When I speak with people about goals, dreams, hopes or other topics regarding the future, they often make statements such as, “I want to do [goal], but that means I would have to regularly do [action], and I don’t like doing [action], so I probably won’t do [goal].” Besides being pessimistic and depressing, this resistance is self-imposed and unnecessary. When we set goals for ourselves, we must realize that they often come only after we overcome a training* regimen. This discipline isn’t easy, as it challenges us to become better at some activity, and challenges are inherently difficult. Also, discipline takes dedicated time: preparing for a goal means repeating a developing skill frequently in order to improve and hone that skill to function in the precise, best way to achieve the desired goal. With the difficulty of living a disciplined life, however, come benefits that often outweigh the costs; and these benefits, I have found, typically are more than achieving the desired goal. They also encompass an improved life in many other ways.
Before I continue, I must provide this note: Please don’t mistake my attitude towards this subject. I know that these limitations are difficult to overcome. Part of being human means having weaknesses–I know this very well. However, these limitations seem to be arbitrary for each person (though a sociologist might disagree, and I would defer to them). I am beginning to find that I am very weak in overcoming the challenges inherent in improving my life in some activities more than others. My desire is for this topic to help us realize the potential that we have in us as people made in the image of God, and particularly in the children of God, as we have the Holy Spirit of God living in us. He has the amazing power of God, and, with prayer, it is time we made use of that power for God’s glory and our growth!
With that said, these are my thoughts on the matter of discipline.
There are many categories to living a disciplined life, and I do not claim to know all of them. As such, I will not write about all of the parts to discipline in this blog post; rather, I will discuss them in a series of posts. The first part–and the very foundation of discipline–is contained in the previous sentence: “living a disciplined life.” These words reveal the magnitude of how much of your schedule must be devoted to discipline: all of it. In order to work toward achieving a goal, time must be assigned to training in an agenda. (I prefer using a weekly schedule as a template for organizing time, but daily and monthly templates may work just as well.) This means taking inventory of what items are in your schedule (I do this by looking at each day in a week on an hourly basis and, by making a chart, noting all things I have done in that hour). After you have noted what activities are currently taking up your time, you must decide which items can stay and which items should be removed from your schedule. This is tough to do, I know, but it is necessary in order to make a repeated routine for goal-training.
Many things can happen in this process. For Christians, it is vital that this entire process include a copious amount of sincere prayer. This will help you stay dependent on the Lord and not on yourself, as well as help you maintain your motivation to reach your goal. Next, we will look at the chart. By having a visual record showing all the ways you spent time in a week, you remove an illusion that you have life “all figured out.” You will see all the things you did of which you do and do not approve, provided you were honest in recording the events on the chart. Some of the things on the chart of which you disapprove will be sinful and some will not be. Overcoming sin is very complex, and must be done with Jesus’ power, which goes back to the importance of prayer; moreover, I will not pretend that removing sin from our lives is as easy as replacing it with a time dedicated to discipline. Sin is present in our minds and hearts as well as in our actions; and sin is so powerful that it took Jesus’ death on a tool of brute torture in order to overcome it. The complexity of sin is why I will not address in detail that topic in this series on discipline. For now, I recommend two steps in making time for discipline: first, seek the Lord fervently in order to continually work to remove the sin in your life; second, find the non-sinful items that don’t benefit your life and replace them with time dedicated to training for your goal. As you replace the old activities with the new, I recommend you record the new schedule on another chart.
Don’t expect to perfectly carry out your new, discipline-enhanced schedule once you have written it down. As I mentioned earlier, inherent to discipline is some level of aversion to the training, and this aversion can come immediately when the training begins or later when you have been preparing for your goal for a while. You must work through the challenge of consistently training. Rather than give up when you fail, it is crucial that you continue to sincerely try to increase how much time you spend on training for your goal. Focus on the future when you fail to help decrease the damage of the feeling of failure. After all, you haven’t failed: training is a long process, not separate times that can succeed or fail. As long as the long-term trend of how you spend your time shows increasing amounts of time spent on training and decreasing amounts of time spent on activities that don’t benefit your life, you are doing well.
One last note: for an example of a well-disciplined life, read the account of Jesus’ life in the four gospel books of the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He was perfectly intentional in his life, and he maintained many disciplines in his life on Earth.
This is the foundation of discipline: focusing on the Lord’s power in you and making a schedule that incorporates a training routine. There is much more to discipline that I will discuss in future posts.
*In this series on discipline, I will use the term “train” and its forms loosely. The meaning I intend for this word goes beyond physical preparation for, say, athletic events. This is the first thing of which I think when considering discipline, but training can encompass much more. Some more examples of training are studying for a test, pondering possible moves in a chess game, eating increasingly healthy meals more and more frequently, and using money in an increasingly intentional, beneficial way. Stated succinctly, “training” as used here means any way of preparing for a goal.