The Gift of Discipline?

You know it’s been too long when you have to replace all the batteries in your Wii remote control and balance board before you can start using it. And you know it’s definitely been too long when the Wii Fit Plus screen welcomes you and tells you it’s been 330 days since your last session. Yikes! I could blame part of it on back injury, but the reality is that I haven’t been disciplined. Period.

I’ve always disliked the word ‘discipline.’ It sounds too much like punishment. And I’m not interested in signing up for that.

Nevertheless, discipline is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Being a word person, I decided to check the actual definition of discipline. There were seven definitions in my dictionary, and yes punishment did rate a mention, but the first definition went like this: instruction and exercise designed to train to proper conduct or action.

I like that because it emphasizes the practical action by which I may learn; gaining knowledge or skill or fitness. It doesn’t insist that I’ve already arrived at the destination.

I once heard the author Calvin Miller speak, and one particular statement he made has always stuck with me: “Grace is what God does for us and discipline is what we do for God.” I’ve been thinking about that statement again this week, and I’ve come to the conclusion that when we exercise spiritual disciplines out of a desire to offer our love and devotion to God and to cultivate our relationship with him, then our discipline is a gift to him.

In a workshop session I attended last year, we made a list of spiritual disciplines that Jesus exercised. It was quite long by the time we’d finished, but here are a few: prayer, solitude, silence, fasting, reading scripture, confession, forgiveness, sleep (rest), exercise, serving, submission, compassionate deeds, worship, play. You may think of others.

I find these quotes from Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline) helpful for thinking about the value of spiritual disciplines:

“Spiritual disciplines are the main way we offer our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. We are doing what we can do with our bodies, our minds, our hearts. God then takes this simple offering of ourselves and does with it what we cannot do, producing within us deeply ingrained habits of love and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Renovare Perspective, April 1999)

“Spiritual Formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.” (Renovare – Spiritual Formation)

When I think about it like this, my perspective changes. Discipline becomes something that is attractive, something that I want to do, not something I have to do. What are your thoughts on discipline as a gift to God?

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