A rare, but essential quality.

How rare it is today to see self-control on display. It is a discipline that very few ever capture, and more and more it seems as though it’s not even a trait that people aspire to pursue.

However, for those of us who truly yearn to live a life of holiness, self-control is essential. In 1 Peter 1:14, the apostle tells us that we must live as God’s obedient children. We’re commanded not to “slip back into our old ways of living just to satisfy our own desires.” Peter then says, “You didn’t know any better then.”

But Peter then tells us in the next two verses what we must do now that we’re in Christ. “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

To further drive home the importance of the characteristic of self-control, Paul gives us contrasting ways to live in the letter to the Galatians. One way leads to a life of righteousness and the other ends in spiritual darkness.

Several qualities (idolatry, jealousy, drunkenness, envy, lustful pleasures, etc.) are attributed to following the desires of our sinful nature. Other traits (love, joy, patience, kindness, and self-control) are called the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Paul then closes Chapter 5 of Galatians with these beautiful words, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25)

What phenomenal counsel from Paul. Rather than permitting your sinful nature to take hold of you, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you toward a life of self-control.


The Narrow Gate

It’s very popular in today’s society to be inclusive. The “in thing” is to be that destination for everybody. But Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT) about the narrow gate that leads to God’s Kingdom.

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

Now, don’t mistake the narrow gate for being narrow-minded. Intolerance is not what’s being spoken about here. Let’s remember that Jesus had fellowship with tax collectors, or “scum” as the Pharisees called them.

For as Jesus said in Matthew 9:12-13 (NLT), “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

No, the narrow gate isn’t a call for people to be intolerant, but obedient. In order to find the narrow gate, you must be obedient to God’s Word and obedient to Jesus’ teaching. You must also remain faithful when trials come your way.

James 1:3-4 (NLT) says, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

So, while the entryway through the gate may be narrow, it’s not impossible. It does require a key, however, and that is belief in Jesus Christ and obedience to His Word. Accept Christ, follow His commands, and unlock the narrow gate.

What is God moving you to do?

My wife and I recently moved. Not just to a new neighborhood or even a new town, but an entirely different state. While my wife has moved more times than she’d care to count, I’m now over 400 miles removed from everything I’ve ever known.

Now, this wasn’t some haphazard, thoughtless decision. I’ve never been that adventurous. No, this was a calculated, well-thought out plan that both my wife and I put in place some time ago.

But one thing that we did prior to making this change was pray together. I’m not talking about a simple, one-time occasion. This was an intentional act that both she and I participated in on a nightly basis.

We both decided that such a big decision required God’s leading. Were it not for us leaning hard into our faith, I’m not sure I’d be sitting in a small-town coffee shop right now, reminiscing on what brought us here.

There are countless examples throughout Scripture of Jesus rewarding the faith of those He met or admonishing his disciples to have faith. One example that comes to mind is in Matthew’s gospel. After his disciples were unable to heal a demon-possessed boy, his father begged Jesus to cast out the evil spirit.

Jesus scolded the crowd for their unbelief and then counseled the apostles who privately asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon saying, “…Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matthew 17:20-21 NIV)

How often we want to do everything on our own, am I right? We are so proud and we want so badly to take the credit. But what I’ve found is that when we are able to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God, having faith that He knows what we need, we are then able to experience the fullness of His love.

I know I haven’t yet reached the point when I’ve given up all control to Him. No matter how much I may want to, that old nature continues to creep back in. But when I am prayerful and able to put my faith in Him, only then am I able to experience the true joy of everything God offers.

Live as a child of light.

There are not many books in the Bible that are more powerful than Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Sure, every piece of Scripture is important and relevant in some way, shape, or form, but Ephesians is one of Paul’s best works.

The letter speaks to what God did for us, then goes on to describe how we are made alive in Christ. It tells of God’s mysterious plan to allow Jews and Gentiles to share in the same inheritance; which in Paul’s day was unfathomable. Then it speaks to one of my favorite pieces of Scripture; living as children of light.

In Ephesians 4:18-19 (NLT), Paul urges those living in Ephesus to avoid living as the Gentiles do. The verses reads, “Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.”

But in Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT), Pauls instructs the people of Ephesus how to live differently. He says, “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

Are you still stuck living as you did before you gave your life over to Christ? Just because you believe in Jesus doesn’t automatically mean that you’ve solved all of life’s problems. Sure, you’re eternally secure in the family of God, but in order to actually live the Christian life, Paul says we must “throw off our old nature” and “put on our new nature”.

It’s called maturity. Just like a newborn baby needs time to learn how to crawl, walk, and eventually run, new Christians need time to learn how to live life as God intended. It starts with obedience to God’s Word.

Dig into the Scriptures daily. Cast off your old nature and put on your new nature; one of obedience and humility. Ephesians 5:1 (NLT) says, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” In writing that, Paul knows it’s impossible to imitate God fully, because He is holy. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to do so.

Persistence pays off.

Whether it’s the high school freshman who won’t stop asking the captain of the cheerleading team on a date, or the employee who constantly pesters her supervisor to let her take on the big account, or maybe it’s that son or daughter who won’t let you leave the restaurant without getting dessert; we all know at least one person who won’t quit no matter what.

Persistence pays off. Jesus illustrates this beautifully in Luke 18 with the parable of the persistent widow. Christ used this example to show His disciples that they should take their needs to God in prayer and never give up.

Luke 18:2-5 (NLT) reads, “There was a judge in a certain city who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Whatever the woman’s dispute was, it was not going away. She was so persistent that Jesus says it was driving the judge crazy. Finally, the judge relented and made sure that whatever controversy was being debated would be put to rest. But then look at Luke 18:6-8 (NLT) and see how Jesus relates this back to prayer.

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

Jesus is basically saying that the judge didn’t care about the woman, but still gave her what she asked for because of her faith and persistence. If that’s the case, won’t God, who loves you, give you what you ask for so long as you are faithful and persistent?

The key to the story is having persistence and faith. When you go to God in prayer, are you going to Him with a clean heart and a pure motive? If the answer is yes and you’ve yet to receive an answer, keep going back to Him day after day. Stay persistent in your prayer life.

A still small voice.

Are you the type of person who likes to have a plan before beginning your day? Do you know what you’re going to eat for dinner before you leave for work that morning? Have you already mapped out your child’s path to college despite the fact that he or she is only in preschool?

It’s okay, I’m a planner myself. Nowhere in Scripture do I read that it’s wrong to have foresight and be organized. Oftentimes, I see some of the most successful and wise people having thoughtfully planned out how they were going to build their own business or acquire a higher degree of education.

In Proverbs 16:9, however, we’re told that our plans may not always match up with God’s plans. The New Living Translation renders this passage, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

God doesn’t despise proper planning, but He does ask you to be flexible. He asks you to be sensitive to His still small voice. We read about God whispering to Elijah in 1 King 19:11-13 (NKJV) as the prophet was fleeing to Beerhseeba to avoid the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel.

‘Then He (God) said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”’

When we ask God for guidance, I tend to think we expect this inescapably bright light to shine down and focus on the path we’re supposed to take; almost like runway lights at an airport. But, more often than not, God will use a still small voice. We just have to block out the noise in order to hear what He has to say.

God keeps His promises.

Just have faith. You’ve probably heard that expression so many times that unfortunately it’s lost some of its meaning. What is faith? How does one acquire it, and an even better question is, how does one keep it?

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT) tells us, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” How good is that?

We’re so caught up in the current events of today that our confidence is shaken and our hope is lost. We’ve been betrayed so many times that the only person we’ve come to rely on is ourself. And we’ve seen so many broken promises during our lifetime that we’ve given up all hope.

But if you can change your perspective from the horizontal to the vertical, you may be singing a different tune. Psalm 146:3-4 (NLT) tells you what happens when you put your faith in human beings. It reads, “Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.

The next two verses, however, help you to understand where your focus should be. “But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever.”

God keeps His word. He’s never broken a promise, and He’s not about to start now. While some days challenge our ability to keep the faith, it is imperative to remember the assurance we have in our Heavenly Father.

Worry can’t add a single moment.

Are you a worry-wart? I’ll freely admit that I am. Sometimes I get worried when I don’t have something to worry about.

All kidding aside, worry is one of those sins that we quickly dismiss. But the Bible tells us not to worry. Philippians 4:6 (NLT) tells us plainly, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

The next verse tells you what happens when you put your worries on the shelf; “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Isn’t that an encouraging thought? When you give your worries to God and thank Him for all that He’s done, you’ll experience His peace. Isn’t that what we long for? Peace instead of worry. Tranquility instead of panic. Stillness instead of calamity.

Jesus takes the subject of worry a step further in Luke 12:25-26 (NLT). Talking to His disciples, Jesus asks, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”

We all worry. We worry if we have enough money for next month’s rent. We worry about whether or not our kids are safe at school. We worry if we’ll ever find a mate. We worry about our own health. And on and on it goes.

Jesus told His followers not to worry about everyday life – whether they enough food to eat or clothes to wear. Instead, Christ offered this bit of advice in Luke 12:29-31 (NLT).

“Don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.”

Fear is a liar.

One of my favorite songs on the radio right now is by Christian musician Zach Williams. The name of the song is “Fear Is a Liar”. The lyrics that really stick with me are, “Fear, he is a liar. He will take your breath, stop you in your steps. Fear he is a liar. He will rob your rest, steal your happiness.” We’ve all been there, right?

But, we’re told in Scripture to replace our fear with faith. In Mark 5, we read of Jesus’ encounter with Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue. Jairus’ daughter was sick and dying, and, as any father would, he pleaded with Jesus to come heal his little girl.

Jesus agreed and followed Jairus to his home, but Mark 5:35 (NLT) tells us that they were too late. ‘…messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”’

At that moment, Jairus’ worst fears were realized. His precious daughter had succumb to her sickness and had died. Can you imagine? But then, as He so often did, Jesus offered comfort in the face of suffering. Mark 5:36 reads, ‘But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”’

Mark 5:37-43 tells us what happened next. ‘Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” Holding her hand, he said to her, “Little girl, get up!” And the girl immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed.’

Are you afraid today? Given what one sees on the daily news, there’s good reason to be. Between a global pandemic, political upheaval, and routine murders in the streets, it’s hard not to be fearful.

Are you ready to replace your fear with faith? Remember what Jesus said to His disciples after calming the storm? Mark 4:39-40 says, ‘When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”’

Zach Williams closes the refrain to his song with this message: “Cast your fear in the fire. ‘Cause fear he is a liar.” Today, I challenge you to cast your fear into the fire and put your trust in Jesus Christ.

Put on your new nature.

It’s a new year! Oftentimes, people will celebrate by flipping the calendar and making a New Year’s resolution. Whether it’s to read more, or lose that spare tire, or even be more prayerful, we all have something new that we want to do after the ball drops in Times Square.

Unfortunately, it’s not long before you succumb to your old habits. You think to yourself, “Eh, I’d rather watch TV than read a book.” Maybe you say to yourself, “I’m too tired to go to the gym.” Or perhaps your excuse is, “I’ll just pray twice as much tomorrow.” You get the picture.

The Bible teaches us that once we put our faith in Jesus, we are to cast aside the shackles of our old nature, and be obedient to His teachings. Look what Paul has to say about it in Ephesians 4:17-19 when speaking about the way the people of Ephesus used to live.

“With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.”

Then in Ephesians 4:20-24, the Apostle Paul tells us how those who are saved by the grace of God through their belief in Jesus Christ should live.

“But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

As a believer in the Savior, you now have the Holy Spirit living inside you. Allow the Spirit of God to guide your steps and put on your new nature; one that is obedient to God.