Image by paul+photos=moody via Flickr
There is no need to complicate this issue of self-mastery beyond what it is. On a very practical level, mastery of self involves nothing more complex or arcane than saying no to self. Granted, this is often easier said than done, but let’s not kid ourselves by inserting all sorts of esoteric metaphysics or psychoanalytic mumbo jumbo into the equation. Like James Allen, let’s cut right to the chase:
By his personal indulgences a man demeans himself, forfeits self-respect to the extent and frequency of his indulgence, and deprives himself of exemplary influence and power to accomplish lasting good in his work in the world.
Remember the runaway bestseller The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck? The author could have started the book in an infinite number of ways, but Peck chose this as his opening sentence: Life is difficult. I think he started the book that way because that theme, the difficulty of life, is universal. Everyone could relate to those words.
As Christians, we also know that life is difficult. We are going to fact all kinds of problems. The good news is that no matter how difficult our present circumstances might be, God has got our back. He never presents us with something that we just cannot overcome. Bishop Jim Lowe, in his excellent book Achieving Your Divine Potential, makes the following cogent observation:
This is God’s promise. Every problem or issue you encounter in life has a solution. It is merely a matter of time before you discover it. Don’t give up hope; keep on pursuing your goal relentlessly. For all you know, the next thought you have may be the one that reveals to you how to subdue that one issue or problem that has been confronting you.
The word dominion basically means to “rule.” It implies the act of taking one’s authority over something for the purpose of establish order, discipline, and positive control. We have been given the divine directive to subdue, but that is only half the equation. The other half, dominion, means to take control of the situation by exercising your God-given, God-mandated authority.
Whenever you decide to exercise your dominion authority, however, be prepared to meet with resistance. This inevitable counter-force to your authority is, like most other obstacles that arise in the spiritual journey, comes from one of three sources – the enemy; the world; or yourself.
Of these three, most people think Satan is the hardest to deal with, but I don’t think so. True, the enemy is still a formidable foe, but he has already been defeated by Christ and his ultimate end has already been scripted in God’s overall plan. Granted, the enemy is still shrewd, cunning, and clever, but he has for the most part been defanged. His bark is still there but his bite is gone. Yes, he can still gum you half to death, but he can no longer chew you up unless you allow him to by abdicating your divine power. The world is also a considerable source of trouble but if we have established a solid biblical worldview and are grounded in its principles, we can consistently deal with the world.
Of the trio of troublemakers, I am of the opinion that we are the most difficult to get under control. I firmly believe that self-mastery is essential if we are to become the optimal version of ourselves. Now please understand that we can’t master ourselves under our own power – we must and do have the power of the Holy Spirit. But we can do quite a bit and we should work as hard as possible to discipline ourselves.
Often we are our own worst enemies. Paul spells this out clearly when he talks about doing the things he doesn’t want to do and not doing the things he wants to do.
One of the most significant lessons we can learn on the spiritual journey is the fact that we cannot effectively take charge of any situation, person, place, or thing until we have effectively assumed charge of ourselves. The words of Gandhi sum this inescapable principle up quite well:
I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him, I seem to have very little influence.
I don’t know about you, but I can relate very deeply with Gandhi’s words. All too often we are our own worst enemy, sabotaging every noble thing we set out to do. I firmly believe, however, that the key to self-mastery, like all other directives we have been given, lies in the realization and application of our identity in Christ. As we have seen, we are far more powerful spiritual beings than we have realized and we need to apply this understanding to dealing with our own chronic tendencies to sabotage ourselves. Bishop Lowe offers the following sage advice:
God has given you authority and power to take dominion over all things on earth. Your first responsibility, however, is to subdue and take dominion over the only enemy that can defeat you – YOU!You cannot triumph over the external world until you subdue and take dominion over you! You will have to wage war against every argument within you that challenges what God has said about you.
You have been taught by the world to see yourself as inferior to what God’s original plan was for you. Your years of conditioning and indoctrination will cause you to doubt what the Almighty said about you. You will find yourself struggling against what God has said. Doubt and unbelief will be unrelenting in their challenge to influence you to believe what God says cannot be true.
It will take some time to undo the conditioning of years of misinformation, but God’s Word is sure and powerful. If you continue hearing the Word of God over and over again, your thinking will become aligned with it and your mind will be renewed. Then, because of our persistent and diligent efforts, your life will be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Let’s keep one other important principle before us at all times. Just as David faced a seemingly unbeatable foe in the Philistine giant Goliath, we also face our own giants – giants of fear, lack, poverty, discouragement, depression, illness, abuse, addiction – the list goes on and on. But just like David, we must come to understand and accept that our victory will not come from our own power, but instead, will flow down like a mighty blessing from the spiritual realm. No matter the nature of our problem, the solution is always a spiritual one. That is why the prophet Zechariah reminded us of the Lord’s words:
Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
If you believe your situation is hopeless realize this: that is a perception that is both erroneous and self-defeating and further, it is from the very pit of Hell. God can and will help you if you ask and this is a reality that has been proven over and over again in countless lives. Does that mean you have nothing to do but plead your case before God and wait for him to fix your problem? No. What it does mean is that God will supply you with all you need in terms of perseverance, fortitude, and inner resources. You, however, have to do the leg work. James Allen, in his own straightforward, no-nonsense way, lays it out clearly:
However tightly a man may have bound himself round he can always unbind himself. Into whatever morasses of trouble and trackless wastes of perplexity he may have ignorantly wandered he can always find his way out again, can always recover the lost highway of uninvolved simplicity which leads straight and clear, to the sunny city of wise and blessed action. But he will never do this by sitting down and weeping in despair, nor by complaining and worrying and aimlessly wishing he were differently situated. His dilemma calls for alertness, logical thought, and calm calculation. His position requires that he shall strongly command himself; that he shall think and search, and rouse himself to strenuous and unremitting exertion in order to regain himself. Worry and anxiety only serve to heighten the gloom and exaggerate the magnitude of the difficulty. It is a great day in the life of a man (though at the time he knows it not) when bewildering perplexities concerning the mystery of life take possession of his mind, for it signifies that his era of dead indifference, animal sloth, of mere vegetative happiness, has come to an end, and that henceforth he is to live as an aspiring, self-evolving being. No longer a mere human animal, he will now begin to live as a man…
I don’t know about you or your past, but speaking of my own history I can readily identify more than a few occasions when I found myself in a “morass of troubles” and even more often, discovered that I had lost valuable time and energy by wandering down “trackless wastes of perplexity.”
The only way out of this morass of confusion and perplexity is to gain some degree of personal mastery in general and mastery of the mind in particular.
As we have seen, establishing and maintaining self-discipline has many rewards, the chief of which is an internal sense of strength and confidence. Rather than some willy-nilly, unfocused, and nebulous sort of confidence, the confidence that comes from being a master of oneself is a practical, concrete and highly efficient trait that serves as an anchor in life’s sometimes turbulent seas. Allen concludes:
With the practice of self-discipline a man begins to live, for he then commences to rise above the inward confusion and to adjust his conduct to a steadfast centre within himself. He ceases to follow where inclination leads him, reins in the steed of his desires, and lives in accordance with the dictates of reason and wisdom.
© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved