It’s something the Spirit is longing to give you as you struggle with habits, good and bad.
Posted in , Nov 9, 2016
I sometimes pray my way through the list of “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul enumerates in his letter to the Galatians. I run through the words in my head, thanking God for “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and…”
That last one often trips me up. I can’t find it. I count them off on my fingers, my eyes closed, and know there’s one more. There should be nine. Which one did I forget? I scrounge around, prayerfully, mentally, and finally, yes, I find it. Self-control.
It just never seems to fit the list. Self-control, a fruit of the Spirit? Isn’t self-control something I do on my own? Isn’t it something I can get credit for achieving? Just the word “self” suggests it’s something I do by gritting my teeth, winning my own little victories.
On the contrary, Paul is telling me. Self-control comes from the Spirit. Sure you can congratulate yourself all you want for incredible self-discipline: for not taking that extra cupcake or for running a few miles every morning or working out at the gym.
But what if that daily discipline, like prayer, really comes as a gift not achievement? What if the self-control that enables you not to lash out at disappointments, not to harangue other drivers from behind the wheel, not to disrupt the world with angry outbursts, is God-given?
Jesus promised his followers that on His departure from this earth, His ascension, that He would not leave us comfortless. He would give us the Spirit. And Paul, who knew Jesus only after His death and Resurrection, often emphasizes the sublime power of the Spirit and its constant presence.
So try this. Next time you’re struggling overcome some bad habit or take on a new good habit, think of self-control as a gift, something that Spirit is longing to give you. Instead of gritting your teeth, fighting for some self-discipline, try closing your eyes.
When I think about the Spirit-filled people I admire, self-control is indeed one of their hallmarks. They don’t mouth off–the way I do–or blow up. They keep counsel with themselves as they keep counsel with God.
It’s just as Paul puts it. Self-control is a benefit, not something we necessarily have to aspire to or even work at, but something that comes as we seek the higher gifts like “faith, hope and love,” virtues Paul enumerates in another one of his letters.
Like I say, I like to pray through that list in my head. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I thank God for all those gifts, especially that last one, self-control.
Sure, I work at it. But at its best, it comes to me outside of my hard work. It’s a gift, fruit of the Spirit.