This piece first appeared on Everyday Exiles. The words are my own.
Discipline. It’s a word that can carry a lot of weight, and even have a negative connotation. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word discipline? Perhaps punishment you received as a child? Or consequences you have set in place for your own children? Or maybe the “stick-to-it” mentality you need to complete a training plan or stay on track with your diet. While discipline can mean a lot of structure, rules, and staying power, it can also bring much freedom in your life.
You may have heard the platitudes “God is more interested in your character than your comfort.” and “God calls you out of your comfort zone.” Whether you believe they’re true or not, like all adages, they come from nuggets of truth. Like Jonah, Job, Nehemiah, and others, God has called countless people out of their comfortable lives to do things they didn’t want to do. He laid out plans for crazy things, like ark-building, sea-parting, and son-sacrificing, and asked for radical obedience. But if it weren’t for the discipline of all those fellows – whether it was their first response to the call, or their last – the fantastic plans God had in mind wouldn’t have come to pass in such a spectacular way.
Spiritual disciplines were created and ordained by God not to punish us or to restrict us, but to bring us freedom. Hebrews 12 tells us this: …but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. God has our best interest in mind when He instructs us to pray, study the Word, serve others, practice solitude, fast, give to the local church, submit to His will (obey), simplify, celebrate, confess our sins, give and receive guidance, and worship Him at each and every opportunity. That list of twelve may seem daunting, but think how many you may already have the routine of doing. Corporately, we can worship, celebrate, confess, and guide. These things happen in communities, and sometimes look different than we think. Confession can take the form of apology. Guidance can be as formal as counseling or as informal as asking a friend for advice. Individually, the other eight disciplines are integral for growth in relationship with the Lord and ability to hear and obey His will. Psalm 94 encourages us with this: Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law. The word “law” here is the Bible, God’s Word, the divine and holy text God gave us to learn from… it isn’t a legislation that sets us up to fail and be punished. Discipline and law are not one and the same; Romans 6:14 reminds us: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Law is not what governs us; the only thing that shall lord over us is Christ himself! Submitting to the very Kingship of Christ is how we are free to live without fear, free from condemnation, and free from the bondage of our sin! The disciplines that help us grow closer to the likeness of Christ are what set us free to receive the Spirit of God and all the fruits He has to offer. So if the son sets you free, you are free indeed! (John 8:36)