Cultivating Self-Control: It Takes the Spirit Plus Some Effort

Guest Post / Monday, October 28th, 2019

Needing some practical ways to cultivate self-control? This guest post by Carrie Partridge is packed with great steps to take towards that end. I love Carrie’s honesty and humor throughout this post and I know you will, too.

Cultivating Self-Control: It Takes the Spirit Plus Some Effort

When I caught my son sneaking Netflix after he was supposed to be in bed, I could’ve used some self-control. When our adoption process kept getting delayed, I could’ve used some self-control. When that person disagreed with me, when I kept clicking the “Add to Cart” button, when I was faced with a pan of warm, gooey brownies…I could’ve used some self-control. 

But I didn’t. I gave in to what felt good at the moment. 

The thing is, none of us is born with a natural inclination toward willpower over our actions. If we don’t want anything to do with self-control, no one can make us. But God desires to give it to us as a gift–a gift that comes from walking with and being led by His Spirit on a regular basis. We are told in Galatians 5:17 that “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (emphasis mine).

In other words, we can’t have it both ways. It’s either the Spirit or the flesh. And God is too kind and loving to force us to walk by the Spirit; instead, He gently invites us and promises us that if we practice walking with the Spirit, we will bear wonderful fruit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, even self-control.

All fruit must be cultivated, though, and that includes the fruit of the Spirit. By definition, cultivate means “to promote or improve the growth of something by labor and attention.” Sounds like some work is involved (because it is!). Growth rarely occurs without effort. The Spirit has given us the gift, but there are things we can do to help it grow. So if we want to grow in the area of self-control, here are some ways we can practice, and therefore cultivate, this trait in our lives.

Wait on purpose.

When we get to the check-out lines at the store, instead of calculating the number of people in each line and multiplying that by the number of items in their cart, we can try intentionally putting ourselves in the longest line. Not only does this give us practice in self-control, but it can also lend itself to some lovely conversations with strangers who are in line with us. Those strangers might not be there to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit themselves, but we can use the time to express God’s love to them by offering a compliment, a smile, or just simple conversation. Note: Choosing the longest line so that we can zone out on our phones for several minutes is not considered cultivation.

Give up our spot.

In a world that encourages a me-first attitude, we aren’t accustomed to thinking of others before ourselves. When we ask someone if they’d like to go in front of us, they usually respond with, “Are you sure?!” Because it’s just not our human nature to do so. So why not cultivate self-control and walking by the Spirit by letting people go ahead of us in line from time to time? (Just be sure you’re the last one in line when you do this. You don’t want to counteract the gratitude of one person with the fury of another.)

Want to really shake things up? We don’t have to search/fight/race for the closest parking spot. We can let someone else have it! Extra walking probably helps us have more self-control anyway. Another place we can practice giving up our spot? The roads. We can get in the habit of making it easier for other drivers to change lanes. We can look for ways to be more patient, courteous, and helpful drivers. I imagine we’ve all dealt with a lack of self-control in the driver’s seat, but choosing to put it into practice in this setting could literally save someone’s life. Maybe even our own. 

Deny ourselves.

More and more, our culture tells us to do anything but deny ourselves. Shouts of “You deserve this!” ring in our ears, while the Spirit quietly beckons us to a different way of thinking. So what does it look like to practice self-control by denying ourselves? We can wear the clothes that already fill our closets instead of buying new ones. We can skip the Starbucks and brew some coffee when we get home instead. We can pass up buying on impulse (Ahem, fellow Target shoppers!). We can refuse to get pushed into the “Don’t wait! Call or click today!” schemes. If our cars work just fine, if our shoes don’t have holes in them, if we have plenty of kitchen gadgets already, and if our iPhones are a few generations old but still get the job done, then let’s choose to deny ourselves. Let’s choose self-control and contentment instead.

Think before we speak.

Speaking our minds is often applauded, but speaking our minds before we’ve actually gained clarity of thought can often get us into trouble. The next time someone challenges us, hurts our feelings, or makes us angry, let’s take a bit of time to exercise self-control and really consider our responses. Retaliation is usually not helpful, although it might feel good in the moment. Depending on the situation, we might even want to sleep on it for a night before responding. Rest and a new day can often bring some clarity and understanding to a situation.

If we don’t have that much time to wait before responding, let’s take whatever time we can–whether it’s a few seconds or a few hours. It’s also a good idea to ask the people we’re having conflict with if they would mind if we took some time to think and pray before responding. This can be a good way to diffuse a potentially explosive situation.

Stop scrolling.

Ugh! The addiction to social media is such a hard one. We can even justify it (at least, I do) by telling ourselves that we are communicating with people. While that is sometimes true, it is also true that we can all too easily slide down the slippery slope of mindless scrolling, without actually communicating with anyone. It’s not all bad, but it can be a real time-sucker.

To cultivate self-control in this area, we can make it a point to take extended breaks from social media. Maybe set a timer to let us know when we’ve had quite enough scrolling time. Or challenge ourselves to take an entire day each week to avoid social media altogether. Other ways to help us gain control in this area are to close social media tabs on our computers, turn off notifications on our phones, or narrow the scope of the people we follow. 

Zip our lips (or sit on our hands).

Speaking of social media… I think we can all agree that it is way too easy to unleash our words of disagreement, judgement, anger, condemnation, or even hatred through social media. It is sad and hurtful to use these forums as places to throw word-daggers at people–sometimes people we don’t even know!

I realize it is possible to have some very good, quality conversations through these forums, as well, but the temptation to type something that we would never say out loud to someone’s face is often too great. Cultivating self-control in this area by simply resisting the urge to speak/type harsh words can be helpful for us and for those in our social media circles. We don’t always have to “prove” our points! Most people’s minds don’t get changed through debates on Facebook anyway.

There are so many practical ways to cultivate self-control in our lives. You know yourself best and know what you struggle with most. Take some time to pray about and pinpoint the areas in which you want to grow in self-control and then put some exercises in place. I need to do the same! The Spirit will lead us, but we also have to put in the effort. Let’s cultivate and see what grows! 

Meet the Writer
Carrie Partridge

Carrie Bevell Partridge does her cultivating in Ridgeland, Mississippi, where she lives with her husband and five children. She is the author of the “Growth Spurts” column in Parents & Kids Magazine. You can read more from Carrie at, where she writes words of encouragement and support for marriage and family. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

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