Last Wednesday, we looked at what it takes to commit ourselves to pursuing the better things God has for us. Today we’ll look at how discipline and self-control can help us get there. A lot of us hear those words and think “I just don’t have that.” If you’re one of those people, you’re wrong. And I’ll prove that right now:
Are you thinking, “I’d really like to have more than one piece of candy (or chip)?” What’s stopping you, then? Is it just because I told you not to, or is there something more to it than that? Think about it.
Let’s try another example, and it’s OK to be honest; I won’t be offended or judge you: When you found this page or got the subscription e-mail, did you think, even briefly, “I could skip this”? Why are you still reading, then?
See? It’s not that we don’t have some degree of self-discipline. It’s just that in many cases, we simply choose not to exercise it. We look at the goal, we look at what we think it’ll take to get there, and we decide it’s not worth the effort—even though it often is.
Of course, not everything is a matter of willpower. Many people—and probably many of us—struggle with habits, self-destructive patterns of thinking, even addictions, which can seem overwhelming and unconquerable. But the Bible tells us that “overwhelming victory is ours through Christ” (Romans 8:37) and that Jesus has “overcome the world” (John 16:33). So if we believe in Jesus, we also need to believe what he tells us, and walk it out.
But life change usually doesn’t happen overnight. It takes the Holy Spirit to guide and help us, and it takes… you’ve got it, discipline—the willingness to faithfully do what we know is best for us, even when we don’t want to do it.
The good news is, God is on our side, and wants us to get where he wants us to go. But God demands our cooperation. So let’s look closer at “our part of the deal.”
What comes to your minds when you hear the word “discipline”? Some will think of spiritual disciplines such as worship and prayer, or physical disciplines such as diet and exercise, or intellectual disciplines such as study and memorization. Work is a discipline, too, and so is anything you do to keep doing the best job you can. One of you wise guys might have even suggested “getting out of bed” as a discipline. You’re not entirely wrong, you know.
Now think about this: Which of the ideas you came up with would you call “natural” disciplines, and which would you consider “spiritual” ones? What would you say is the difference between our two categories? How are they similar?
Oswald Chambers gives us some perspective, “It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.”
Let’s look at Scripture now: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 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 9:24-27, NIV). Sounds tough, doesn’t it? And it is. But look at it this way:
• When have you really had to “put your nose to the grindstone” to accomplish something? What did it feel like when you started? As you progressed? Afterward? What kept you going?
• What’s something you’ve been working toward recently? How close or far away does that goal feel right now, and how are those feelings affecting your efforts?
• How could the disciplines you’ve thought of keep you moving forward, no matter what you’re feeling? Who can help keep you accountable as you start using those disciplines?
One more thing: As we place our focus on God, and what God wants to do in our lives, He moves us closer to one another as well. And that’s really the thing about discipline we often miss—when God gets us out of our own way, we’re able to see each other’s needs and be there for each other in ways we can’t when we’re just doing our own thing. So with that, let me pray for you now:
Lord, sometimes we feel overwhelmed when we think about how far we are from being the people You want us to become. Forgive us, Lord, and don’t leave us there. Help to begin to be faithful in the small things. Help us to have the discipline we need to do what we need to do today, and to allow You to carry us the rest of the way. Your Word says You won’t give us more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13); help us to take You at Your word. In Jesus’ name, amen.