can you tell me today that you are not capable of reading a small paragraph in the Bible every day? Sure you are. Now, if I told you you need to read a chapter every day or you should read the Bible through in a year, that would be intimidating to you. But read your paragraph every day. When you do that, you will discover, first of all, you'll want to read more and you're able to read more because you've proven to yourself that you can do it.
Let me tell you one other thing. Adjust your thoughts, acquire new habits, and avoid tight spots. As you change to be more self-disciplined, you're gonna study your own life and you know what's interesting to most of us is we have certain failures that happen to us routinely at the same time and the same place in the same situation. I mean, listen to me, ladies and gentlemen. If you've fallen in a hole on your way walking home, find another route. You know, don't keep going the same way and keep falling in the same hole. It's amazing to me how we do that. We keep making the same mistake in the same place for the same reasons at the same time and we don't have enough determination to say, "This is not good. I need to stop doing this". "The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who keeps his way preserves his soul".
A couple of chapters later, in Proverbs, we read, "Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling. It takes self-control to avoid reacting to every controversy and every provocation. Don't go where you often find yourself defeated in your life. I mean, let me just pause and say this. If you struggle with pornography, for instance, and you don't have self-control over what you watch on television, Jesus said, "If your eyes offend you, pluck them out".
Well, let me give you the modern translation: "If your television offends you, throw it out". You know, don't use it, or your computer or whatever. You've gotta stop the places where these things happen to you so that you don't have to stop the things happening to you. Little by little, if you do that, if you ask God to give you wisdom to show you where the pathway is that you get on that leads you to the land of nowhere, you'll be able to do better. Ask for the Holy Spirit's help, adjust your thoughts, acquire new habits, avoid tight spots, and accept the process.
What is the process? Here it is. If you mess up, don't give up. You know what the enemy does? Yeah, I've learned over the years and this is what I've learned personally about the devil, what the enemy does to me. First of all, he tells me I could never do that, and then, I do it. And then, he tells me I can never come back from it. He tells me, "You could never do that," and then you do it. The first lie was, you can't do it 'cause the Bible says: "Pride goes before a fall, and a haughty spirit before destruction". Don't be all haughty about how good you are. Don't say, "Well, that could never happen to me". Yes, it could. But then, I think this tops that lie a hundred times over. Once you do make a mistake, the enemy comes and says to you, "You can't recover from this. See, I told you, you couldn't read your Bible faithfully. I told you, you couldn't do this".
Here's what I'm telling you. When you mess up, don't give up. Just pick up and go back where you started, where you got off and start again. Listen to what the proverb says. This will resonate with all of us. "For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again," Proverbs 24:16. Someone once told me that the Christian life is nothing more than falling down and getting up, and falling down and getting up, and falling down and getting up all the way to heaven. So, when you fall down, just get up. Get up.
Over 100 years ago, men and women, a guy who was a Presbyterian pastor, his name is James Russell Miller, wrote a little thing called, "The Beauty of Self-Control". I found this. He told his readers to think of themselves as drivers in a buggy pulled by a team of horses. He says, "As long as we sit in the driver's seat with our hands on the reins, and we control the horses, we'll get to our destination. But if the horses become restive and clamp on the bits and we lose control, we find ourselves in a runaway buggy.
We have a lot of passions, urges, drives, and desires. As long as we rein them in and control them, we'll make progress in life. But when they get away from us, the results can spell disaster. Self-control," he wrote, "gives calmness and poise. It should be practiced not only on great occasions but on every occasion. A hundred times a day, it would save us from weakness and fluster". So let me encourage you. "Add to your faith virtue, and to your virtue knowledge. Then when you get a little knowledge, add to your knowledge self-control".