One of the many things that I’ve been exposed to since I’ve come to MSUM is my generation’s amazing lack of self-discipline. Students fail classes that they would have absolutely no trouble acing because instead of doing the assigned reading and homework they spend five hours of their day watching television or playing video games. People regularly stay up until 1, 2, 3, even 4 AM when they have commitments at 9 in the morning, thinking nothing of the fact that they are breaking their word by not keeping those commitments. It seems to be completely acceptable, even lauded, to be the type of person who puts everything off until the last second and then to turn in the lowest quality work possible. Just this morning a friend of mine said in passing that he had a paper that he had just started was due “about a month ago,” but he wasn’t worried because the teacher didn’t really enforce due dates.
Even among professing Christians I have been appalled at the lack of discipline, with there seeming to be little difference between those who are followers of Christ and those who aren’t when it comes to the things noted above. It is as if we have somehow ignored the gospel’s call for a people who labor and strive and discipline themselves for righteousness in all aspects of their lives. My aim in the next page or two is to lay out the Biblical basis for self-discipline, particularly it’s source and outworks, and then give several practical outworkings of a proper grasp of the concept.
Biblical Self Discipline Is…
An overflow of love.
According to Jesus (who is God), the greatest commandment is, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) If we truly love someone, we work to make time to spend with them. Christian discipline isn’t mainly for the sake of making us love God; it flows out from our love for him. If we truly love Christ we will discipline ourselves to spend time with him, keep his commands, and to be like him. Christian self-discipline is first and foremost and overflow of love, which leads to the second greatest commandment of loving others and the great commission.
For the sake of mission.
This is something I have and will continue to hammer often. Christ’s final commandment to his disciples was to make disciples as they went about in the world. As I’ve noted in a past post, discipleship is something that doesn’t happen unintentionally. It takes discipline and training of the self to live the life that Christ commanded his followers live. After all, how are we supposed to teach others to be disciples if we have not walked the path already? Christian self-discipline is for the sake of the mission of reaching the world with the Gospel.
A result of dependence on God.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes of his labor as an apostle, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. “ Paul’s ceaseless striving and self-discipline in his work for the growing church was not done out of sheer human willpower. Instead, it flowed out of the apostle’s complete dependence upon the grace of God. Unlike many who call themselves Christians and presume upon the grace of God, Paul knew full well that grace both calls and enables us to labor. Those who are most dependent upon God are often those who are the most disciplined in laboring to see the Kingdom brought to pass.
Self-denial and sanctification.
Jesus himself told his followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Discipline, at its core, is self-denial. You deny yourself an extra helping of desert because you desire to maintain a healthy diet. You deny yourself playing video games for a day so that you can catch up on homework. Whatever it may be, discipline and self-denial come hand in hand, and those who follow Jesus are commanded to deny themselves. The amazing thing about this self-denial is that it not only works for us temporal rewards such as success in school or a much more fulfilling life; it also is a key part of the process of sanctification in the Christian life. The true disciple, out of his love for Christ and for others, will gladly deny himself comforts and pleasures in order to become more like his savior and do others more good.
Practical Outworkings of Biblical Self-Discipline
Below is a list of several things that come to my mind when I think of the practical face of self-discipline in my life. It’s not an exhaustive list, nor am I suggesting that these are the best things or the surest ways to be disciplined. They are, however, things that have greatly helped my in my life and that I am confident are both wise and good. Take them as you will, and if you have anything you think I missed, post it in the comments!
Waking up early
There is something about training yourself to rise early to the day that flows into every other part of your life. Honestly, I don’t care if you think you’re “not a morning person.” However you feel about it, it’s a good thing to do. Jesus rose early on a regular basis to find time to pray. Throughout the history of the church the vast majority of men and women who have had lasting effects were those who had a habit of awaking with the sun to begin their labor.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we should never sleep in late. There are days and times where extra rest is far more beneficial than getting up. However, if you find the thought of sleeping until noon more satisfying than the thought of getting up at 7AM (which, by the way, is not early) and spending time with the Lord, you have some heart work to do.
Doing the difficult things first.
Doing this has made huge changes in my life over the last several months. It’s amazing how much quicker my to-do list is finished when I do the two or three most difficult things first, and how much more satisfied I am when the day is through as I reflect upon my accomplishments. If you have a 10-page paper to work on, several pages of reading to do, and your room to clean, work for a set amount of time on the paper before doing the other stuff. Do the hardest things first and all else will be simple, which goes hand in hand with the following point.
Refusing to procrastinate.
I believe it was in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography that I read, “Never put off until tomorrow that which can be done today.” Oh how much we cripple ourselves when we keep giving the future the things that ought to be done immediately! REFUSE to let yourself procrastinate. The person who understands just how crucial time is (Ephesians 5:16) will joyfully labor here and now and will disdain the thought of putting anything off until tomorrow. After all, we have no promise that tomorrow will come.
Doing all work WELL.
Paul exhorts the Colossian church, saying, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”(Colossians 3:23). We ought to see every bit of labor that we do as labor done for Christ. This means that if you write your paper in the hour before class, you’re effectively telling God that he deserves hasty, worthless work. This means that if your labor at your place of employment should be done in such a way that the God of all creation would be able to look down and be proud that he chose you to do it. Lazy people and those who seek to do as little as possible have little to be proud of in Christ’s kingdom. We aught to be like David in 2 Samuel 24 when he insisted, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” Let us do all our work well, counting it an honor to expend ourselves for such a King as Christ.
Keeping your commitments.
The scriptures command us to “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Christians ought to be known as people who keep their word, just as our God does. A crucial part of self-discipline is learning to keep your promises. In light of my experiences with my generation, this merits a few sub-points:
– Stop making non-committal commitments. Use Facebook’s “maybe” button as little as possible. Stop saying stuff like, “Yea, I’d like to come. We’ll see what happens,” or, “I’ll try to make it.” Be man (or woman) enough to actually commit to something
– By registering for a class at a college you are giving your word that you will fulfill your part of the agreement by attending that class. Simply skipping class is breaking your word and throwing aside your integrity.
– Calling in sick to work when you’re not sick is sinning. I don’t care what your reasons are. Better to simply call and say “I’m not coming in to work today, I’ll deal with the consequences if need be,” than to sell your integrity for so little as a few hours of free time. Don’t be like Esau, selling his birthright for some soup.
– Don’t over-commit. Respect yourself and others by examining your schedule before saying yes, so you don’t have to disappoint someone by later going back on your word.
Wise use of time.
Lastly (for this post, at least) I think it well worth noting that a key part of self-discipline is our use of time, as has already been alluded to. Jonathan Edwards, in light of the Ephesians passage cited above, resolved “never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.”
We Christians should be people who use time for all its worth, because we have precious little of it in which to complete the great work set before us. The person who grasps the urgency of the Gospel commission will not be comfortable spending his days lounging about. This means that we are careful to use our time for the things that are eternally valuable. Cast off video games, foolish television shows, movies, hours on Facebook, youtube, and anything that “so easily entangles” for the sake of massively greater glory. We must frequently ask ourselves if the way we spend our time is efficient and effective in bringing glory to God, conforming us to Christ, and spreading the gospel.
All in all, Christians are called to be people who are holy as the Lord is holy. One great way we can do that is by being different from the world that surrounds us; particularly in the way we train ourselves for the race that has been set before us. Ultimately, our self discipline is something that flows out of the empowering of the Holy Spirit and love for our savior and the people he came to rescue. When we understand the Gospel, we will stand and join the thousands that have labored from dawn to dusk for hundreds of years to bring the Kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters, let us not be slack in doing the work of the Lord! Take up your cross, discipline yourself, and follow your God!