I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on how God must see me. I think most of this contemplation has stemmed from the week I spent with my nieces recently. I’m not accustomed to having little people around 24-7, and it was truly an eye-opening experience. In one breath, I was correcting them for wrong reactions and in the next, my heart cried out to God begging forgiveness for my own wrong reactions towards Him in so many circumstances. It seemed that every interaction I had with them was a lesson and a reminder of how I should respond to God … and how often I fail.
One morning while we were sitting at breakfast, I asked them to stay sitting at the table until everyone was done eating. My niece asked, “Are you making us sit here because you want us to be bored?”
“No,” I said, “We’re practicing discipline.”
“We don’t need practice. We get enough discipline at home,” she says.
Ah, children say the best things, don’t they? She didn’t realize that discipline meant anything other than punishment.
It’s easy for me to practice discipline at the breakfast table. I don’t mind lingering and savoring the last bit of coffee. But real life discipline isn’t so easy, and I … we? … fail often.
I often get caught in a cycle, maybe you can also identify with this – I realize I’m undisciplined. So, I take all 127 areas that need improvement, and I determine that on a given Monday I will practice discipline in all of those 127 areas at once. About 5 minutes in, I’m overwhelmed, and I quit. Cue restart of cycle.
Thankfully, though, we don’t have to go about life in our own strength. God gives victories and strength in the midst of feeling overwhelmed by our own ineptitude.
So, what does being disciplined look like for you? Does it mean getting up early to meet with God before your day’s work begins? Does it mean praying before punishing one of your children so that you have God’s strength to control your own emotions in the situation? Does it mean packing school lunches the night before so that mornings are less hectic? Is it refraining from sleeping those magical extra ten minutes that snooze button grants you?
For this night owl who loves nothing more than staying up into the wee hours of the morning as often as possible, discipline looks like meeting my gym buddy at a 5 a.m. gym class before work. I know what you’re thinking…there’s nothing spiritual about working out in the morning, but I’ve found it’s amazing what a little discipline of the flesh does to free the spirit to follow God’s word more readily.
Practicing discipline isn’t like the old saying “practice makes perfect.” It’s more like “practice makes progress” or “practice makes prayerful” because I need God to do it for me! Can I offer three simple thoughts about practicing discipline that the Lord has given me?
Focus on one thing – not all the things.
I already confessed to my tendency to go at a problem with 110% effort only to burn out quickly. So the best thing to do is to ask the One Who knows us better than anyone else to guide us to the one thing. This can be the first of many things, the first of many “rounds” of practicing discipline, but allow God to guide us in what He wants us to practice discipline in first.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.Psalm 139:1-4
Take the tiny thoughts captive before they become monsters.
We might be well beyond the age of worrying about monsters hiding in our closets, but I’ve experienced some pretty monstrously huge incorrect or dangerous thought patterns that take a lot more effort to exterminate than if I had addressed them when they were small. I love the visual that this verse paints.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.2 Corinthians 10:4-6
Does anyone else see a little sheriff complete with cowboy boots riding around in your mind roping and hogtying every thought to take it captive? Maybe my mind is the only one that resembles an old western movie? There goes a tumbleweed.
It’s easier to catch that thought when it’s just developing than when it’s fully formed and we’ve been cultivating its growth for days, months, or years!
God gives the victory.
It’s only in God’s strength, not our own, that practicing discipline is even possible. And it’s for His glory, and He’s the One Who gives the victory. But He invites us join in the process and to come in faith to be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in His work.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.1 Corinthians 15:57-58