Take a quick test. What comes to your mind when you roll the word “discipline” over in your head? I submit that it is easy (even at the new age of 68) to remember the times of discipline for bad behavior at school. The phrase “in need of discipline” easily applied to me. (I can remember full well some 62 years ago meeting my Dad in the hallway at Washington Elementary School in Marengo, Illinois. I was exiled to the hall for talking out and “sassing” the teacher in first grade. Unfortunately for me my dad, the Superintendent of Schools for Marengo, just happened to walk by. I do not recall a happy evening at home that night (if you get my drift). Discipline often is equated with punishment for disobedience. And yet, then and now, I desperately need discipline. A second tale of discipline comes to mind. Back in ancient history when I was a high school student. I played varsity basketball at Onarga High School in Illinois. Onarga was the equivalent of a 1A school. Making the team wasn’t a spectacular accomplishment. If you could walk and breathe at the same time you made the team. I was number 11 on a 12 man squad. It was a great year! I was a 16 year old boy who sat on the end of the bench right next to the opposing teams cheer leaders! Even after all these years, I can still remember at all the practices Coach McGhee yelling at me to improve my free throw shooting. He hounded me to be trained, to be disciplined, to have the same motion every time I made a shot. He wouldn’t settle for a casual commitment. Practice and discipline were the stuff that made the game move from causal enjoyment to accomplished conviction. This is a critical juncture on the path to great living. Despite myself, I became a better player. Something like this discipline, only more involved, is vital in the Lenten journey to the cross. The church of today is enamored with the term discipleship. In fact, it is the centerpiece of our stated mission –“to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” What we often miss is the connection between discipline and discipleship. We won’t get to discipleship without discipline! This uncomfortable truth frames the climb up Calvary Hill. Check out some of the teaching of Jesus as he journey’s to Jerusalem.
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” . . . After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them (Mark 8:31, 34-35).Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” . . . Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first” (Mark 10:23-25, 38-31). Inhale the emphatic connection between discipline and discipleship which the Apostle Paul offers:
“Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies” (1Corinthians 9:25). “I’m happy to see the discipline and stability of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5b).Let the Prophet speak:
“She listened to no voice; she accepted no discipline. She didn’t trust in the Lord, nor did she draw near to her God” (Zephaniah 3:2).The connection between the two cannot be avoided and dare not be dismissed. Spiritual discipline leads to true discipleship. In fact a good definition of discipleship is a disciplined committed follower of Jesus Christ as Lord. We know the core disciplines that combine to form the elements of true discipleship.
- Dedicated daily quiet time and prayer.
- Consistent hands on missional outreach to the hungry, hurting and homeless (whether it be spiritual, psychological, physical or some combination of the three).
- Regular praise evoking worship of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- Frequent habitual grace filled witness to Jesus as Lord and faith sharing.
- Generosity of heart, head and hands entwined with offering financial resources.
- Methodical Bible study and spiritual formation with others.