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!

SDG

I Choose Praise!

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
Psalm 34:1 (ESV) 

It’s cold here in Northwest Iowa.  The minute you step out the door and face -10 degree temperature, a blowing wind, and an inch of snow on the ground, your nose hair’s freeze, your toes go numb and you think to yourself, “Is (whatever I have to face today) worth this?”  Between work and the kids’ busy schedule we always have somewhere to go and something to do.  It’s a little hectic, but it’s a good thing too.  Otherwise, we’d make like bears and hibernate through these long, cold, and dark winters.

There are some who have learned to deal well with the winters.  Either they were raised here and are accustomed to the climate, or the cold has done something to their heads and their just blissfully unaffected. 

That’s not me; not yet.  I’ve given up the compulsion to have my drive and sidewalk perfectly cleared every time it snows.  “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” is no longer my favorite winter song (it is now Ella Fitzgerald’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside”).  And I have been seriously considering attending a Pastor’s Conference in Florida and just extending the stay.

I’m also finding that some long-time Iowan’s aren’t responding well to the long-cold winters either.  People, and this is a very generalized and broad-sweeping statement, are grumpier than usual.  I honestly think it’s the cold that brings this out in us.  The chill in the air creeps into our hearts; we become as icy and cold as the landscape around us.  Cabin fever has set in and all of a sudden “Jack Torrance” from the Shining gets a little more sympathy than before.

Here’s the thing, though.  There is nothing we can do about the weather, so what we must work on is our attitude.  I shared the following devotion from Charles Spurgeon the other night at our Church Meeting Night:

Others may do what they please and murmur and complain and be filled with dread and apprehension of the future, but I will bless the Lord at all times.  I can always see something for which I ought to bless Him.  I can always see some good that will come out of blessing Him.  Therefore I will bless Him at all times. “And this,” says the psalmist, “I will not only do in my heart, but I will do it with my tongue.  His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” that others may hear it, that others may begin to praise Him, too, for murmuring is contagious, and so, thank God is praise; and one man may learn from another – and then begin to praise God with him.  “His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  What a mouthful!  If some people had God’s praises in their mouths, they would not so often find fault with their fellowmen.  “If half the breath thus vainly spent” in finding fault with our fellow Christians was spent in prayer and praise, how much happier, how much richer we should be spiritually! (From Strengthen My Spirit, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc.  Used by permission.)

To further drive the point home, our men’s Bible study this morning focused on James 3:1-12.  Remember verses 9 and 10, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.”  The study guide offered this,

The right control of our speech takes a concerted and disciplined effort, and we cannot do it on our own.  Taming the tongue takes time, and the process is tested and proven through trials and challenges in our lives (like a long and cold winter)…  If you examine your pattern of speaking and you change it, you can turn yourself in a new direction, opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and acting.

Praise is a matter of choice.  I could choose to be consumed by bitterness and chilled of all love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, or I could choose to praise the Lord and be a blessing to those around me.  Really, there isn’t much of a choice.  If I claim to be a Christian, if I know the love of God and His grace for me in Jesus Christ, if God’s Spirit has made me alive, then I will choose praise.  “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mat 12:34).

So I choose praise.  I choose not to be nudged along by the nattering nabobs of negativism, but to follow the prompting of God Holy Spirit.  I choose the warmth of the love of God rather than the cold world around me.  It is not hard for me to come up with reasons to praise God.  I’m still writing, still talking, still walking.  I’m standing six feet over not six feet under.  I woke up next to my beautiful wife this morning, got hugs and kisses from my wonderful kids.  I get to do a job I love with people I love.  I have every reason to be thankful, so I will choose praise.  Hopefully, what Spurgeon said was right, just as murmuring is contagious, so, thank God, is praise.  Let us praise God together.  Let us praise God forever!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless, His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits.
(Psalm 103:1-2 ESV)

SDG