A Man’s Greatest Challenge
Lack of self-control besets many Christians. Adrian Reynolds reviews an important book which, he argues, needs to have greater circulation.
Most mornings in my quiet time I follow the practice of abolition campaigner William Wilberforce. He used to write down the fruit of the Spirit, then measure himself against the different words for the previous day. He then used the resulting assessment to fuel his prayers.
His notes have been preserved for us all and it’s fascinating to see page after page with comments such as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ or ‘needs work.’
I’ve found it a useful discipline. The truth is, however, that two words in particular, tend to feature heavily in my ‘needs work’ box. They are patience and self-control. Christians talk about both of these very little. Self-control, in particular, is seldom mentioned. It has become, in effect, an unmentionable sin.
And yet it is both a key Christian discipline and the root cause behind much of our sinfulness.
Take the issue of pornography. How do we fight the temptations of porn? Rightly, we have focused heavily on the issue of lust. But tackling sin is always multi-faceted. And we fight against the temptations of porn by addressing lust and developing self-control. If we only focus on the former, we’re missing out a key Bible idea.
The fact that there are so few books on the subject, or even chapters of books, is extraordinary. I don’t believe it’s because most people don’t struggle in this area. In fact, most people I’ve pastored do, at some level.
That’s why I’m glad Dai Hankey has written A Man’s Greatest Challenge: How to build self-control that lasts.
Let’s cut straight to the point. I think this book is brilliant. Dai takes readers through a step by step approach to applying the gospel to themselves with particular reference to this one important subject. Each chapter builds on the last. By the time you get to the end you have had the gospel both preached to you and applied to you. It’s what we all need.
The surprising truth is that the solution to lack of self-control is both simple and not-simple.
It is simple in that God gives us his Son, whose work and life is applied to us by the Holy Spirit, producing his fruit. Deep down, we all know this. But it’s not simple because appropriating this work is the battle every believer faces.
Dai’s book is great because it recognises this tension – encouraging us to believe the simple gospel, but taking us through steps that will help appropriate it for ourselves.
There are lots of case studies throughout the book, mostly at the end of each chapter. I don’t always like these (especially at the beginning of chapters) but these ones are useful for men because they cover some of the areas where we lack the discipline we need: alcohol, work, smart phone use, lust, gluttony and so on.
The case studies will work less well for women – but then the book is aimed at men, as the title suggests. That, to be honest, is my one disappointment, for I know that women need to hear Dai’s pastorally sensitive counsel too. Perhaps a women’s edition is just around the corner?
Church leaders need to read this for themselves. And then it will help them pastor others. It is, in every sense, an important book. Thank God it is less unmentionable now as a result.