At the moment, my self-control is lame and limp. What have at times been fairly robust inner-strength muscles have atrophied, wasted away.
What do I do, oh Lord? What have I done to get me here?
Like many an American Christian, my greatest struggle with self-control is eating. I am like a vacuum, a bottomless pit of a stomach, though I myself certainly am not bottom-less. Food fills up my need for fun, for rest, for stress relief. Also, I often overeat in social settings, just to avoid displeasing anyone.
I have tried a zillion diets, none of which have successfully kept off excess weight for very long. Because after the allotted time is done, I go back to overeating rich foods.
Also there’s something weird about aging – the bar is moved up on how disciplined I have to be to maintain a decent weight. It makes perfect sense, actually. If you want someone to continue to grow in a skill, you raise the difficulty gradually.
I imagine God is my personal trainer. His primary objective is not to tone my external muscles, but the strength of character inside me. So, like a wise guru, he designs obstacle courses for me to conquer. He designs resistance exercises to test and hone me.
He’s made it clear that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” But right before James says this, he also writes,
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.”
And “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
I hear testing and trial and I think of the Oreos in my pantry. Test #1: can I eat three of them and leave it till tomorrow? Test #2: can I throw out the leftover Oreo on my kid’s plate rather than sneaking it in my mouth as I dump the healthier contents in the trash?
Last week, the answer to these questions was, “No, apparently not.”
First-world problems at their finest. But I have to see that these present difficulties are producing for me an eternal weight of glory. Right now, they’re producing for me an everlasting weight of body. Lord, help me.
Self-control is promised as the fruit of the Spirit. I have imagined it like an orchard where I can pick an apple labeled self-control anytime I need. There’s a sense in which I still think this is true. “He has given us everything we need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus.”
But it would seem that the fruit of the Spirit is actually growing on me, as though I am a plant myself. God is the Master Gardener, tending and pruning and training. Now that I think about it, he is the vine and I am the branches. And the fruit comes out of that connection, that union with him.
I’m a little afraid that all my failure in the eating category will disqualify me from something. Like I’ll fail the test so many times that I get kicked out of the program. But maybe God’s tests aren’t to see what we’ve learned. Surely he already knows that? They’re to teach us how to apply what we’ve learned. Also, apparently, they’re teaching me how puny is my fruit outside of him.
“Every branch that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit.” It doesn’t say how much fruit. God, can you find a little self-control in me? In your mercy, continue to prune me.
Today, when I am faced with tests of my character, small and big, let me see God in it, wise and pure, strong and kind. Let me ask for help because we all know I can’t do it on my own. In other words, let me abide in him and watch for the fruit to form.