As I was praying one Saturday afternoon, hoping to receive something from God to help me, I heard Him say "practice the virtue of temperance".
I heard those words clearly in my mind, especially the word "practice".
"Practice?" I thought, with a bit of disbelief. "That sounds so Pharisaical" was my first thought.
After all, I thought the whole thing about the pharisees' self righteousness came from their focus on virtues, to the point that God became paradoxically secondary to them. My focus is Christ and my relationship with Him, not virtues.
But I feel this view is myopic, and a focus on God shouldn't necessarily mean an unfocus on virtues. God and virtues are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should go, by necessity, hand in hand.
Practice also denotes a sense that we will become holy by our own will and force, another mistake of the pharisees. This is something we also want to avoid.
But this is not necessarily so. Practice doesn't exclude grace. What we need more of is not idle grace, but intentional grace.
This is where practice comes from. If we seek God's grace in every step of our practice, knowing full well that we are depended on Him for every godly action, then we can be sure of avoiding the yeast of the pharisees.
All relationships need to be intentional. They don't simply "grow naturally", though some might give the impression that they do.
At the centerpiece of every relationship is love, and real love is intentional.
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies He is also calling us away from this vulgarization and degradation of love, where we water it down to good and happy feelings.
He is calling us into intentional love. He is calling us into real love, not infatuation.
Love is always a choice.
You can't be intentional without planning any actions, and you can't perfect actions without practice.
And so it is, that practice, and indeed, the practice of virtues, is a necessity if we wish to grow in our loving relationship with God.
But enough of that! Let's talk about temperance.
Temperance is defined as moderation in thoughts, actions and feelings. Restrain, self-control. These are all words that come to mind when we think of temperance.
Titus 2: 11-12 tells us "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (ESV).
How do we practice temperance? Good ol' self denial is a good way.
Whenever an opportunity comes to satisfy a desire, we can intentionally delay its gratification, or deny it altogether.
Fasting. Having one serving during dinner. Avoiding the snooze button the next morning. No coffee for one week. These are all great ways we can practice temperance in our lives.
I have been trying to work on temperance this week, and I intend to do so for the next month, in many ways.
I'm controlling with more diligence what I eat. Ever since I started practicing this I seem less and less preoccupied with food.
One example of this is how I control my time of eating while I work in the mornings.
I usually wake up with hunger. When I got to my job at 5 am I grabbed something to eat as soon as I got there.
Now I wait until 8 am to eat my breakfast.
Another way is to avoid oversleeping. I overslept a lot last week. This week, I'm trying to wake up earlier and spend the time I slept in prayer.
I feel much better now! So much more balanced! The effort is worth it.
What is your opinion on practicing virtues? Does it lead to Pharisaical self-righteousness? How do you practice temperance in your life?