Today, I want to talk about discipline.
DISCIPLINE TO DO
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
Think of running, racing and boxing in your mind. These images tell us that the Christian is an athlete. An athlete! Many in the faith place a high value on rest — but confuse it with nua.
What better “aim” to hold in our heads than the goals that God gives to us?
We don’t think of discipline as much as we should. But we should! I want to highlight two things that Paul said about the “strict training” God demands of us as we run in the race of life.
We are to run with an “aim” in mind. These might be new year resolutions we make, but what better “aim” to hold in our heads than the goals that God gives to us? Ask God where He wants to work, and see discipline in your life in the upcoming year.
Paul then says to strike your body and make it your slave — but he doesn’t mean self-flagellation. Paul was talking about making the body subject to our will — a will wrapped with the mind of Christ.
On a practical level, that looks like self-denial. How many fitness plans fail because of chocolate or mala xiang guo? Discipline is what kicks in when desire dries up, or desires change — and we are doomed to fail without it.
And now I come to my next point …
DISCIPLINE IS DENYING THE SELF
So discipline doesn’t only refer to having a strong will to keep to and finish a task — but also self-discipline and self-control.
The Bible has a high view of such self-control and restraint (values frequently demanded of Christian elders).
- “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
- “Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1:8)
What are you unwilling to sacrifice?
Self-denial is only the start. All Christians must die to self (Galatians 2:20, 5:24); saying no to ourselves so we can say yes to God. For no one is a follower of Christ if he will not take up his cross and walk in His steps.
So self-denial boils down our impulses to a singular, piercing question: What are you unwilling to sacrifice?
What clarity in such a question. That very thing skulking in the shadows of your heart is what you must drag to the altar.
DISCIPLINE IS CORRECTION
“They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11)
Finally, discipline also refers to correction. That is when someone rebukes you — perhaps wounding you unpleasantly, painfully — but in the spirit of turning you back to God and towards a more tempered faith.
The end of a year is a great time to think of how God has done this in your life. How many times have you wanted a thing, or done something your own way, only to be rebuked by God?
Sometimes such words sting precisely because they hold painful or uncomfortable truths in them.
We are shortsighted and impulsive, and we frequently forget that He disciplines because He loves us (Revelation 3:19). God is not some magic genie. He is the Good Shepherd keeping us from walking off the cliffs. And God knows we try!
God’s discipline can also come in the form of words He places into others’ mouths. Who was the last to rebuke you this year? What did you end up doing? Did you cut ties with her? Did you write him off as simply wrong?
Or did we listen? Maybe the rebuke held truth in it! Sometimes such words sting precisely because they hold painful or uncomfortable truths in them.
We would be stupid to hate such correction (Proverbs 12:1), for we can assume that the default direction of the worldly man is for a cliff’s edge. It remains so, save for the realignment or an outright yank by God into a new direction that wasn’t wanted initially — but is infinitely better and safer.
If you are going to have new year resolutions in 2019, make sure you ask God about what they should be.
Let Him give you the goals to chase. And ask Him to discipline you so that you can stick to these goals, and stay away from the things that will derail you.
Ask Him to correct your path, and send you people who will help keep you on the straight and narrow.
And in due time, these seeds of discipline you sow and water will produce a harvest of holy happiness in your life.