The Delight of Discipline

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…”
James 4:8

For the past couple of weeks now I have been struggling to write for this blog. I’ve got a couple of good articles started (and a whole lot of bad ones too), but I never felt particularly inspired nor satisfied with what I had written. Being in a new church, a new denomination, a new community; there is so much to learn and take in that I just haven’t yet found the rhythm of writing.

I suppose that’s where the discipline has to kick in. When I don’t feel like writing, I need to write. Even if it’s just a paragraph, even if it never sees the light of day, the practiced discipline of daily writing – formulating a coherent thought and communicating it in an understandable way – will eventually bring me to the point where writing feels more natural and comes a lot easier.

The same goes for my running – which hasn’t been happening either. When I don’t feel like running, I need to run. The routine of going to bed on time so that I can get up early for a run, lacing up the shoes and hitting the road – even on those days I really don’t want to do it – builds a love for the run and a desire to keep going.

This is the beauty of Discipline. The practiced, purposeful, and dedicated commitment to a task, even when the heart isn’t there yet, will ultimately lead to heartfelt participation.

The same is true of the Spiritual Disciplines.  When I don’t feel like praying, I need to pray.  When my heart is not inclined to worship and praise before the Lord, I need to come before Him in worship and praise. When I’m tired of reading Scripture, when I think there’s nothing more to be gained, I need to take up and read.

We often disparage discipline because we think it takes the heart out of the experience: You’re only reading Scripture and praying because its on your schedule. That may be the case, but daily reading of God’s Word will develop a love for God’s Word and a desire to spend more time in it. Regular times of prayer and devotion before the Lord, even using a book of written prayers and traditional hymns, will lead to spontaneous moments of heartfelt praise.

Consider Charles Spurgeon’s message on “Pray without Ceasing”:

If for awhile the heavens are as brass and your prayer only echoes in thunder above your head, pray on; if month after month your prayer appears to have miscarried, and no reply has been vouchsafed to you, yet still continue to draw nigh unto the Lord. Do not abandon the mercy-seat for any reason whatever. If it be a good thing that you have been asking for, and you are sure it is according to the divine will, if the vision tarry wait for it, pray, weep, entreat, wrestle, agonise till you get that which you are praying for. If your heart be cold in prayer, do not restrain prayer until your heart warms, but pray your soul unto heat by the help of the everblessed Spirit who helpeth our infirmities. If the iron be hot then hammer it, and if it be cold hammer it till you heat it.

My heart may not be in it – the writing, the running, the reading, the praying. My heart and my mind may be wrestling and divided, but I will continue to pray, worship, and attend to God’s Word until I can do so with One heart and One mind.

Why? Because these things: worship, meditation on God’s word, and prayer are some of the ordinary means of grace.  They are the instruments that God uses to work His grace within us, to transform and conform us in the likeness of Christ.  The more we come to these means, the more we rest in His grace, the more we live and love in grace.

As I daily return to the ordinary means of grace, as I encounter Him where He has promised to meet me, it seems less like discipline, less like duty, and more and more like delight.

And so keep reading, even if the words seem to bounce around inside your head and never take root.  Keep praying, even though it feels like the words don’t leave the room. Keep praising, even through the tears. He is near, His grace is at hand, and He is sufficient.

May the grace of faithful discipline bring joy and peace to your heart!


Take Care of Yourself

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.
(1 Timothy 4:16 ESV)

Will you go see the doctor, please?

This is the question, or tacit command, expressed by several good friends to me last night at theatre rehearsal.  My back was in so much pain, I wasn’t much fun to be around.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this plea; my wife has been begging me to take care of myself for a couple of months now.  I don’t think she much cares for the irritability and crankiness that comes with lingering back pain. 

I don’t know what caused this back pain, but it’s been going on for at least 4 months now – and yes, I have an appointment to see the Doctor today.  It’s time to take care of myself.

And, maybe it’s a good reminder for all of us to exercise some measure of self care.  I have on my shelf a little booklet entitled “The Minister’s Self-Watch” by C.H. Spurgeon which begins:

Every workman knows the necessity of keeping his tools in good state of repair, for “if the iron be blunt, and he does not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength.”  If the workman lose the edge from his adze, he knows that here will be a greater draught upon his energies, or work will be badly done… We shall usually do our Lord’s work best when our gifts and graces are in good order, and we shall do worst when they are most out of trim.

Is your life in good order.

Sometimes we let the hectic, frenetic pace of our lives overwhelm us.  Our physical discipline goes out the window.  We stop exercising.  We make bad choices in our diet.  We stay up late and don’t get enough sleep.  (And when I say “we”, you know I mean “I”.)  But we also tend to neglect the spiritual disciplines as well.  Our prayers become shorter and shorter, until they cease to be offered.  Our reading and devotion becomes rudimentary and never really impacts or affects our lives.  Our worship, which out to be a joyful celebration of the glory of God and a heartfelt commitment of service in the Lord, becomes perfunctory and dry.  (Again, “Our” = “My”.)

We were called to be the salt of the earth, to bring flavor and a preservative quality to the world.  But, as Jesus said, when salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless and thrown out and trampled under foot.

Spurgeon goes on to say:

“A train is said to have been stopped on one of the United State’s railways by flies in the grease-boxes of the carriage wheels.  The analogy is perfect; a man in all other respects fitted to be useful, may by some small defect be exceedingly hindered, or even rendered useless.”

So here is my thought for the day: Take care of yourself.  You know what you need to do physically.  If you are struggling with pain and physical set backs, talk to your doctor and get to the bottom of it.  If you are able to get out and exercise (walk, run, bike, swim, garden, etc..), do it.  Go to bed at a descent time, get a good night’s sleep.  Make healthy choices for your meals.  Get your body in order.

But get your spiritual life in order as well.  You will not find the time in your busy day for prayer and devotion.  There are enough forces working against such spiritual disciplines to keep you far away from such sweet communion with God.  You must make the time.  Set aside 10 to 15 minutes a day for private worship and prayer.  Read your scriptures, which Hebrews calls the double edge sword, that will trim away from your life all that would keep you from walking with the Lord.  Come to worship, not because you must, but because you may, because you have been invited by the grace of God, and because you want all of our life to be an act of worship before Him.

Spurgeon quotes one of my favorites, Robert M. M’Cheyne, saying,

“How diligently the Calvary officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care.  Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument – I trust, a chosen vessel unto him to bear his name.  In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success.  It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus.  A holy minister (and I will add, saint) is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

May God continue to work in you, that you may be clean and sharp, ready for the good work to which He has called you.