My grandfather, Dr. George Knox, was a runner. And when I say ‘runner’ I really mean it. He ran track and cross country in high school and college, always training for the next meet or race. He served as a naval officer in the Pacific theatre of WWII. But as happens with so many of us as the years go by, he shifted his focus to other things. He ran his psychology counseling practice and was an optometrist as well with four kids. Yes, you read that right. As a result of the change in behavior and compounded with family history (his father died of heart issues at 52), he had a heart attack at age 55. But, I never knew him as a heart-attack suffering, pipe-smoking, easy chair kind of guy. Why? Because he completely changed. He began small, starting with what he could do, walking around the pool deck behind their home as many laps as he was able. In time, this evolved to walks around blocks, then jogs through neighborhoods and eventually, in just a handful of years, he was running full length marathons. He changed his eating habits, finding enjoyment in healthier foods. He read magazines on running and healthy living. He continued running competitively well into his eighties. Yes, you read that right, too. Eventually, neuropathy caught up with him so he switched to stair climbing. He went to be with the Lord at 99 and is the only person I’ve ever known who truly died of “old age.”
This post is not directed at your eating habits or your need for a healthier, active lifestyle. We all know we are supposed to do those things, whether we actually do them or not. No, this is about discipline and the freedom it provides. In our world, discipline and freedom serve as antonyms—complete opposite concepts of one another. We believe if we are disciplined in our life that means our freedom is curtailed. But, in many aspects of our lives, the opposite is true. Proper discipline actually serves as a pathway to greater freedom. Because my grandfather imposed great discipline upon his daily life, he received freedoms that most never receive. He could go where he wanted when he wanted. I remember him hiking to the top of mountains on family vacations, seeing vistas of God’s creation that none of the rest of us were able to see. He lived with little assistance until very late in his life, free to continue doing what he loved, including counseling his patients until well into his nineties. His commitment to discipline opened up freedoms not otherwise available.
In our world, discipline and freedom serve as antonyms—complete opposite concepts of one another. We believe if we are disciplined in our life that means our freedom is curtailed. But, in many aspects of our lives, the opposite is true. Proper discipline actually serves as a pathway to greater freedom.
While my grandfather shows this is true for our physical life, it is all the more true with our spiritual life. A disciplined approach to our relationship with the Lord allows us to experience deeper freedoms in Christ. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” Proverbs 12:1 Kind of blunt, huh? But don’t miss the point: a commitment to discipline grows the person while the casting off of discipline stifles growth and is foolish.
Perhaps no one explained this better than the Apostle Paul. In writing to the Corinthian church—a church greatly lacking needed discipline—Paul lays out the purpose of discipline in the life of a Christian:
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. Paul wants a closer relationship with Jesus, taking his role as an apostle and teacher seriously enough to structure his daily life in line with it. He is pointing out that self-control, which is discipline in our behaviors, allows for a far greater reward. Do you engage in spiritual disciplines? To do so means not just turning to God once in a while but as a regular, disciplined practice. So, how should we do this? Well, there are many ways, but here are a few places to start:
- Use Bible reading plans — God’s Word is our source for maintaining the discipline of daily life with him, so it is where we must start (Hebrews 4:12). Just like a person doesn’t begin training for a marathon by running one, a person doesn’t pick up the Bible and read whole books without first reading smaller portions. If you’ve never successfully developed a habit of daily Bible reading, try using a scheduled reading plan. You can get dozens of plans of different lengths on the YouVersion Bible app and online, like this.
- Daily prayer time — (Acts 1:14) When we engage in the discipline of hearing from God daily through his Word, we then have our heart rightly tendered to speak back to him. We do this through regular prayer where we praise God for who he is and what he has done for us in Christ, then confess our sin to him, and finally bring our requests before him. If you haven’t joined us for live daily prayer yet on the NAPC Facebook page, give it a try Mon-Thurs @9am. Then, incorporate this model into your regular prayer time for a few minutes each day.
- Scripture memorization — When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, he responded solely by quoting Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). This will happen in our own experiences of life’s temptations only if we have prepared for the fight by knowing Scripture ourselves. Whether memorization is a strong suit of yours or not, it is worth it. Again, start slowly. At NAPC, we have a monthly Bible memory verse that you can memorize together as a family. Give it a try, regularly.
- Fasting — Jesus taught how to fast and began by saying, “when you fast …” which implies that we will definitely do it (Matthew 6:16-17). Fasting is not, as many think, meant to harm ourselves as some sort of penance. It is intended for us to deprive ourselves of something we regularly want and have (food, technology, social media, entertainment, etc.) so that we are reminded to focus on the one who gives us all things. Starting is more important than the duration. Fast from something you enjoy for an hour or a day. Whenever you find yourself missing it, use that reminder to praise and pray to the Lord.
Just a few verses prior to his statement on discipline, Paul revealed why he does this: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Corinthians 9:19). God used Paul’s consistent discipline to win more people to freedom from sin through newfound faith in Christ. There is no greater reward than to be used by the Lord in such a way. How might God use your spiritual discipline?
Praying for you to experience freedom in Christ,