It all started on a summer Sunday evening in the forest. It was beginning to get late, but the sun was still up, and I hadn’t found the peace I was looking for. I walked through the forest, crying out to God. As I approached the edge of the pond, I whispered with tears in my eyes, “Just show me something.” I walked back to my bike as I thought about what I had asked of Him. Wasn’t that a simple request? I started to walk my bike down the grassy path back to the road when I heard singing up ahead, and I couldn’t really tell what I was hearing. I started to realize the singing was in a different language, and it sounded exceptionally good. As I got closer, I saw a family. They seemed very sweet. I greeted them with a friendly hello, and asked them what they were singing. (After all, as an American, I assumed everyone knows my language.) The father answered in a German accent that they were singing a song about the Sabbath. I asked them something like “What church do you go to?” He responded with a very proud, “We are Seventh Day Adventist. We worship on the Seventh day, like the Bible says.” I really couldn’t get over how much I loved the accent, but I managed to respond with “Well, I’m a Christian!” (or something like that).
The conversation progressed, and I walked with them back to the pond where we talked about Seventh Day Adventism. First, I asked them everything I knew to ask them about what they believed concerning Jesus, and they seemed fine on that. But when I moved to the faith versus works thing, in theory they said faith, but in practice they really believed in works.
But I couldn’t get past the fact that they were so perfect! At least on the outside, to me. They were vegetarians. They exercised frequently. They had a greenhouse. They were very kind, and they believed in truly living a godly life, not just on the outside. To be honest, I was a little perplexed and even angered to feel like somebody who might not even have the Spirit could master their religion so well. I wanted to be that perfect. I wanted to be that kind, and loving, and friendly. But I knew they weren’t really going by the Bible, so I tried to block it out of my mind.
As time passed… It just kept coming back up. Why are they so much more “perfect”? Why can’t I be as good as them? Should I stop eating pork? Why aren’t Protestants as perfect as the Adventists? Just recently it all came together. I read a quote that was in the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christians Life by Don Whitney. It talked about how we need discipline and how the absence of discipline is seriously damaging the spiritual life of most Protestants. And I realized it. This whole time I had thought that they just must have a better version of Christianity than I did, but it was really just the absence of discipline in my life. Anyone can seem perfect with enough discipline. But it is the motive that matters. Discipline should follow good motives, but good motives should never walk alone. No good intention ever helped anyone more than the smallest actual good deed.
I want to really give you some practical help, not just stories of my epiphanies. So here are three tips that should help you grow discipline:
-1. Just do it. To borrow the Nike motto, just barrel in there and do it. Read the Bible every day even if you sometimes don’t feel like you get something from it. Pray even if you don’t think answers will come. Memorize the Word even if you don’t see immediate benefits.
-2. Just don’t do it. Now to go on the more negative side of things, just don’t watch that extra episode Saturday night. Just don’t email that angry message. Just don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t allow yourself to even think of the possibility of doing something wrong. Just don’t.
-3. Continue in the Spirit. I’m not saying that you should just try to start doing everything through will power. I’m just asking the question “Why did God give us all some self discipline if He doesn’t want us to use it?” So practice discipline, but do it through the Holy Spirit, and you will be so much more strengthened. How do we know if we are doing it through the Holy Spirit? Here are some general guidlines: -You won’t feel spiritually exhausted at the end of the day. -You will be thinking about God and you will be praying throughout the day. -You will sometimes wonder how in the world you made the right decision in such tough circumstances. -You will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, and not the fruits of you and your flesh.
So to sum up what I’ve talked about; learn God-given self discipline, exercise it regularly, and remember to focus on your relationship with God, not just a checklist religion.
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