After years and years of preparation, athletes from all over the world finally go to the Olympics. They do those incredible things. Some of them amaze the world and win the gold medal.
The great skills they put on display didn’t show up automatically. It hadn’t been effortless. They likely put in thousands and thousands of hours of practice and training. That training wasn’t always fun.
But the Olympics had been their goal. They probably had to keep the goal of the Olympics in mind, all the time. That’s what gave them the wherewithal to endure the pain and suffering of the daily grind. That’s what helped them follow rigorous discipline every day.
In our own lives, we know about discipline. But for most of us, our disciplines don’t lead to becoming famous.
We don’t become worldwide celebrities because we clean the house. There’s no gold medal for scrubbing the toilet. Organizing the files and straightening out the desk and paying the bills won’t get us on the talk shows. People won’t ask for our autograph because we returned our phone messages. There’s not an Olympic event called replying to email. So why do we do such things?
For many of us, those sorts of things are simply part of life. We have to. Or maybe we do them as part of the household duties that we share with family. Or maybe we do them because they will make our lives better. It’s nicer to have a clean house than a dirty one. It feels good to finally return those 22 voice mails. In other words, the unpleasantness of the duty is only temporary. Exercising some discipline makes our lives better.
It’s like that in the Christian life. Following Jesus Christ demands things of us that don’t come automatically. Some aspects of living the faith require discipline. There’s a cost to discipleship. Not all of it is velvety pleasantness.
It’s not that we exercise disciplines in order to earn our way to heaven. Jesus already paid that price. It’s not that our disciplines will earn us friendship with God. God’s friendship, his love is already there. So what does our living a disciplined life do for us?
Living a disciplined life can be a path to greater joy. Good disciplines gradually tear down our own obstacles to God, roadblocks that are often quite deep within us. Disciplines help us experience more of God’s love and presence in our lives. Disciplines help us change our lives for the better. Disciplines can overcome bad habits and sin. Disciplines help us become better people, better followers of Jesus, better Christians.
Anyone who spends regular time in prayer, for example, knows the cost of that discipline. Those who pray regularly know firsthand that discipline is involved. It’s not always easy to sit still for a time of prayer every day. But over the course of weeks and months and years, the benefits of regular daily praying can be huge. The benefits of our daily spiritual disciplines can be giant.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah knew about discipline. He had long disciplined, or trained, himself to speak of God. But when he spoke of God, people would sometimes give him grief. Yet Jeremiah couldn’t hold it in. It was like a fire burned within him. He had to speak. He had to speak of the greatness of God. (See Jeremiah 20:9).
St. Paul urges us to discipline ourselves. He calls us to offer ourselves to God, similar to how the Old Testament people offered sacrifices to God. Metaphorically, we place ourselves on the altar. We make ourselves an offering to God. That’s a daily discipline in the Christian life. (See Romans 12:1-2).
And Jesus Christ spoke of it too . . .
Matthew 16:24. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
What daily practices will help you grow in your spiritual life?
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.