Our objective in drafting a Christian life plan is to cultivate self-control. In order to appreciate the importance of this exercise, we need to identify three spiritual dangers.
The Danger of Conformity
Without self-control there is conformity. Men need to understand this. Apart from grace, the laws of habit are as unavoidable as the laws of gravity. And how is habit formed? Rarely by intentional effort. Environment is the answer. Our natural preference is to steer using autopilot along a predetermined course. The problem is worse than laziness; it is blindness. Even where options are available to us, in most cases we fail to make a choice because we are blind to the alternatives. In the book Mindless Eating the authors estimate that on average there are 200 decisions regarding food every day that people do not make because they do not realize they are there. What is true of eating applies with greater significance to the areas of parenting, lifestyle, work, marriage, leisure, discipleship, prayer, time management, and every other area of life. The Achilles heel of a lot of Christian men is not that they willfully desire to conform to the world around them, but that they never detach sufficiently to see where they are conforming and where they might be transformed. In this, they are like the Israelites in the Old Testament. The recurring idolatry in Israel did not happen because, like teenagers smoking pot, the Israelites were consciously trying to rebel against their divine parent. Idolatry happened because, like teenagers blending in among their peers, the Israelites unconsciously consented to common practices that felt normal. Self-control is the answer to mindless conformity. Only by getting a tight grip on the reins of life are we able to enjoy the freedom that God has given us in Christ.
The Danger of Drift
Furthermore, self-control enables a man to avoid drift. We all know what it is like to write down a list of priorities, such as having a quiet time or spending time away from work with the family, only to discover that over weeks, months, and years these priorities are forgotten and neglected. Demands at work have overshadowed responsibilities at home, or a lesser thing like fitness has displaced a greater thing like prayer. All of us are born like boats without an anchor. The currents of life carry us in unintended directions.
Yet, there is good news. With the gift of the Spirit comes not only an anchor, but a rudder, a wheel, and a map. The Christian need not drift; he can steer. In Christ, God has given him the kit required to follow the course of holiness. He can be anchored by principles; he can navigate by truth; he can steer with intent; he can resist the tide.
The Danger of Distraction
Moreover, self-control is vital for maintaining awareness of the living presence of God. There is no greater spiritual threat to men today than the gold rush to capture their attention. A Brave New World has been constructed to distract them incessantly with the trivia of news headlines, social media feeds, video games, and must-see entertainment. Not a second is left empty to meditate on Scripture or to contemplate the glory of Christ. As a result men are cut off from the feeding tube of grace. They are spiritually surviving on the rations of a death camp.
How can men avoid surrendering the gold of their attention? The answer is self-control. They can deliberately set their face to heed the apostolic counsel of Paul: ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Phil. 4:8). These words are not good advice; these words are standing orders. Men must feed on the ‘pure spiritual milk’ of God’s word if they hope to ‘grow up into salvation’ (I Pet. 2:1). But how can they do this? Only by means of self-control.
Questions for Small Groups and Self-Reflection
How can writing a Christian life plan help us avoid the danger of drift?
How can writing a Christian life plan help us avoid the danger of conformity?
How can writing a Christian life plan help us avoid the danger of distraction?