It was the discipline of shooting thousands of baskets that enabled basketball legend Larry Bird to be such a great clutch performer. Without the hours of intense practice Bird would never have been able to hit as many last second shots as he did. It wasn’t about having good intentions, but it was about training his body to respond in a certain way, and that is what made it possible for him to be so great.
We understand the importance of discipline in the arenas of sports and music, but often we neglect it when it comes to living a life of faith. Somehow we have told ourselves that what matters are our good intentions, and if we are willing to follow Jesus then that is good enough. The problem is that when the chips are down and life is stacked against us we often fail. We can’t come through in the clutch because we have not trained our bodies to respond in the right way. Let’s face it; many of us are undisciplined.
I would guarantee that if we examined the lives of people who are considered to have a mature faith one thing they all would have in common is discipline. Granted they may not call it discipline, but they would have certain activities that they were devoted to doing which would express their commitment to Christ Jesus.
A verse that has come to mean a lot to me the past few months is Acts 2:42. In this verse Luke shares with us four activities that the earlier church devoted themselves to doing.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)As the Church exploded on to the scene the Apostles made sure that the new Believers were involved in activities that would encourage these new disciples and would help them mature in their faith. Being disciplined is essential if we are going to be mature disciples of Christ.
Consider what the apostle Paul wrote about who he lived his life:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, 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; ESV)
Paul compares his walk with Christ to an athlete preparing to compete in the games. The athlete is disciplined in his/her practice so they will be able to perform to the best of their ability and when the prize. According to Paul that is an illustration for how we are to live our lives: we are to discipline our bodies and learn to control them. Maturing in faith isn’t just a matter of knowing more or having the proper intentions, but it is about training our bodies to respond to the good desires of our new hearts. We are to discipline our bodies so we can respond in love when others respond in hate, so we can respond with joy for another person’s success rather than being jealous, or so we can give generously rather than greedily horde what we have. If we are going to live like Jesus, then we need to discipline our bodies to respond to the new heart He has given us.
Erwin McManus in his little book Stand Against the Wind wrote:
There is a process in our becoming all that God created us to be. This is the human side of divine change. Transformation is both the miracle of God and the stewardship of man. Godliness is a result of both divine activity and human action. God promises to do what we cannot do for ourselves, and He commands us to do that which He will not do for us. There is both miracle and responsibility. God entrusts us with His resources, and then He holds us accountable for what we do with them.” (p. 46)
Foundational to what I am saying is that our transformation and salvation are the miracles of God. We cannot achieve true transformation, a total change of heart, without the initiative and action of God. That is where it all starts, and so I am not advocating some form of humanism here, but rather I want to point out that we have a responsibility to nurture and grow this wonderful gift that God has given to us. To be disciplined means to be good stewards of what God has done for us.
What disciplines do we need in our lives in order to be good stewards of the new life we have in Christ Jesus? I think a good place to start, because it comes right out of the Bible, are the four activities of Acts 2:42. I would simply want to point out that the third activity, the breaking of bread, means the Lord’s Supper. This is a debatable issue, but in my study I have come to believe that is what it this phrase means in this context. One of the reasons I want to emphasis this because it is important for us to have a way to re-commit our lives to God’s Kingdom after we have stumbled and sinned.
If we are going to mature as disciples of Christ Jesus then it is essential that we have in our lives certain disciplines that help teach our bodies to live by faith. That is why one of the marks of mature Christians is their commitment to certain activities that they have found help them stay connected to Christ. If we are to follow their example then we need to have similar activities as a part of our lives. Isn’t it about time that we live a disciplined life?