The days between Christmas and New Year’s are some of my favorite. I enjoy using the time to look back, and plan forward. My husband and I rearranged our home office and, in the process, I found several tools I’d purchased over the months to help me get more done. Tools that were halfheartedly attempted and left hanging before completion.
I’m certainly a starter. New ideas barrage my mind all the time. I’m anxious to get them done as quickly as possible before the next idea comes and my current one slips away. This tendency serves me well in many areas, but it often leaves me frustrated at the lack of substantial forward motion.
In reflecting over 2015, I’ve begun to seriously wonder if my ‘tendency’ is a bit more sinister than mere personality quirk. What if, actually, I’m struggling with sin? Namely, not keeping my body under control.
My church has collectively been studying Romans 8 and, on Sunday, our pastor preached from one simple verse. “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” (Romans 8:12) In other words, I don’t owe my flesh anything. My flesh isn’t happy that I am indwelt with the Holy Spirit and is constantly trying to gain back lost ground. God has one, fabulous redeemed plan for my life and my flesh has another. My body wants to take God’s good gifts – of my time, talents, and resources – and use them in sinful ways.
Paul’s words elsewhere in the New Testament about the necessity of self-control in the Christian life are clear:
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control. lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27 ESV)
It’s easy to write myself off as a “sprinter rather than a marathon runner.” But I’m coming to realize getting the most important things done is more marathon than sprint. As Paul phrased it, we do not run aimlessly. If an athlete works hard to receive a reward that will ultimately fade away, how much more should I be motivated since I have already received a reward which will never fade.
Thinking back to my lackluster use of those productivity tools I mentioned, I’m excellent at making plans. I can create a to-do list in priority order with pretty gel pens like anyone else. But the follow through? That’s my struggle. I start strong, then I waver. I know what I should be doing, but the temporary indulgence of the mindless Facebook scroll or an extra thirty minutes of sleep wins out. Before I know it, my planner is underutilized and my goals are fluttering out of reach.
Hear me out, I’m not saying that not accomplishing my goals is a sin. What I’m saying is that not using God’s gifts well is irresponsible. The sin is not having control of my body and letting my fleshly desires for comfort or convenience or whatever else get the best of me – that’s the sin.
Maybe you’re excellent at self-discipline. Could it be for the wrong reasons? Could it be that you’re proud of your ability to get accomplished your goals, but do it to the advantage of others? Or maybe you think you’re earning the favor of God (or others) by your actions. I can’t speak into every experience, but I encourage you to search Scripture and match your tendencies against what it says.
2016: My Year of No
For me, I’m heading into 2016 with a new perspective. I’m going to be praying earnestly that I remember that God calls me to have control of my body. That overindulgence and a lack of control is a sign that my favorite god is self. Like an athlete, self-control won’t fall in my lap. I have to work at it. But the battle for control of myself is not in my own strength. I am a Christian, which means that the Spirit of Christ lives literally inside of me. What freedom I have to not owe my flesh anything, to not be a slave to myself. I can say, “No” because Christ said, “It is finished.”