Unleashing the power of God in my life: Discipline
by Mary Southerland
Champions embrace discipline. James Dobson says, “If one examines the secret behind a championship football team, a magnificent orchestra, or successful business, the principle ingredient is discipline.”
I know. The very word “discipline” evokes images of pain, deprivation, sacrifice, and surrender when, in fact, true discipline is simply the wholehearted “yes” to God.
Discipline does not make us worthy. Discipline is the result of understanding that we are already worthy in God’s eyes and living life as a response to that love. We are chosen, loved, bought, and purchased by God -- who has a sacred blueprint for each one of us. Discipline accepts that blueprint, following it in an obedience that comes only through complete surrender.
As my husband and I pulled up in front of our townhouse, we were excited about the events of the night. Dan was a youth pastor at the time and we were returning from a Monday night Bible study with dozens of high school youth. They had brought their friends, and several had become believers that night, promising to return the next week with others in need of Christ. It had been a great night of celebration and victory. We were flying high -- until we saw the shattered glass littering the steps and sidewalk.
We opened the front door of our home to chaos and the remnants of an invasion. It was obvious that someone had broken in and that several things were missing. We did not have much in the way of material things, but the items that were stolen were priceless because of their personal meaning. My mother’s watch that she had used in nursing school, my husband’s guitar and leather strap that had been signed by each member of his first youth group, pieces of costume jewelry that had belonged to my grandmother … and our sense of security was gone, too!
"Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.”
(Proverbs 25:28, NAS)*
Have you ever felt like your life was out of control or that the walls of security had crumbled around you? That is exactly the chaotic picture this verse in Proverbs is painting for us. When there is no control of self, when there is no grace erecting a hedge of protection around us, we are sitting ducks and vulnerable to attacks from every direction and every enemy.
Discipline is obedience, a lifetime process that brings us to a state of order by training and controlling our behavior. Discipline is focusing and eliminating, zeroing in on what is important. Titus 2:11-12 (NIV) is clear on the importance of discipline in the life of the believer: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
Discipline holds restraint in one hand and commitment in the other. Discipline can only be accomplished in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we give our lives to God, the Holy Spirit is set free to train and direct us in the ways of God. God will not give us good habits or character. We must choose the good habits over the bad and “work out the salvation that God has worked in.” That’s discipline.
The author of Proverbs offers a simple but powerful truth when he writes, “Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge” (Proverbs 23:12, NIV).
“Apply” means to make a commitment, to decide or to choose. When we make the choice, God empowers that choice and his Spirit begins to cultivate self-control and discipline in us.
As women in ministry, people constantly look to us for the answers to some of life’s most complex questions. We cannot lead where we have not been. If our personal lives and public ministries are in chaos and out of God’s control, the answers will be buried in a sea of confusion and we will be trapped by a deadly whirlpool of meaningless activity. Discipline allows us to focus on the important, instead of giving in to the urgent. It is so easy to keep doing “the next thing” until one day, at the journey’s end, we find ourselves on the wrong path, having missed God’s highest and best plan for our lives.
In 1995, I found myself at the bottom of a deep, dark pit called clinical depression. One of the many reasons for it was a lack of discipline. Instead of working from God’s love, I had spent much of my life working to his love, desperately trying to prove my worth by filling every waking minute with what I considered valuable ministry. Over the next two years, some of the most important lessons I learned were in the area of discipline.
Discipline is not self-improvement but rather placing oneself under orders. Discipline is not legalism, because discipline lives by grace. Discipline is flexible, not rigid -- always free to respond to the Master's plan. In fact, discipline is the mutual effort between the Holy Spirit and our will, yielded and surrendered to God’s authority, mastering attitudes and training emotions. Titus 2:12 (NLT) says it well: “We are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God.” In other words, the purpose of discipline should be to order our lives in such a way that we are available to be used by God.
That is the life of a champion.
Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness
by Don Whitney
Tomorrow morning, I don’t have to decide if I’m going to read God’s Word and spend time in prayer with him.
Meeting with the Lord is a discipline long-rooted in my morning routines, and my commitment to it simplifies my spirituality. It’s one less decision I have to make, one more spiritual priority well-woven into the fabric of my daily life.
The Apostle Paul instructs us, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1Timothy 4:7b, NAS).
The practical ways of fleshing out obedience to this command are called the Christian spiritual disciplines, the God-given means by which we are to bring ourselves before the Lord. And as we enjoy a growing relationship with him through them, he changes us “for the purpose of godliness,” that is, he makes us more like Jesus. And so, as we practice these disciplines, our lives conform more to biblical -- and simpler -- rhythms and patterns.
In one way, when you enjoy a simpler spiritual life than you have now, it will still be -- and should be -- busy. If you obediently pursue both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission of Jesus (see Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 28:18-20), as well as “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness,” you won’t grow idle. But even though the personal and congregational spiritual disciplines lead to a full life, they can also simplify it.
For example, the Christian spiritual disciplines help us focus on the right things, including the most important of all: knowing and glorifying God. Conversely, practicing the disciplines also helps prevent some bad habits, such as spending time in non-productive, unwise or even sinful ways. Personally, I have the clearest vision, both of what I should bring into and carve from my life, while engaged in spiritual disciplines like meditating on Scripture, praying through Scripture or worshiping the Lord with his people.
The disciplines simplify our spiritual lives further by simplifying our communion with God. He hasn’t left us to find our own ways to him. We don’t have to wonder how to meet with the Lord and experience him. God himself established paths -- such as Bible intake, prayer, worship, service, evangelism, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and fellowship -- which make our spiritual walk with him simpler and more satisfying.
No one coasts into Christlikeness. Any progress in godliness requires Spirit-filled effort and purpose. But the Christian spiritual disciplines, rightly practiced, can bring some simplicity and order to the process of becoming more like Jesus. Where do you need to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”?