Larry knew he was overweight; in fact, his doctor had reluctantly informed him that he was obese and unless he lost a certain amount of weight he was headed for serious health problems. At his physician’s advice he went on a strict diet. Stopping at the Quick-Stop he would buy candy, sugared soda pops. Going through the cafeteria line he couldn’t resist filling his plate, not once but several times, with food and especially desserts. Larry obviously had a self-discipline problem, as do millions of Americans who are drastically overweight.
During his term as President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson was somewhat overweight. One day his wife, Lady Bird, challenged him with this blunt assertion: You can’t run a country if you can’t run yourself.” Respecting Lady Bird’s wise observation, the President lost 23 pounds.
This lesson is about one of the most needed, but frowned upon, subjects in society and even the church. The subject is self-discipline. To be more specific spiritual self-discipline. There evidently is a lot of interest in self-discipline. When I typed in self-discipline, my search engine returned 2,360,000 results. Wow! That’s a lot of interest. How about your interest?
What is self-discipline? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as follows: Self-discipline (n), “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it. Synonyms: self-control, restraint, self-restraint, self-command.” Self-discipline is that which you can only do for yourself. It determines your successes and failures.
Since we are talking about Positive Spiritual Self-Discipline we need to define positive and spiritual. Positive is the opposite of negative; it is the opposite of harsh or dogmatic; it is the absence of coercion or punishment; it is grace instead of law. Spiritual is having to do with the inner man, the spiritual side of man; it is the absent of the carnal; it is the quest for Christ-likeness in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. It is seeking to have “the attitude of Christ” in every situation in life. It is minding and pursuing the things of the Spirit.
Positive spiritual self-discipline involves consistency. Here is how the apostle Paul stated this truth: “[A]nd instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written” (Romans 2:20-22).
Positive spiritual self-discipline is the training and control of oneself and one’s conduct based on the word of God. Spiritual self-discipline is the act or disciplining or power to discipline one’s own habits, feelings, desires, attitudes, urges, and appetites. It is Christ-likeness in action. Spiritual self-discipline gives power to the decision “to deny self, take up a cross and follow Christ” (Matthew 16:24). This won’t happen through osmosis.
Developing Positive Spiritual Self-Discipline
We are not born physically with self-discipline; we are not reborn with spiritual self-discipline. Both have to be learned and developed through training. One of the ways self-discipline is developed is through practice. Back in 2008 Malcolm Gladwell wrote a bestseller called Outliers. In his book he presented the results of examining the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Throughout the book the author repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to achieving world calls expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way for a total of around 10,000 hours. While this theory has been debated by psychologists and scientist; accepted and rejected (e.g. a Princeton study rejected the theory), it does give proof that PRACTICE plays a major role in success.
Other studies have affirmed the benefits and role of Deliberate Practice in developing skills and achieving success.
British statesman Edmund Burke argued, “men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters” (www.sermonsearch.com).
The apostle Paul was the champion of spiritual self-discipline. He drew many examples from the gymnasium and Olympic Games to make his points:
- Paul affirmed the need for spiritual exercise: “But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and EXERCISE YOURSELF TOWARD GODLINESS. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8). The Greek word Paul used for exercise is gumnazo from which we get gymnasium. As Christians we go to the “spiritual gym” every day to exercise ourselves in godliness. In Hebrews 5:14 we read about the need for the proper spiritual diet to aid us in our spiritual self-discipline: “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of USE have their senses EXERCISED to discern both good and evil.”
- Paul affirmed the self-discipline involved in spiritual exercise. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he referred to his self-discipline in gymnasium and Olympic Games metaphors: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is disciplined in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus; not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I DISCIPLINE my body and bring it into SUBJECTION, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
- The Hebrews writer admonishes us to keep in mind that the spiritual heroes of Chapter 11 are sitting in the stands; like at the Olympic Games, cheering us on. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin, which so easily ensnares us, and run with ENDURANCE the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
- As Paul approaches the end of his life and ministry, he has hung up his running shoes and boxing gloves, and is ready to “retire” to his heavenly estate. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and time of my departure is at hand. I have FOUGHT the good fight, I have finished the RACE, I have kept the FAITH (2 Timothy 4:6-8). We must maintain our spiritual self-discipline until we cross the finish line in heaven (Revelation 2:10).
SOME SPIRITUAL SELF-DISCIPLINES
Having noted the requirements and need for spiritual self-discipline, let’s spend a few minutes studying some of the spiritual qualities we need to practice self-discipline in:
- We need to practice self-discipline in “praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- We need to practice self-discipline in studying God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV).
- We need to practice self-discipline is doing God’s word (James 1:21-25).
- We need to practice self-discipline in sharing God’s word (Mark 16:15, 16).
- We need to practice self-discipline in thinking biblically (Philippians 4:8-10).
- We need to practice self-discipline in producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26).
- We need to practice self-discipline is loving (John 13:34, 35; Matthew 5:43, 44).
- We need to practice self-discipline in attending the assembly (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
- We need to practice self-discipline in faithful stewardship (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2).
- We need to practice self-discipline in working with God (1 Corinthians 3:7-10).
- We need to practice self-discipline in controlling our temper (Ephesians 4:25-31).
- We need to practice self-discipline in helping others (Galatians 6:1, 2; James 1:27).
Obviously this list can go on and on but these 12 will get us started. How will you intentionally practice these?
Suggestions for Becoming More Spiritually Self-disciplined
The only place you find success before work is in the Dictionary: S comes before W. In developing spiritual self-discipline action comes first—WORK.
- Analyze the spiritual areas of your life, such as the ones above, and honestly identify where you need to become more spiritually self-disciplined.
- Prioritize your needs areas for self-control—difficult to easier.
- Make a covenant with God that you will work on becoming more self-disciplined.
- Pray continually for wisdom (James 1:1-6).
- Find power Bible verses that you can mediate on (e.g. Psalm 119:11).
- Develop and keep a regular schedule.
- Recognize there will be “slips” (Forgive yourself and move on).
- Don’t go by “your feelings”, go by what’s right.
- Practicing saying “no” or “stop” when temptation comes.
- Start with small “baby steps” then bigger steps as you grow. Develop a sequence.
- Continually monitor your conscious thoughts—reject negative thinking (Proverbs 23:7).
- Keep a journal or log book documenting your practices and successes, etc.
Benefits of Positive Spiritual Self-discipline
Here are only a few of the numerous benefits that result from becoming more spiritually disciplined:
- More blessings
- More happiness
- More control
- More peace of mind
- More obedience
- More influence
- More ideas
- More creativity
- More opportunities
- More wisdom
- More understanding
- More Christ-likeness
One of the goals of positive spiritual self-discipline is to become less conformed to the world and more transformed into Christ-likeness (cf. Romans 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-3).