Discipline is a word I have been pondering of late. Discipline can have more than one meaning. One definition can mean punishment or consequences for things done wrong. But the second definition has captured my conviction and current meditation. It is thus:
- to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.
- activity or experience that provides mental or physical training
- the controlled behavior resulting from discipline (google dictionary)
In the old testament, discipline was exclusively referred to in the domestic sense. With scriptures such as:
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.” Prov 22:15
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.” Prov 23:13
God is portrayed as a loving Father who disciplines his children in order to teach, correct, and chastise so that his children will choose life giving practices and prosper. He is shown to do this for the individual as well as groups such as the nation of Israel. He demonstrates this in order that the people may do likewise with their families, learning how to become godly leaders and examples of himself.
However in the new testament, the use of the word discipline changes somewhat. It is still used in the familial sense but the second definition surfaces when considering the practices of a Christian life.
Comparing Old Testament and New Testament Discipline
Through the external discipline of the Mosaic law, God helped the people turn their hearts toward him with the regular practices of purification, sacrifice, and setting aside time and resources. These acts helped the people of God keep their heart and minds on the one who gives them life and hope and not on their circumstances. God gave them the discipline of the law to aid the people in maintaining their trust and relationship with Him.
With the coming of Jesus, things changed radically. The ways in which we interact with our heavenly Father transitioned from external and demonstrative to more personal and internal. This was a profound moment and a total game changer for believers of God. The covenant of grace that Jesus established allows our discipline to no longer be created by law but by the internal nudging, relationship, and motivation of the Holy Spirit inside of us. God has set up for us guidance for habitual and purposeful blessings through the help of the Holy Spirit, the truth of his word, and the establishment of the church for sharpening and consistent realignment.
Yet with this transition from external motivation to internal motivation, comes some tripping points. The law of Grace allows for a relationship with God that is intimate, personal, and unseen. This allows for flexibility, nuance of the individual’s personality, and authentic communication. However, with this flexibility and grace comes the freedom to choose not to engage or abide. Engaging and abiding in relationship with Jesus and experiencing freedom in Christ goes hand in hand with the discipline of daily choice. We must daily choose to walk with him. Not metaphorically but in incredibly practical and consistent ways.
Cultural Effects on Discipline
Culture is a very interesting phenomenon. It evolves and develops over time. It is the acceptance of values and practices by a large group. What a group of people value, find helpful, believe, and then how they uniquely apply that in daily living. This application can be anywhere from the color of clothing to major life choices based on what is found to be important and significant within a group of people.
As a western culture, we value flexibility, fluidity, freedom, and acceptance. Fear of being harsh, black and white thinking, and rigidity are not only shied away from but many times simply abhorred. This line of thinking continues to walk down the paths of removal of absolute truth, that there is no one right way but many, and that judgement and discernment of absolute truth are to be avoided rather than embraced. For fear of being unloving, we may fear having any sure opinions at all. A similar view can be taken with discipline. The discipline of regularly prioritizing important values and acting upon them can be seen as too stringent and old fashioned. There is flexility and grace for the believer of God, but this should be evaluated when it comes at the expense of prioritizing what is most important.
If we find ourselves unable to prioritize and accomplish that which we desire most and and consider to be the utmost of importance, we may be lacking discipline.
How can Discipline be a blessing and not a curse for the believer?
Discipline is not found in the under-doing or the over doing of a practice but in the middle. This is not religious ceremony nor flexible apathy, but where our intentions are to align with our God in our heart and minds through our practice rather than developing a practice which alone depicts our worth as a believer. It is our tendency as people to go to extremes. To make laws out of grace or create chains out of freedom. And our culture and humanity would have us do both rather than experience the freedom that discipline and habitual practice can bring for a believer of God.
In light of our culture, discipline can be viewed as inflexible, rigid, inhibiting, and even in opposition to self acceptance. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Discipline is actually true perspective and acceptance of who we are and humbly how we need to grow with the help of the Lord and others. Discipline is not the opposite of self love but rather self love of the most proper perspective.
This mindset of “discipline negativity” can greatly affect our day to day victory and practices. Causing many of us to shy away from the “rigidity” of routines. God is a God of grace; however, deep relationships, life change, and growth as a believer do not happen with flexibility. They happen on purpose. They happen with a plan. They happen with regularity. They happen in the day to day practices that we live by. The decision of how our life is lived does not lie within our intentions and desires but in the reality of HOW we actually live those things out. What we DO about our intentions and desires. Intentions and desires are lovely but if never realized, are worthless. We may love pancakes. But if we never make them, we will not get to eat them or experience the joy of getting better at producing something that we love. Thus it would be a shame if we experienced pancakes irregularly and the recipe varied due to lack of consistency and practice. Relationship with Jesus and abundant living is so much more than pancakes. It is worth creating and eating consistently.
We fear calling ourselves and others to the practice of a disciplined life for fear of being unloving, when this the farthest from loving that we could possibly be. Calling out discipline in the life of a believer is the essence of calling out true tangible, effectual, life change for the sake of victory, communing with God, and being a radical witness for the kingdom.
Why are we afraid to hold ourselves accountable for what is good for us?
Why are we afraid to hold others to this as well?
We are so incredibly afraid of being harsh that we never love people into the freedom and goodness of God.
We are a weird mix of people who are incredibly and voraciously hard on ourselves while all to easy and flexible with the application of life change in our daily practice. Driving ourselves into a tizzy with all that we aren’t and should be while at the same time never getting to the act of changing this in spiritually practical ways.
I truly believe this is a tactic of satan in our western culture. We feel incredibly bad about ourselves and yet are so exhausted from working on it in all the wrong ways that the small steps that create the most life are never gotten to.
- reading the word
- fellowshiping and sharpening with fellow believers
- honing our gifts and calling it out in others
- using all these to fulfill the great commission in the unique ways we are created
I am not excluded from these issues or this list.
I have so many times felt stuck and powerless to follow through on what I know I should do.
In all practicality, the BIGGEST issue I have come to face is time. Time and want to. Because being a disciple of Christ is a sacrifice of everything else. But as scripture says, death is the doorway to life. And I want life! I desperately need it. And I know you do to! Because with death comes rebirth and the dejavu moment of living the life I never have lived yet knowing that walking with Jesus is more real than anything else I have ever done.
This sounds dramatic. This sounds climactic. And it is! Man, is it ever!
But also such an oxymoron. Because the most dramatic change is of the internal kind. No longer external but internal and personal. It is a switching of priorities. A movement towards the flame of purification even as the heat burns hot. All else must burn except for the core and the essence that will remain. It is a “choose you this day whom you will serve moment.” Dramatic but also unseen. It happens behind closed doors. Where we discipline our bodies and our minds to train and focus on what is most important. The prize. Where we shut our door and do the work of sanctification. Because the hardest work of great movements, great stories, fascinating endings, and life changing beginnings happens in the small. Happens when no one is watching. Like the athlete that gets up and trains every morning for days, weeks, months, years, and then what seems like forever later, a momentous occasion happens. Glory shines. A race is won. It is no longer unseen, but noted by all. But by that point, the spectatorship is not the greatest achievement. The results are so much more than that. It is the moment by moment discipline all along the way. The turning and honing of a mind and heart that are forever wild and unwieldable into the discipline of choosing something greater than itself and beyond what the temporary and daily holds. It is the burning hope of continual focus and perpetual choosing that is the miracle. Discipline is supernatural, spiritual, and the stuff that mountain moving, miracle happening, reality wrecking is made of.
Lets not define discipline as
- lack of flexibility
- life change
- saying yes to our intentions, desires, and the things we value most.
It IS theology meeting our practicality and reality.
It IS the place from which abundance flows.
Where to Start
A while back, I had a big talk with God. How can I have abundance? Joy? Life change? Heart change? Where does that come from? How do I have that without feeling driven and enslaved in the cycle of doing and never being enough. I feared working desperately for freedom while perpetually dragging my chains.
His answer reminds me of this scripture.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. I Kings 19: 11-13
The freeing discipline of the daily does not come through the dramatic force of rushing wind, shattering rocks, earthquakes, or fire. He will whisper to you with His voice. Beckoning you to stop, take time, walk slowly, set things aside and go to the mouth of the cave. Go to the mouth of the cave and listen. Discipline yourself to do it every day. Stopping, listening, then being obedient. This is where discipline and life change begins and where it continues to flow. Listening then putting feet to the words he has spoken. Then obey. Just obey. This brings abundance.