When we first hear the word discipline it does not ordinarily bring to mind thoughts of joyful anticipation. When we think of discipline we don’t think of luxuriating in a warm bubble bath by candlelight to soft music. We think instead about being sent to our rooms or losing privileges. We tend to think of discipline as punishment. But what if we took a moment today to think about discipline with an eye toward discipleship?
Discipline is what makes, and marks, disciples
It’s not difficult for us to see that the two words are derived from the same root: mathaytais. It implies the existence of a personal relationship which shapes the entire life of the one described as a disciple. It is a term which leaves no doubt about the Master nor who has formative and transformative power in the relationship. Disciples joyfully submit in cooperation with the Master to discipline their lives according to his will, conforming their thoughts and actions according to his ways.
If we claim to be the disciples of Jesus Christ we must submit to his discipline in our lives. We must submit our will to His will, come under his tutelage, becoming like Him. That is what discipline means: the submission of one will to another. Disciplined discipleship is the moment-by-moment cooperation with the Holy Spirit working in the life of a believer, bringing them into every greater conformity to Christ, under His authority, according to God’s ordering authority.
Exemplars of discipline
Think about the military… Why are elite military units so successful? First, they submit without hesitation and do not question the one in authority over them. And, secondly, they have disciplined themselves to make due with that which is available and work together as parts of a well-oiled machine to accomplish the mission without regard to personal sacrifice. They’re individual gifts are honed to the very highest quality, their bodies are strong, their minds are one, and when they set their collective course of action they do not come home until the mission is accomplished – leaving no member behind.
What if the disciples of Jesus Christ were to become as disciplined as an elite military unit? What if individual disciples submitted to the One in authority and to the authority of the Church and what if the we were each to hone our gifts to the very highest quality, offer our bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God, develop one mind – the mind of Christ – and set our collective course of action on the mission of Christ? And what if we didn’t come home until the mission was accomplished? How might the world be different if the disciples of Jesus had that kind of discipline?
Or think about athletes… The best athletes in the world submit their lives to the will of their coach. They literally eat, sleep, visualize, study, and practice their sport. They submit their bodies to the most grueling of exercises in order to become the very best at their sport. And they do whatever the coach commands. They are disciplined to work through the pain. They don’t stop training when they get tired, or when it hurts. They run with perseverance the race that is set before them and they are not satisfied with second place. They finish every race they start and when they lose they use that disappointment to fuel their training for the next event.
What if the disciples of Jesus Christ were as disciplined as world class athletes? What if we really did whatever the coach commanded? What if we rose early to practice the various disciplines that would be required of us in the game of life? What if we spent time visualizing the world as it would be if we accomplished the goal of God? What if we really did lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and ran with perseverance the race that it set before us? What if we really did look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith to train us body, mind, and spirit – studying his life, submitting to his Spirit, becoming his team? What if the disciples of Jesus had that kind of discipline?
Lent as Spring Training for the disciples of Jesus
Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the season of Lent; the 40 day preparation for the events of the passion of the Christ. Lent has long been understood as a season of practice for the disciples of Christ. Spring training if you will. Imagine for a moment that you were training for a marathon. Would you wait until the day before to buy your shoes and take up jogging? Heaven’s no! You’d be dead before the midpoint of the race! Likewise, we need to be training in a disciplined manner for the race that has been set before us. It is a marathon, my friends, and we have allowed the enemy to take the lead. It is time to start training in a disciplined manner, submitting ourselves to Christ as our Coach. It is time to start having a daily spiritual work out and like running, you don’t start with a marathon. So, what I propose is that we use Lent as a time of spiritual conditioning.
Will you commit with me to a daily spiritual workout for the next 40 days?
Consider exchanging 30 minutes of television for 30 minutes of bible reading and prayer.
Consider exchanging one meal time a day for prayer and fasting.
Consider exchanging social media for a time of listening to God.
Consider getting up a half hour earlier and starting your day working out with God.
Consider exchanging reading your Twitter feed for reading the bible or scrolling Instagram for time with the One in whose image you were made.
Consider exchanging time on the phone talking with friends for time in prayer talking with God.
Consider exchanging the noise in your life (music, gossip, chit-chat) for some simple holy silence.
In much the same way that physical exercise is energizing, spiritual exercise makes us more able to give to others. We have more patience, more love, more mercy, more time, more God, because your life will become conformed to Christ as you come under his discipline.
During Lent, consider disciplining your life under the Lordship of Christ that you might indeed be his disciple.
Carmen LaBerge is host of the "Connecting Faith with Carmen LaBerge" radio program, author of Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation and Executive Director of the Common Ground Christian Network.