Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Disciplined Life

Jogger

by Dennis Pollock

It is easy to look and feel like a Christian on Sunday morning. You have hugged and greeted several of your friends with a hearty, "Praise the Lord!" Now, as the musicians play their beautiful worship music you lift your hands in praise. The sanctuary is at a comfortable 72 degrees, and you know you can expect an encouraging message of hope and  comfort after the singing is finished.

There is certainly nothing wrong with any of these things, but they can be illusory. The real test of one's Christianity is demonstrated not by goose bumps or warm feelings on Sunday morning, but rather by hard choices made on all the other days of the week. The greatest evidence of the grace of Jesus in one's life is love: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." However, there is another indicator we often forget. A major evidence of grace is a life of discipline and self-control.

Jesus made this a pre-requisite for discipleship, declaring, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." The implication here is, where there is no self-denial and self-discipline, there is no discipleship. There may be the illusion of discipleship. You may carry a large black Bible around with you, you may pray before every meal, and chair several committees at your church, but if you haven't learned to deny self, you are no disciple of Jesus.

When we are born again the Holy Spirit enters us and begins immediately to move us toward disciplined living. We may struggle with issues and we may have years of a careless and  indulgent lifestyle to reverse. He will be patient with us, but He will always steer us toward a life of moderation and temperance. Let's look at two of the major areas where we must exercise discipline. 

Discipline in Devotion 

It is incontestable among evangelicals that the two primary means by which Christians relate to God and are equipped for His service are prayer and the reading of God's word. No one would dispute this. And yet, amazingly, few Christians ever seem to attain to any kind of disciplined routine for these activities. Many will spend an hour or more each day at the fitness center to make sure they look buff, but they have no regular time for God's word or prayer. Secular bookstores are filled with self-help books, many of which are devoured by Christians in an attempt to succeed in the business world or excel in relationships. Yet the ultimate book of help (not self-help but God-help), the Bible, grows dusty as it sits on the coffee table or perches in the corner of the bookshelf next to the Guinness Book of World Records.

It is not bondage to develop routines in the study of God's word and in prayer. When Daniel heard about the law forbidding prayer, he knelt and prayed three times that day, "as was his custom since his early days." This was not a matter of Daniel saying, "Tell me not to pray, will You? I'll show you. I'll pray three times today!" No, he simply did what he had been doing for decades. There is definitely a place for spontaneity in the Christian life, but there is also a place for godly routines and habits. Jesus' disciples were not shocked when He would excuse Himself from them and go out alone to be with His Father. We read that He "often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed."

Sweaty workoutPaul writes, "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown" (1 Corinthians 9:25). Seeking excellence in athletics requires temperance, discipline, and a ruthless attitude toward training. Lazy, careless, unmotivated people are going to be left behind.

Even among top athletes, however, there are differences in motivation. When Mickey Mantle first came on the scene he was hailed as the one who could become the greatest baseball player of all time. He had every attribute. He could hit the ball a mile, steal bases, field well, had an arm like a cannon, and hit for a high average. His career stats are none too shabby, but nearly everyone realized Mantle never quite lived up to expectations. He turned out to be too much of a party boy and a drinker. He had enough natural ability to still play the game as few have. One day, late in his career, after showing up with a hangover and partly drunk, his coach put him in the game to embarrass him. Mantle half staggered to the plate, and every one of his teammates knew what was going on. The opposing pitcher apparently did too, and sent a fastball over the middle of the plate, daring Mantle to swing. Instinctively the aging ballplayer lunged at the ball, connected, and sent it into the stands for a home run.

Natural abilities notwithstanding, Mantle admitted in his later years to sadness for never living up to expectations: "When I was a rookie, Casey (Stengel) had said, 'This guy's going to be better than Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.' It didn't happen." Mantle was a great ballplayer due to his tremendous talent, but he was an underachiever due to a lack of discipline. Of course Mantle's carelessness hurt himself primarily. When we approach the word of God and prayer with a casual, sloppy attitude we not only hurt ourselves, but those who could have been blessed had we taken our walk with God more seriously. Achieving a disciplined routine of prayer and the reading of God's word should be one of the first victories attained by the new Christian. Get this right, and you will be well on your way to a fruitful life. Miss this, and all the talent in the world cannot make up for it. 

Discipline in our Appetites 

To be human is to have appetites (strong desires, passions). We have appetites for food, for sex, for money, for security, for success, to name a few. None of these appetites are evil within themselves, but any and all can become uncontrollable monsters raging within us, and bringing us down to the level of animals. They must be controlled.

Some time ago I was at the zoo and saw a tiger in a cage that didn't look too happy. He restlessly paced back and forth, and seemed as though he resented all these humans who came around to stare at him. Had we been alone together I would have been terrified by this menacing creature, but as it was I felt no fear. He was encaged and I was free to observe him and videotape his restless movements at my leisure. There is a great deal of difference between a caged tiger and a freed one! So it is with our passions. C. S. Lewis wrote that as soon as we awake, our desires come rushing upon us like wild animals. He went on to say, "And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back, listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flooding in."

To be a Christian is to refuse to be ruled by our appetites. The Bible tells us, "Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." At least this is how it is supposed to be. The problem is not in having passions and desires – we all have them. Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, the apostle Paul, Moses, Elijah… think of any saint past or present and you can be sure each one had to deal with unruly passions just like the rest of us ordinary folks. The problem comes when we refuse to vigorously crucify our passions and desires through faith in Jesus, and to deny the ungodly demands of our flesh.

Paul wrote, "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." He obviously considered discipline over his body a very serious matter, to the point he feared being tossed aside by Jesus as useless if he did not control himself. The truth is this: As Christians we cannot eat as much as we want, have sex as often as we want (particularly men) and with as many partners as we may want, buy as much as we want, sleep as much as we want, be as bossy as we want… In all these areas and many more we must submit our wants to the righteousness and will of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a continual saying no to our flesh: "If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself…"

Suppose you had been forced to take and raise a child you didn't like at all, and you determined to make absolutely sure he would have a miserable life. You could beat him and constantly tell him he was worthless, and that would definitely work. But there is another way which would probably work even better. Just give the child everything he wants as soon as he wants. Resolve that he will never know the feeling of being withheld any desire, whim, or lust. Let him eat what he pleases, determine his own bedtime, watch as much television as he wants, surf the Internet as much as he likes, and play videogames endlessly. And be sure to buy him everything he asks for. You would achieve your goal beautifully. He will become a miserable child and an even more miserable adult. (Don't try this at home. I'm just making a point!)

As our Heavenly Father, God will not spoil us in that way. But it is not enough merely for Him to say no to us. He expects us to mature and begin to say no to ourselves. Saying no to things we want is a normal part of the Christian life. It is far easier to take the trappings of Christianity and to embrace the comforts of the faith than to live by the demands of our Lord. You can place "God is good all the time" bumper stickers on your car, wear "One-way" t-shirts, learn all the Christian buzz words, raise your hands in the worship service, and enjoy the church pot-luck dinners, but the real question is, "How are you doing on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday? Are you living a disciplined life? 

Source of Discipline 

We can see that how one relates to self control is a major demarcation line between hypocritical religiosity and genuine Christianity. This may depress some, who have never been disciplined in their lives. Now they have come to Christ and find themselves failing in so many areas. Is there no hope? There is good news. There was a man who lived thirty-three years on this earth who exercised perfect self-discipline. He lived entirely for the will of God and kept Himself under control at all times. His prayer life was faultless, His knowledge of the word of God, total. In both small and big things His attitude toward God was a continual, "Not My will, but Thine be done." Of course I am talking about the Lord Jesus. 

When we are born again, it is His nature we receive. "Christ in us" is the hope of glory. We may have the worst and laziest genes in the world, we may have spent the last forty years living sloppy, careless, and pathetic lives. It makes no difference. The Holy Spirit comes in and brings us the nature of Jesus, and that nature is disciplined to the max! It is not our job to try to snatch self-discipline out of the air. All we need to do is walk with Jesus (and trust Him), and His amazing self-control will begin to spill over into our lives and spirits. He who commanded the lame to walk also commands the weak to deny self, and live lives of self-control and discipline – and then gives them the grace to do exactly that! Just like the drug addict, saying no to the demands of our flesh will be painful at first, but the more we do it the easier it will get. (It will never be exactly fun, but it will become a normal part of our lives.)

Self-control is listed in Scripture as one of the fruits of the Spirit. And as it is with love, joy, kindness, and the others, so self-control will grow as we abide in Jesus -- "…being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:11).




For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.

     

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