Where do you want to be in the next 10, 20, or 30 years? Or maybe an even more important question would be: Who do you want to be? One of the drawbacks of living in a fast-paced world is that we’re often too busy to stop and consider our long-term goals. Instead of planning a course and running to win, we’re just running. But where will we end up? And what kind of people will we be?
For Christians, this is a vitally important issue. Our lifetimes are to be used for God’s purposes, but if we don’t bother to consider His desires, we may discover that we’ve missed what He called us to do during our short stay here on earth. Most of us really want to have fruitful, godly lives that line up with God’s will, but wishing and hoping won’t make it so.
A person’s destiny is not determined by desire, but by discipline. When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about the importance of a disciplined life, he used three examples: a soldier in active service who isn’t entangled in the affairs of everyday life, an athlete who competes according to the rules, and a hard-working farmer who waits to receive his share of the crops (2 Timothy 2:3-6).
Now think about your own life. Do the affairs of daily life distract you from pursuing God’s desires? Are you living according to your own set of rules, or are you following the Lord’s commands in Scripture? Are you working toward long-term goals, or do you require immediate gratification? Self-discipline is essential in the Christian life, and if we hope to accomplish what God has planned for us, we need to exercise self-control in four important areas of our lives.
First of all, we need disciplined minds. How we think determines our direction and desires. If we think biblically in church on Sunday morning but differently the rest of the week, we won’t be able to fully follow Christ. Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” A disciplined mind is one that is renewed by the truths of God’s Word, and is therefore able to discern His will.
Second, we should exercise self-control over our emotions. Although emotions make life richer and more meaningful, they can also derail us if we let them master us. There may be times when we don’t feel like going to work, but that’s not a good reason to stay home. Or maybe we’re so angry that we want to level someone with our words, but to do so could ruin a relationship.
Any time emotions threaten to overwhelm us, we must place them under the authority of the Spirit who lives within us. When Paul first came to Corinth, he felt weak and fearful, but he relied on the Spirit’s power to faithfully fulfill his calling to share Christ with the Gentiles (1 Cor. 2:3-4).
Third, we must learn to control our appetites. We can’t satisfy every desire that comes along and still expect to accomplish what God desires in our lives. We are told clearly in the Scriptures to abstain from fleshly and sinful lusts, but even legitimate desires can get out of balance because of self-indulgence. For instance, consider a few basic God-given appetites and how they can be abused. An over-indulgence in sleep can result in laziness, a craving for too much food produces gluttony, and an uncontrolled appetite for sex may lead to immorality or pornography. In order to run the race God has set before us, we must “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us” (Heb. 12:1).
Fourth, we need to establish priorities and discipline ourselves to accomplish them. This brings us back to the questions I asked earlier: Where are you going? And who do you want to be? Our priorities will determine the answers to these questions. However, there’s a danger in choosing the wrong priorities. If we look to the world around us to guide the course of our lives, we’ll end up at the wrong finish line. What we need is divine direction in order to discover how God would have us invest our lives. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established.” God is not trying to hide His will from us. If we make Him the top priority in our lives and submit all our plans to Him, He’ll be faithful to guide us into His will one step at a time.
Sometimes the prospect of living a disciplined life seems overwhelming because we associate it with constant vigilance and self-effort. However, self-control is actually a fruit of the Spirit, and it’s not produced by striving, but by yielding to His control (Gal. 5:22-23). If you make that your goal, you’ll discover that you are exactly where God wants you and are becoming precisely who He designed you to be.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. Did you know that God has given each of us an amazingly powerful tool to accomplish whatever He desires? That tool is prayer. When we bow our knees and ask that His will be done, the Lord is sure to answer. That’s why all of us at In Touch Ministries are so grateful for your prayers. Because of faithful intercessors like you, we are reaching people around the globe with the gospel of Jesus Christ.