Self-control is probably one of the hardest things to master. How often have we been defeated by a bad habit, a lousy attitude, or a wrong mindset? We make promises to improve. We ask someone to hold us accountable. But deep inside, we know that we don’t have the will or the ability to change. We can talk, we can plan, we can read self-help books, but we still find it difficult to overcome and control many of the things that are inside us!
Thankfully, God knows our weakness, and He also knows the remedy! The Bible says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). The only way to gain self-control is by allowing the Holy Spirit to control us.
In other words, our key focus is not effort but surrender—to live moment by moment submissively trusting in the Lord rather than in self. Paul says this is what it means to “walk by the Spirit” (vv. 16, 25).
Are you ready for a change? You can change, for God is in you. As you surrender control to Him, He will help you bear the fruit of His likeness.
I needed an underground water tank and knew precisely how I wanted it constructed, so I gave clear instructions to the builder. The next day when I inspected the project, I was annoyed when I realized that he had failed to carry out my instructions. He had changed the plan and therefore the effect. The excuse he gave was as irritating as his failure to follow my directives.
As I watched him redo the concrete work, and as my frustration diminished, a guilty conviction swept over me: How many times have I needed to redo things in my life in obedience to the Lord?
Like the ancient Israelites who frequently failed to do what God asked them to do, we too often go our own way. Yet obedience is a desired result of our deepening relationship with God. Moses told the people, "Be careful to do what the
This is still the kind of surrender of our hearts that leads to our well-being. As the Spirit helps us to obey, it is refreshing to remember that He “works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
My nerves fluttering, I waited for the phone to ring and the radio interview to start. I wondered what questions the host would ask and how I would respond. “Lord, I’m much better on paper,” I prayed. “But I suppose it’s the same as Moses—I need to trust that you will give me the words to speak.”
Of course I’m not comparing myself with Moses, the leader of God’s people who helped them escape slavery in Egypt to life in the Promised Land. A reluctant leader, Moses needed the Lord to reassure him that the Israelites would listen to him. The Lord revealed several signs to him, such as turning his shepherd’s staff into a snake (Ex. 4:3), but Moses hesitated to accept the mantle of leadership, saying he was slow of speech (v.10). So God reminded him that He is the Lord and that He would help him speak. He would “be with his mouth” (as the original language translates, according to biblical scholars).
We know that since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God’s Spirit lives within His children and that however inadequate we may feel, He will enable us to carry out the assignments He gives to us. The Lord will “be with our mouths.”
Recently, my son-in-law was explaining to my granddaughter Maggie that we can talk with God and that He communicates with us. When Ewing told Maggie that God sometimes speaks to us through the Bible, she responded without hesitation: “Well, He’s never said anything to me. I’ve never heard God talk to me.”
Most of us would probably agree with Maggie, if hearing an audible voice telling us, “Sell your house, and go take care of orphans in a faraway land,” is what we mean by God communicating with us. But when we talk about hearing God “speak,” we usually mean something quite different.
We “hear” God through reading Scripture. The Bible tells us about Jesus and says that God “has spoken to us by his Son” who is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:2-3). Scripture tells us how to find salvation in Jesus and how to live in ways that please Him (2 Tim. 3:14-17). In addition to Scripture itself, we have the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 2:12 says that we are given the Spirit “so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
Has it been a while since you’ve heard from God? Talk to Him and listen to the Spirit, who reveals Jesus to us through His Word. Tune in to the wonderful things God has to say to you.
What are the five best toys of all time? Jonathan H. Liu suggested the following: A stick, a box, string, a cardboard tube, and dirt (GeekDad column at wired.com). All are readily available, versatile, appropriate for all ages, fit every budget, and are powered by imagination. No batteries required.
Imagination plays a powerful role in our lives, so it’s not unusual that the apostle Paul mentioned it in his prayer for the followers of Jesus in Ephesus (Eph. 3:14–21). After asking God to strengthen them with His power through His Spirit (v. 16), Paul prayed that they would be able to grasp and experience the full dimension of the love of Christ (vv. 17–19). In closing, Paul gave glory to “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v. 20).
Often our experience limits our prayers—a situation we can’t picture being different; destructive habits that remain unbroken; long-held attitudes that seen to defy change. As time passes, we may begin to feel that some things cannot be changed. But Paul says that is not true.
By God’s mighty power working in us, He is able to do far more than we may dare to ask or even dream of.
Chris Baker is a tattoo artist who transforms symbols of pain and enslavement into works of art. Many of his clients are former gang members and victims of human trafficking who have been marked with identifying names, symbols, or codes. Chris transforms these into beautiful art by tattooing over them with new images.
Jesus does for the soul what Chris Baker does for the skin—He takes us as we are and transforms us. The Bible says, “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor. 5:17 nlt). Before knowing Christ, we follow our desires wherever they lead us, and our lifestyles reflect this. When we repent and begin to walk with Christ, the passions and pitfalls that once dominated our lives is the “old life” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) that fades away as we are transformed. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18).
Still, life as a “new person” isn’t always easy. It can take time to disconnect from old habits. We may struggle with ideas that were foundational to our old way of life. Yet over time, God’s Holy Spirit works in us, giving us inner strength and an understanding of Christ’s love. As God’s beautiful new creations, we’re free to leave the past behind.
Walking in my North London neighborhood, I can hear snatches of conversation in many languages—Polish, Japanese, Hindi, Croatian, and Italian, to name a few. This diversity feels like a taste of heaven, yet I can’t understand what they’re saying. As I step into the Russian café or the Polish market and hear the different accents and sounds, I sometimes reflect on how wonderful it must have been on the day of Pentecost when people of many nations could understand what the disciples were saying.
On that day, pilgrims gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of the harvest. The Holy Spirit rested on the believers so that when they spoke, the hearers (who had come from all over the known world) could understand them in their own languages (Acts 2:5-6). What a miracle that these strangers from different lands could understand the praises to God in their own tongues! Many were spurred on to find out more about Jesus.
We may not speak or understand many languages, but we know that the Holy Spirit equips us to connect with people in other ways. Amazingly, we are God’s hands and feet—and mouth—to further His mission. Today, how might we—with the Spirit’s help—reach out to someone unlike us?
Recently I came across an article describing what constitutes great literature. The author suggested that great literature “changes you. When you are done reading, you’re a different person.”
In that light, the Word of God will always be classified as great literature. Reading the Bible challenges us to be better. Stories of biblical heroes inspire us to be courageous and persevering. The wisdom and prophetic books warn of the danger of living by our fallen instincts. God spoke through various writers to pen life-changing psalms for our benefit. The teachings of Jesus shape our character to become more like Him. The writings of Paul orient our minds and lives to holy living. As the Holy Spirit brings these Scriptures to our minds, they become powerful agents for change in our lives.
The writer of Psalm 119 loved God’s Word for its transforming influence in his life. He recognized that the ancient Scriptures handed down from Moses made him wise and more understanding than his teachers (v. 99). It kept him from evil (v. 101). No wonder he exclaimed, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long,” and “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (vv. 97, 103).
Welcome to the joy of loving great literature, especially the life-changing power of God’s Word!
In my work as a chaplain, some people occasionally ask if I am willing to give them some additional spiritual help. While I’m happy to spend time with anyone who asks for help, I often find myself doing more learning than teaching. This was especially true when one painfully honest new Christian said to me with resignation, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to read the Bible. The more I read what God expects from me, the more I judge others who aren’t doing what it says.”
As he said this, I realized that I was at least partly responsible for instilling this judgmental spirit in him. At that time, one of the first things I did with those new to faith in Jesus was to introduce them to things they should no longer be doing. In other words, instead of showing them God’s love and letting the Holy Spirit reshape them, I urged them to “behave like a believer.”
Now I was gaining a new appreciation for John 3:16-17. Jesus’ invitation to believe in Him in verse 16 is followed by these words. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Jesus didn’t come to condemn us. But by giving these new Christians a checklist of behaviors, I was teaching them to condemn themselves, which then led them to judge others. Instead of being agents of condemnation, we are to be ambassadors of God’s love and mercy.