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Embarrassing story time: I sucked my thumb at night until I was in third grade. Do you know why I finally stopped? My parents took video of my brothers and me sleeping at night on Christmas Eve, and when they showed it the next day, there I was: eight year-old Eric, curled up with my thumb in my mouth.
Needless to say, I was mortified, and never sucked my thumb again.
Why do I tell you that depressing memory? Because I’ve been reflecting lately on discipline, one of those character traits that most of us wish we had more of in our life. I think of discipline as the ability to consistently do the things we want to do and to avoid those things we don’t want to do. The disciplined individual is the one who knows what he or she wants and is able to live according to that vision, not being sidetracked by things that do not help him or her achieve that vision. As badly as my heart yearns to be a man of discipline who lives according to his values, I have found it to be a slippery pursuit. As Paul classically put it:
Romans 7:15,17,19 – I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing… So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
Amen, Paul. That passage has given me lots of comfort in my struggles, as I know that even the great apostles had a hard time staying disciplined. Maybe you’ve tried for years to lose weight, to exercise, or to spend less money. Or maybe you have attempted over and over to stop dangerous addictions like smoking, drinking, or pornography. I don’t know where you have struggled with discipline, but I wanted to share with you a quote from Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book “How People Grow” that was a simple yet meaningful way of putting the solution for me:
“Self-discipline is always the fruit of ‘other-discipline.’ Some people get disciplined by other people early in life and then internalize it into their character; then they possess it themselves. Other people don’t get disciplined early in life, and they don’t ever have self-discipline until they get it from others and internalize it for themselves.”
If you have tried and failed at self-discipline, then humble yourself and find some “other-discipline.” As in my embarrassing thumb-sucking example, it often takes exposing our struggle to the discipline of others in order to help us break our unhealthy habits. The best thing you can do, if you are struggling with self-discipline, is to reach out for help from someone who can help keep you accountable until that discipline becomes your own. Or, find a group of people that can provide you support and accountability, like the men’s Fight Club that meets on Wednesday nights at NewLife. Talk together about how these friends can help bring discipline into your life – what questions they can ask you on a regular basis, how they can encourage you, where they need to call you out on things that are unhealthy for you. Set up a plan for bringing “other-discipline” into your life before things get any worse.
Don’t keep wasting your time and energy on things which lead to death. Give your life for those things that really matter. Discipline is difficult, but essential to your personal growth and fulfillment. Listen and take to heart these great words from the writer of Hebrews:
Hebrews 12:1-11 - Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
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