The Practice of Discipline

1 Timothy 4:7-8, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

The Christian life is a life of discipline.

There’s that awful word. Discipline. As a college student, this is a word that I commonly use and hear, mainly in the context of struggles to adequately manage time, complete pressing tasks, use one’s time wisely, and fight procrastination. However, the principle of discipline does not merely apply to the school life. I am here to tell you that the Christian life is one that is literally completely made up of growth in discipline in every area.

I recently had the opportunity and privilege of reading the biography on the life of Jim Elliot, “Shadow of the Almighty”. Written by his wife, Elizabeth Elliot, this collection of Jim’s many journals, letters, and notes, which he composed over the course of his life serves to intimately describe his life and his walk with Christ before he was killed by the Auca Indians, who he was seeking to reach with the Gospel in Ecuador. As I read through this elaborate memoir, I continually saw a pattern of a pursuit of godliness. Even before he knew that the Lord would lead him to the mission field to preach and to die there, his desire to know and to honor Christ motivated his decisions in how he lived out every part of his life. In the span of 28 years while he was alive on this earth, Jim knew his Savior and loved Him with a greater intimacy and fervency than many Christians today reach in twice that amount of time. Here is a glimpse of his perspective:

“Begin each day with private reading of the Word and prayer. Bunyan has well said, ‘Sin will keep you from this Book, or this Book will keep you from sin.’… Memorize Scripture on the street car. Buy up the time! It’s costly because it’s so fleeting… ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth,’… None of it gets to be ‘old stuff’, for it is Christ in print, the Living Word. We wouldn’t think of rising in the morning without a face-wash, but we often neglect that purgative cleansing of the Word of the Lord. It wakes us up to our responsibility.”

Jim Elliot was disciplined! He loved to pursue godliness in the manner that God’s Word commands, that is, through disciplining himself in spiritual practices, such as prayer and memorizing Scripture, which brought him closer to Christ continually.

May I offer a challenge to you, dear reader? Every believer’s life, including mine and yours, is to be one not unlike Jim Elliot’s. We are commanded to pursue holiness and Christ likeness with this passion, which is only accomplished through determined choices and specifically designated Biblical habits (otherwise known as “spiritual disciplines”) which mirror the commands given to us in Scripture.

What, then, are these commands? How has our Father prescribed that we seek to be conformed to the image of His Son? In what manner and in what occupations are believers to be disciplined in order to know and love Christ more intimately? Let me share with you several areas in which I have recently been challenged through the study of God’s Word to be more disciplined and diligent for the purpose of knowing God, and becoming more like Him:

  • Prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing”. Believers are to be continually lifting up offerings and petitions to the Father, knowing that He is ultimately sovereign over every single aspect of life, whether physical or spiritual, desiring that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Through a continual attitude of lifting our thoughts to the Lord, through communion with Him in prayer, we offer to Him adoration for who He is, praise for His marvelous works, and thanksgiving for His blessings. Through petitions, we receive forgiveness of sins, strength to battle against temptations, understanding to obey Scripture, and peace to endure trials. And beyond all this is ability to love others by praying for them, then rejoice with them when we see the Lord’s answers and work in their lives for His glory.
  • Read. Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word.” There is no other way for us to know and love God than for us to know and obey His Word, which is the revelation of His character, nature, works, and commands. A believer is never in more intimate communion with the Father than when he is continually growing in his knowledge and love of God’s Word, seeking to apply it to his life where the Holy Spirit provides strength to do so. Believers must be disciplined to study Scripture individually and personally, searching for instruction on their own lives for how they ought to be living in a manner that reflects and honors Christ.
  • Meditate. Psalm 119:14-15, “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways.” How often the discipline of meditation on the truth of God’s Word is forgotten among Christians today. Not only must we know Scripture, but we must think about it and “digest” it, as it were. How often, when we read a passage of Scripture, do we pause to ask questions about its meaning, implications, and applications? Yet, aside from this practice, can there be more than a surface understanding of God’s truth and how it applies to one’s own life specifically? Practical application of God’s Word is accomplished when it has first occurred to the believer what those applications must be in light of the truth found in the Biblical text.
  • Memorize. Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” I once heard an illustration that the mind of the believer is like a treasure chest, in which is contained all of the Scriptures that one has been disciplined to commit to memory. Then, in a moment of crisis, when temptation, doubt, or discouragement arises, the Holy Spirit who resides in the believers runs to that chest in search of an appropriate passage of Scripture which will provide strength, faith, or encouragement. He then flings open the lid of the chest, and what does He find? John 3:16 and Romans 3:23? Friends, is it our desire to live purely before the Lord, to turn away from sin, to chase the heart of God like David did? Then we must memorize and remember the words of the Lord, which will keep us from sin and protect us against the onslaught of the enemy.
  • Put off and put on. Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.” The literal act of putting off the flesh and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, when reduced to its most basic , is discipline. We are commanded continually in Scripture to put off sin – pride, jealousy, anger, malice, bitterness, selfish ambition, gossip, laziness, etc. – and to put on godliness and holiness – humility, gentleness, kindness, love, joy, faith, self-control, diligence, etc. We will always be tempted to sin, but when we are tempted, we must discipline ourselves (being strengthened through prayer and the Word, which we have studied, meditated upon, and memorized) to turn away from that temptation and pursue obedience to Christ. It is to continually be on guard, to recognize the sin, to stop sinning at that moment, and to replace that sin with that which reflects the character and nature of Christ.

Dear readers, I wish I could say that I am perfectly disciplined and diligent in all of these practices. But I’m not. I struggle. Much. Even this week, I have had much difficulty disciplining myself to pray faithfully and to memorize Scripture when I had a spare moment. The temptations to become distracted are so strong and so numerous. But I pray that, although none of us may be able to achieve perfection in these practices, we may still encourage one another in these things! Our spirit is willing, but our physical flesh is weak! Let us then, exhort and challenge one another in these things, keep each other accountable, and pray for one another that we may not falter in our pursuit of greater intimacy with Jesus Christ.

In light of these things, we must consider what the point is of it all. A believer who is not motivated by Christ will not be disciplined for Christ in these areas. A believer who is not motivated by a longing to bring Christ glory will not persevere when discipline becomes tedious, overwhelming, and even exhausting. Christians must ultimately keep the honor and glorification of Christ in their minds if they are to endure, though they may stumble and fall in the midst of this pursuit of godliness. How well do we understand our reason for existing? If we have fully committed our lives to Christ, then we will find joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, and contentment in carrying out His commands and representing Him to a lost and dying world. Is it our goal to bring glory to the Savior who has loved us eternally? Then what better way to direct the eyes of the world to Him than to be more like Him? And if we are to be more like Him, then we must, in all diligence and perseverance, practice discipline for the purpose of godliness.

2 Timothy 2:4, “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”

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Comments
One Response to “The Practice of Discipline”
  1. Great post about the things that really matter in the long run.
    BloggerBob

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