The Joys of Discipline

Ongoing stress is wearing me down. If there is anything that has been my saving grace in all of the busyness, it is self-discipline. I often look back with gratitude on my first big lesson in discipline. I was seventeen when I started running. I had never liked running, or exercise in general, but I had decided I wanted to go to the Coast Guard Academy. So, I began training for the physical fitness exam that I would need to pass. It was the first time I forced myself to do something that was uncomfortable for me. I remember well the emotions when I passed that first fitness exam. I carried that lesson with me, though I still had a lot of maturing to do.

In the many years since, I have learned from different people and experiences to manage my time better and be more self-disciplined. I don’t know if I have ever appreciated it more than these last couple of months. I have always looked at discipline and self-control as opposite sides of the same coin. Discipline is doing the things that we don’t feel like doing; self-control is not doing the things we want to that we shouldn’t. Then, there are spiritual disciplines, which are the things that we should do so we can have a better relationship with God and grow in faith and godly character. As I have become more disciplined in general life, I have strived for spiritual disciplines. What I never expected in any of this was joy. Our sinful human nature doesn’t want us to realize that doing things which don’t feel good at the time, will actually make us happier in the end.

Rather, train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7b-8

When it comes to being disciplined, people struggle in different areas. What comes easily to some is always a struggle for others. I don’t think anyone can boast being disciplined in every facet of life. Several years back, God convicted me about the fact that I was going out of my way to exercise every day, but I wasn’t making time for Bible reading or prayer. It is a balance I still struggle with. If we spend all of our time on the “disciplines” that come easily to us, then we are not really being disciplined at all. So often in my life, I have neglected spiritual pursuits.

Yet I know that Bible study and prayer bring the most joy for my soul. Moreover, when I do what God is calling me to do, even if it isn’t what I want to do at the time, I am much happier than if I follow my own path. God desires for us to have sabbath, but He doesn’t want our every moment away from our “day jobs” to be idle. Americans are blessed to be relatively wealthy while only having to work forty hours or so a week. God changed my heart when He called me to start writing again. I felt Him calling me to write a book, yet I argued that I didn’t have the time. Suddenly, every idle moment was uncomfortable. I realized how much time I was spending watching movies and TV shows that I had already seen many times. God eventually got me off the couch and into my desk chair. I was shocked to discover that it made me happier.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

I am still a human and a work in progress, but I use my time a lot better than I used to. And the Holy Spirit’s voice is clearer when I’m not doing what I ought to. I try to keep weekend to-do lists so that I don’t waste time in front of the television. Lately, my focus has been to use extra time to study for the upcoming exam. I am honestly amazed at how well I have done getting myself to study on the weekends, especially while keeping up my blog and preparing to move. Last Friday evening, though, I was feeling particularly exhausted. I turned on the TV and spent time just sitting and watching, which is an activity that I try to keep to a minimum. I didn’t exercise, and I didn’t study. But I had peace inside; the Holy Spirit wasn’t nagging me to work. I had the feeling that God agreed that I needed a break.

For the half of my life that I spent as a procrastinator, there was constant anxiety knowing there were things I needed to get done. I still feel moments of this, but I have found freedom in teaching myself to get to work. This week, it was difficult for me to get out of bed in the mornings, and in my shortened Bible reading and prayer time, I found it difficult to focus. I felt like I was stumbling through, and it reminded me that I cannot neglect the most important and rewarding disciplines. Being a person of self-discipline is worthless if I do not use it to pursue that which is most profitable. Without God, this blog, my job, and the move are all worthless. I will keep striving for self-discipline so that I can draw nearer to Him and find joy there.

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