One thing that I always want to improve in and has at times been a struggle is to be more disciplined. In my own life I've seen that self-discipline helps me be more spiritually healthy, and sharp for the Lord. God has made it very plain even in nature, that the best results in anything come through consistency, not overnight. This is why it’s important to exercise self-discipline.
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 9:25 NASB
Self discipline for a Christian means making a voluntary decision to do spiritually profitable things consistently, that we know will benefit eternally.
Many religions and even unbelievers try to discipline themselves, but the difference for us is our motive.
Self-discipline should be out of love and gratitude for the Lord – not out of compulsion because we feel we’ll be punished if we don’t do them.
Colossians 2:23-3:1 “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
So it means setting goals for ourselves to spend our time and actions not just away from sin, but profitably (“All things are lawful, but not all are profitable” - 1 Cor 10:23) as best as we can for the sake of living for God, without condemnation or guilt if we sometimes fall short of meeting them.
If I am consistently undisciplined, years of my life can be wasted away eternally with little spiritual growth, even if the years were spent on lawful things which aren’t sin. I’ll pay an eternal price of spiritual growth, maturity, and closeness with the Lord.
Self-discipline is by faith, because sometimes these activities may not ‘feel’ valuable at the time, or like they are doing much. We need to (by faith) make a decision by our will as to what is really eternally valuable, and exercise that decision consistently, even though we don’t always ‘feel’ the value of spiritual discipline in the moment. We do not see perfectly clearly yet (1 Cor 13:12), so if we only do what we 'feel' like all the time, only pursuing God when we are excited, then our life with Him will be very mediocre. We’ll hardly pray or meditate on His Word, and so we won’t grow much (1 Peter 2:2). I must “long for the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2), and that’s the way to growth. The sign of whether I’m longing for the pure milk of His Word is not do I have an intense desire to be seeking the Lord here and there, but if am I being consistent over a long period of time.
Genuine longing for the Lord is marked by lasting consistency, not temporary excitement.
THE SOUL OF THE DILIGENT IS MADE FAT
I believe that God has generally made it so that in the world, what a person seeks for, most of the time they will get it. Those in the world who labor the hardest for money and earthly success will in general gain what they are after. In a similar way, as Christians we can labor for spiritual gain, and if we are consistent and diligent we will succeed (except that unlike the world we have the 100% guarantee that we will succeed)
"The soul of the diligent is made fat" - Proverbs 13:4
I like how the Proverbs 13:4 says the “soul” of the diligent is made fat (not the “body” of the diligent) – so it’s not mainly talking about material things here! The person who pursues spiritual growth in Christ will be more fit to live for the Lord, just like a man who works trains physically would be more fit to fight in battle for his country. Many soldiers join the military because they want to serve and fight for the country who gave them freedom. They are so disciplined and diligent for their cause. Paul was a true disciplined soldier for the Lord, for the same reason, so “that he may please the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim 2:4).
The Apostle Paul starts 1 Corinthians 9 saying, "I am free" (1 Cor 9:1), and ends the very same chapter with the words “I want to discipline my body to make it a slave!” (1 Cor 9:27)! He's basically saying, "I'm free in the Lord, so I want to be His slave!"
I see so clearly here how Paul had a great freedom in the Lord, but he didn’t use it as most people would – to live for himself in relaxation and comfort. He was a zealous, studious Pharisee before being saved, but he didn’t ‘retire’ from being zealous and disciplined after coming to the Lord. Just like a grateful free resident becomes a solider to fight for his country, because of his gratitude and love for the Lord, Paul wanted to be fit to be used by God in return. If he saw himself like a knife for the Lord, he wanted to be the sharpest knife he could. And so he sought that very important quality that would help keep himself sharp: self-discipline.
We want to beware of burdensome extremes at the same time. Not everyone is as mature to be as disciplined as another person, so we don’t need to compare ourselves with others. Someone may say, “You spent your time playing sports when you could have been reading your Bible. You spent your money on that coffee when you could have given it for the Lord’s work.” This would be burdensome to think that God was a slave-driver who didn’t allow His employees breaks or refreshments. Even managers in the world allow employees breaks and provide them coffee for free! How much more does our good and perfect loving Father? God’s calling for our life is not burdensome (1 John 5:3). And Jesus enjoyed food, wine, and relaxing (Matt 11:19, Mark 6:31). He must be our definition and example to follow. Nevertheless, we want to make profitable decisions to set aside at least some of our time consistently to do what we KNOW to be eternally valuable.
WE REAP WHAT WE SOW
If we are spiritually strong today or spiritually weak today, it's not a coincidence - no more than a physically strong, or physically weak person is coincidentally weak or strong. A person who's been in the gym everyday for the past 2 years will be much stronger today than someone who's been sitting in front of the TV eating potato chips for 2 years. We are the result of our past decisions. Galatians 6:7 "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." Paul said here “do not be deceived” because it’s a common deception to believe that we can reap by coincidence things we haven’t sown. Christ-likeness and spiritual growth are not automatic or coincidental. We will get out of the Christian life only what we put into it. Salvation is free, but spiritual growth is not! Like Paul, we enter into freedom and keep our freedom only by giving it up again – giving ourselves back to the Lord everyday.
There’s a poem:
"The heights of great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight,
but they while their companions slept were toiling upward in the night."
The greatest saints did not get there overnight, and they did not get there by coincidence. While others were ‘sleeping’ spiritually, they were toiling. And then one day people saw them and said “How did they get so high?!” It was in secret. They were reaping years of secret sowing.
START THE DAY WITH THE LORD
One discipline I’ll mention which I believe is very profitable is, I've noticed that when I am intentional to start the day drawing near to the Lord, I have a spiritual strength to face the day in a way I don't have if I don't connect with the Lord. I’ve heard some of my brothers share things that have greatly challenged me, like: “As the blind man reaches for his cane in the morning and can’t start the day without it, reach out to your Father right from the beginning of the day.” And "He who wins the morning wins the day." So I have a goal to draw near to the Lord everyday right from the start, and then “abide” with Him the whole day – staying connected with Him constantly (John 15). These actions starting out in the morning may be simply talking to God in bed, reading the Bible or a devotional, meditating on a Word in the shower, or something else. But the main thing is that 1. They have a goal of connecting with my Father, and 2. They are consistent.