Why My Self-Control Wasn’t Enough

I feel like I’ve been missing something MAJOR with this self-control thing. As a Christian, I know that “when I am weak, He is strong.” But how?

I get confused and frustrated in my life when I try to have self-control and it morphs into perfectionism. There is this fine line between hopeless guilt and godly conviction when I fail to overcome a task or challenge. When I run out of steam, I tend to feel the former — hopeless guilt. This totally zaps my energy. I think, Why do you keep failing? You should be stronger. The little voices of my insecurities have a hayday in my brain.

Godly conviction, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite affect — one of hope and power and security. How do I get that, and where am I going off-course?

You may have heard Chris Pratt’s speech at the MTV Awards a few days ago. In his “Nine Rules from Chris Pratt, Generation Award Winner,” he ended with this one: “Number 9: Nobody is perfect. People are going to tell you: You’re perfect just the way you are. You’re not. You are imperfect. You always will be. But — there is a powerful force that designed you that way. And if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift.” 

After hearing this, it dawned on me. I am still expecting perfection from myself. I am still thinking I can do it on my own, with my own power.

John Piper, founder and teacher of desiringgod.org, says, “In Jesus, we have a source for true self-control far beyond that of our feeble selves.”  Another writer, David Mathis, tells us that the reason self-control is such a big challenge is it involves our hearts, emotions, minds, AND bodies.

So imagine with me for a second, you are going to push a heavy box across the floor. You’re trying to get it to the other side of the room. It’s extremely heavy. You start off with so much determination to get that box to the other side because there is a reward waiting for you.

Your insecurities are breathing down your neck — pushing you to change. I want to be thinner. I need to be like my friends on Instagram. I have to get more organized and stop being messy. You psych yourself up, I can do this.

After a while, that box gets heavier. You’re sweating. It’s painful. You’re still determined, but the other side of the room seems very far away. Little voices in your head start saying, Nope. You can’t do this.

And then you’re on the floor, leaning up against the box, mad at yourself. You literally have no more strength to push. You wonder, God, how do I get YOUR strength?

John Piper came up with a method called A.P.T.A.T. (“App-tat”). It stands for:
A: Admit that you can’t do this on your own. This goes back to Chris Pratt’s speech: You’re not perfect.
P: Pray for God’s help.
T: Trust a specific promise from God’s Word. Focus your mind on it.
A: Act on it. Do the thing you need to do.
T: Thank God afterward for the help you received.

I’ve been missing like 3 of the 5 steps here, at best! I am pretty good at remembering to PRAY, and I try to ACT. But I haven’t been doing all of the rest.

Now imagine the box scenario again. You’ve got this heavy box to push across the room. What if first, you stop to secure your motives: Why am I doing this? Why is this healthy or best for me or my family? What if you take a minute to let God transform your motivation from an insecurity (I’m too fat) to a goal (I want to have a healthier body and mind).

Then you engage A.P.T.A.T.! Admit you’re not perfect and you need God’s help. Pray. Then speak a promise from the Bible, really focusing on it: Lord, I believe that you are able to give me the grace to do this, that with you, I am fully sufficient to do this task. With your help, we will even abound in this good work. It’s hard, but it’s not too hard with you behind me” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

NOW you put your hands on that heavy box and push (ACT)! As you’re pushing and starting to sweat, there are times where you may need to revisit TRUST! Go back to that promise and use it again and again!

And don’t forget the THANKS. I know I do, sometimes. It’s not right, but I’ve already moved on without any thanks, whatsoever. Being thankful is so important because it acknowledges (to ourselves and those around us) that God was THERE. He was faithful. We weren’t alone.

So what if your hands slip off the box for a while? What if you sit down and cry next to your box? Well, we’re back to the ADMIT part. The Chris Pratt part. You’re not perfect. But when you are ready to accept that (are you really?), you get the gift of grace. You get to stand up and TRUST again.

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Written by Anna Brink