Cortni MarrazzoCrosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Discipline is often a touchy subject to read or think about. As kids we (hopefully) were faced with it growing up as our parents did their best to train us to be productive adults. As adults, we tend to want to avoid having to face discipline in our lives, either from our boss at work, a spiritual leader at church or even from God, because it means we have to face a bad choice (or series of choices) that we’ve made. There is actually something we can do in each of our lives to lessen the discipline that comes from others. It’s called self-discipline.
Self-discipline is a proactive measure we can take in our lives that will limit the reactive nature of being disciplined from outside sources. Self-discipline causes us to make right choices in our lives that lead to positive results. This Dictionary of Bible themes defines discipline as “Loving and corrective training that leads to maturity and responsibility on the part of those who experience it.”
Self-discipline is exactly this, only the loving and corrective training comes from ourselves and we train our minds and bodies to do what is right. The process of exercising self-discipline is the key for ensuring we experience the next level in our lives that God wants for us.
Self-Discipline Prepares Us
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (Luke 16:10).
One of God’s principles for advancement is the requirement to be diligent with what we have and where we are before he will advance us to bigger and better things. Being faithful requires self-discipline. God knows that if you aren’t disciplined to take care of that which you have right now (not just material things, but also your body, your family, your job, your ministry position, and so on) then you will not be ready for God to bring you more responsibility and influence in your life.
Jesus illustrated this exact point in the Parable of the Three Servants when he told of the master who gave his faithful servants more after they demonstrated that they could be trusted and took away from the servant who proved himself unfaithful (Matthew 25:14-30). He summed it up in verse 29:
“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”
Being faithful and “using well what you are given” is not easy and does not come naturally. It requires work and discipline to make right choices daily. Just like students in school need to be disciplined to do their homework and study for their tests in order to advance to the next grade, we too need to have the discipline to do what it takes to be ready for the next level God has for our lives.
Self-Discipline Keeps Us Healthy
“I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
It can be easy to think of self-discipline in our physical health as an act of vanity. After all, the average person only goes to the gym and diets to be thin and look better (which is why they often don’t stick with it, because that motivation won’t keep you for the long haul). However, taking care of our physical health is actually extremely important to our spiritual lives, because if we are sick and exhausted, we physically can’t do the things God wants us to do and we find ourselves held back. By disciplining ourselves to be active and choose healthy foods to eat, we are giving our bodies the fuel they need to carry out God’s plans through us.
Obviously physical health is very important, but it is just one aspect of health in our lives. Spiritual, emotional and even social health all bring balance to our lives and help us to live out the lives that God wants us to live. We need self-discipline to prioritize quiet time with God and to spend quality time with our family and friends. These things don’t naturally happen in our lives if we don’t make them a priority. Our flesh is constantly waging war against us and our desires to do the right things and we have to fight it every day.
“The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17).
Making right choices takes serious discipline. If we want to be spiritually, physically, and relationally healthy, we have to work at it.
Self-Discipline Increases our Focus and Productivity
“Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper” (Proverbs 13:4).
Hard work is always a part of experiencing the next level God has for us. Promotions are a result of being diligent and producing results where you are at. When you exercise self-discipline in your life, your mind is freed up to focus on what you need to focus on, instead of all the things you feel like you should be doing. Negative thoughts attack us every day, and when we lack self-discipline in our lives and neglect to do the things we know we need to be doing, those negative thoughts attack hard. These thoughts can make us feel ashamed of ourselves and when we walk around with shame and self-hatred, it consumes our focus and steals our productivity. On the contrary, when we feel good about ourselves and the majority of choices we are making (since we won’t ever make ALL good choices), we have more confidence in ourselves and God working through us and when we put our hands to things, they prosper.
The bottom line is that a self-disciplined life brings us closer to God and puts us in a better position to hear from him. It causes us to make better choices and walk in the path God has for us because we take time to listen to his voice. We experience his peace when we walk through hard times because we are disciplined to study his word and we remember his promises about carrying us through. We are able to bless others by making ourselves available to speak God’s word into their lives. A spiritually strong life is a wonderful life to live, but it doesn’t come without effort. Staying close to God is the only way you will have a strong sense of purpose and peace in your life like Paul had.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7).