True mastery from within

True mastery from within

What does it mean to master yourself? I’ve read books on self-help and 12-step programs, and none of them really say anything concrete. Because I have a fascination with Japanese culture, I’ve also read a book called the Code of the Samurai, which is a modern-day translation of the Bushido Shoshinshu, a guidebook per se for samurai to study. And while many religions promote self-mastery, none of them really explain how or why.

Some say meditation is how to achieve it. Others say service to others is how to do achieve it. Some even promote self-mutilation to a point. But if you read the Bible, you’ll discover that true self mastery doesn’t come from something that you do; it comes from the inside.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Throughout May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and today’s focus is on self-control. In other translations, it’s called temperance. To be honest, I always thought this word meant that a sign of the Holy Spirit in your life meant that you didn’t drink alcohol. But that’s not what the word itself (ἐγκράτεια) actually means. In this context, the word means “true mastery from within” and can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit. And that tells me that we can work all we want to establish good habits, and we should. But when it comes down to mastering ourselves, it takes a power stronger than we are to do it.

Have you ever started to do something you know you shouldn’t do and heard that nagging little voice at the back of your head? It’s the voice that tells you to stop what you’re doing because you’ll be sorry. It’s a still, small, quiet thing, and it’s easy to ignore, at least until you do the thing you’re not supposed to do and the consequences catch up to you. Then, you remember the voice. That’s the way it works with me. I don’t remember that I could have said no until I’m past the point of no return.

I think listening to the Holy Spirit takes practice, like building good habits. None of us are born with good habits. Discipline doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to work to achieve it. Painters don’t wake up creating masterpieces. Musicians aren’t born. And writing a novel doesn’t just happen. Just like building a car or losing weight, achieving anything of significance takes design and planning and dedicated effort and focus.

But listening to the Holy Spirit takes something else: Trust.

You have to trust that when He tells you not to do something, it’s for your own good. You have to trust that the things you think will make you happy actually will just make your life complicated. You have to trust Him.

Once you have the Holy Spirit in your life, God begins to change you from the inside out. Suddenly, the things that seemed so important yesterday don’t matter as much today. The pleasures and successes of today don’t seem to be as vital as storing up treasures in heaven. And when you come face to face with temptation, there’s something inside you that gives you the courage and the strength to fight. That’s not an accident. That’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the Fruit of the Spirit showing up in your life as a result of you choosing to accept Christ.

And while it’s a good idea to build healthy habits, sometimes you just have to rely on God to help you through those moments that you’re too weak to handle on your own. You can’t master yourself without God’s help, not truly. True mastery means that every aspect of who you are–every aspect–is under control. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have every aspect of their lives under control.

Health gurus are in great physical shape, but their emotional, mental, or spiritual life is a mess. Spiritual people sometimes aren’t healthy. Yes, I’m generalizing,  but you get my point.

I truly believe that part of Spirit-led self-control is balance. It’s not overly focusing on one area of your life. It’s letting God into all of them. It’s doing what Jesus would do in every situation, not just the ones you want to get His advice on. I’m talking every situation, ranging from “Would Jesus help that little old lady carry her groceries?” to “Would Jesus eat a second bowl of ice cream?” Maybe that’s sacrilegious, but who are we to say that the details of our lives don’t matter to God? It’s often the details that trip me up, so if I want God in any part of my life, it’s in the details.

So if you want to achieve true mastery of yourself, stop reading the 12-step books or following the latest fad diets or whatever your particular issue is. The best way to get control of yourself is to get to know Jesus better. Let Him become your best friend. Study how He lived, pattern your life after His, and have conversations with Him about everything. Maybe you think that sounds funny, but I guarantee you aren’t talking to yourself. If you know HIm, He’s listening. And He always answers. Maybe not in the way you expect, but He never fails.

  • avatar image
    Lori Oller
    May 30th, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    I found this quote… I think it’s inspiring. 🙂

    Struggle, my child, for God’s road is narrow and thorny; not inherently, but because of our passions. Since we want to eradicate from our heart the passions, which are like thorny roots, so that we may plant useful plants, naturally we shall toil greatly and our hands will bleed and our face will sweat. Sometimes even despair will overcome us, seeing roots and passions everywhere!

    But with our hope in Christ, the Repairer of our souls, let us diligently work at clearing the earth of our heart. Patience, mourning, humility, obedience, cutting off one’s will — all these virtues help cultivate it. We must apply all our strength, and then God, seeing our labor, comes and blesses it, and thus we make progress.

    Take courage, for the toil is temporary and ephemeral, whereas the reward is great in heaven. Struggle and be vigilant with your thoughts. Keep a firm hold on hope, for this shows that your house is founded on the rock — and the rock is our Christ.

    Do not feed your passions by yielding to them, so that you do not suffer pain and affliction later! Labor now, as much as you can, because otherwise, if the passions are not tended to, in time they become second nature, and then try and deal with them! Whereas now, if you fight against them lawfully, as we advise you, you will be freed and will have happiness by the grace of God.

    The thing that should preoccupy us above all is how to cleanse our heart from the passions and how to abate some passion or vice! The visitations of grace that God sends us from time to time for consolation do not play an important role, because they come and go. Ah, those passions! They are like roots with thorns. How much toil, how much pain, what tears, what prayers are necessary for a person to find slight relief — it is a real martyrdom!

    I pray to the merciful God that He will show you the path of salvation and guide you as a hart to the springs of the living water of refreshment. Man is full of passions, shortcomings, etc., and in order to be freed of them, he must engage in a bloody battle. Once he wins, with God’s help, he will receive here in this life the promise of the future marriage with the Lamb, Who was ruthlessly slaughtered by cruel hands accursed by God.

    From “Counsels from the Holy Mountain,” by Elder Ephraim, (Florence, Arizona: St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, 1999), pp. 163 – 164.

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