When I was a little boy, my grandparents would often take my sisters and cousins and me to a cheap little pizza parlor not far from their house.
I loved that place, primarily because it was an all-you-can-eat restaurant—meaning you could stuff yourself with as much pizza as you could possibly eat in one sitting. It was great! My cousins and I prided ourselves in our ability to gulp down pizza slices by the dozens. (Not to mention the all-you-can-drink sodas and all-you-can-eat desserts!) For us hungry boys, that pizza buffet was a dream come true.
Alas, times have changed.
Nowadays I shudder whenever I drive by that restaurant. Not because the food there is any less delicious, but because I now know something that I didn’t realize back then: eating 17 slices of pizza is simply not good for you.
Foresight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? These days, instead of choosing what to eat based on what tastes best in the moment, I try to think ahead and eat foods that won’t leave me feeling awful a couple hours later. (Unfortunately my ravenous 10-year-old self usually wasn’t capable of doing that.)
Scientists recently found that the part of your brain that regulates self-control is the same part of your brain that produces empathy.
When you say no to unhealthy things that are pleasurable in the moment, you are actually empathizing with your future self.
In other words, you are realizing that a few moments of pleasure right now are not worth the pains and regrets that your future self would have to deal with. Isn’t that fascinating?
As you probably know, self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit that Paul mentions in Galatians 5:22-23. But notice what he says in the next verse:
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. | Galatians 5:24
If anyone should be able to put off temporary desires in exchange for better long-term benefits, it’s us.
Remember how Hebrews 11 describes Moses?
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. | Hebrews 11:24–26
As believers, we should be a consistently forward-looking people. After all, isn’t that what Christ did? He endured so much—how? By looking ahead, by focusing on the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).
So today, let’s ask ourselves:
- Are we willing to crucify and ignore short-term desires?
- Is self-control evident in our lives and our daily choices?
- Do we make decisions based on what feels good in the moment or on what is right?
- In the future, will we look back on this current phase of our lives and be pleased/satisfied with how we lived it?
Exercise self-control. Empathize with your future self.
Not just your afternoon self or your tomorrow self, but your eternal self.
Invest in eternity. Ask the Lord what things you can do today that will reap eternal benefits.
Then, when our lives on Earth draw to an end, I hope we can say the same thing Paul said toward the end of his life:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. | 2 Timothy 4:7–8