The Book of Proverbs has much to say about the importance of controlling our desires and appetites. In Proverbs 25:28 Solomon says, “Like a city where walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” In ancient times a city without walls was a disaster waiting to happen. Walls around a community gave it security and enabled it to be safe and vibrant. Without walls, everyone was scrambling for survival.
Andy Stanley said, “Our desires and appetites bring zest and passion to life. But they are terrible filters for making decisions. Clearly it is not an exaggeration to say that your response to your appetites will determine the direction and quality of your life. You’ve certainly seen friends and family members wreck their lives over their seeming inability to say no to themselves. So this is a big deal.”
Self-control and discipline are at the heart of strong character. It is having the ability to restrain your desires and crossing your will. A well-disciplined person knows how to forfeit a momentary desire for that which is of greater value.
Discipline is also a form of wisdom. It is the ability to recognize and choose the important things in life over the urgent things, and you are able to do this because your desires are properly ordered.
When you lack discipline, your desires become disproportioned. You lose control over them and end up squeezing out the important priorities of life. For many, it causes their lives to eventually fall apart. You become like a city without walls, you are defenseless against the chaos that will eventually fall into your life. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of this.
Over forty years ago, I read a short article in a magazine that truly impacted my life. I read it from time to time as a reminder. The title of the article was “Discipline.”
We conquer outer space and body-devastating diseases and apply ourselves to finding alternative fuel sources, but there is a frontier, a mountain called discipline, that many have never conquered. Some have never even tried to conquer it.
If drug abuse, alcoholism and other “escapes” are some people’s response to pain or anything else that is disagreeable, then so is the many others in our Western world. There is a weakness, a basic unwillingness, to cope with unpleasantness or difficulty, and inability to endure, and we see it everywhere. Some call it the freedom to be, but it isn’t freedom. Lack of discipline is slavery.
When I cannot or will not say “no,” I offer myself to be shackled by any impulse, yearning or fleeting pleasure that comes along.
When I allow myself to be directed by whatever is easy or promises immediate gratification, I am as incapable of standing as a rootless tree.
When I trade duty for pleasure, honor for expediency, God’s call for my wants, I deal in the business of human failure.
Temptations come; of course they do. Situations present themselves, escape from emotional or physical unpleasantness is attractive, the broad path offers fewer obstacles. But strength comes in the moral and spiritual muscle-building that demands effort, even strain – it is a pushing-against or a pulling-back.
The Apostle Paul said, “I pommel my body and subdue it . . .” (1 Corinthians 9:27, RSV). Sometimes it comes to that. It isn’t easy, it isn’t pleasant, and it may not be immediately rewarding. But because God is king, the discipline of honesty, morality, faithfulness, truthfulness and honor offers a greater satisfaction, the awareness of no longer being victims – not even of ourselves – but of being conquerors. And, as conquerors, we build the strength for an even tougher discipline tomorrow.
If we take our signals from those who have no spiritual supports, we too will be yielders, giving way to any tide that flows. But if we take our signals from the One who calls us into battle, who set his face toward the Cross, we will understand that our inner controls must be like his.
Discipline – so few practice it. When it is exercised, it is noticed because it is so rare. If ever we needed disciplined men and women and their examples, it is now. Christians cannot be “me” people. Christians are “His” people. The soft, grasping escapists – the undisciplined – are owned by somebody else.
The words that challenged me when I first read this piece were “When it is exercised, it is noticed because it is so rare.”
Is there any desire or appetite in your life that is out of control? Do you work and travel so much that you are out of touch with your family? Do you overspend, trying to keep up the image of a certain lifestyle? Do you consistently overeat at the expense of your health? Are you too demanding of your spouse or children, expecting perfectionism? I challenge you to discipline yourself and bring it under control. If you do, I can promise you that the people who love and know you will notice and you personally will see what a beneficial difference it will make in your life.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.