I’m going to say a dirty word. It’s especially profane a few days after my Thanksgiving feeding frenzy and heading into the Christmas glut of cookies, pie, and sugar! Here it is (cover young eyes please):
Aaauuuugggghhhh! So horrible! So disgusting! So vulgar! The opposite of what I practiced with the 5th serving of turkey and dressing. The opposite of what I’ll practice with fruitcake in the coming weeks (I know! I’m weird – I love fruitcake).
Here’s what I think of when I hear, “discipline:”
- a drill sergeant screaming muscle into slack-jawed shoulder-drooped recruits raised on a diet of video games and gummy bears.
- abstaining from chocolate or pizza.
But, it’s a truly transformative word when combined with another word. Here’s the phrase:
At first blush, it sounds even worse than discipline alone!
Sure David – let’s take a kind, soft ethereal word like “spiritual” and brass-knuckle it into submission with brutal discipline!
But spiritual disciplines are completely different. They aren’t necessarily unpleasant. Some will be very pleasant. Like singing songs to God.
Here is a most impressive and excellent definition spiritual disciplines:
Anything I do that puts me in a position where God can change my heart.
For example – on a Sunday morning if you go to church – you are physically putting yourself in a place where God can change your heart; where prayers are prayed, God’s Word is preached, songs of praise are sung. Every time you worship – you are putting yourself in a place where God can change your heart. Way to go! Good job!
There are disciplines of engagement – things you do – like worship, prayer, reading God’s Word, serving others in Jesus’ name (serving as His representative), tithing. There are disciplines of abstinence, like fasting – giving up food for a time – denying the physical to focus on the spiritual. The discipline of solitude – getting alone so we can hear from God.
The whole goal of practicing spiritual disciplines is heart change.
Personally, I want my heart changed. I’ve been following Jesus since age 10. Sometimes three steps forward, two steps back. Sometimes two steps forward three steps back! But still, with over 40 years under my belt, there are parts of my heart that I want changed.
Because I’m flesh and blood, like you.
Important concept! Remember Yoda from Star Wars? He said,
talking to Luke Skywalker, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
If you are not up on your Yoda speak, it means “don’t try, just do it.” Kind of like the Nike commercial – “Just do it.” That works great for getting out of bed and running – but it doesn’t necessarily fly with transformation of the human heart.
For example, I read my Bible, and it says, “be loving.” I go outside. My neighbor acts unlovable. Someone cuts me off in traffic. I get bad service in a restaurant. And all my love is gone! Poof! Into thin air!
I want to “just do it” in regards to being loving, but I’m trying, and I’m failing!
I read my Bible, and it says, “be patient.” Then I’m running late for work, the traffic’s stalled, the grocery line’s too long, and I keep getting put on hold. My patience is gone! Just like the love! Poof! Into thin air!
And I want to “just do it” in regards to patience, but I’m trying and I’m failing!
Trying it not enough. What if I told you, “The Texans are having tryouts, and you are the person for the team!” And I say “just try!” Do you think you could do it? What if you believed you could do it? And what if your exercise for the last year has consisted of walking from the Lazy Boy to the refrigerator once a day whether you needed it or not?
And what if I preached an incredibly inspiring message to you, and we all stand up and in unison shout out, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.“ And…and…and…you were really pumped up! Surely you could go out tomorrow and play professional football!
They’d smash you.
Trying and believing is not enough for professional football, and it’s not enough for spiritual transformation. What’s missing? You’ve got to do this:
If you want to see God transform your life, transform your heart, make you more loving, patient, wise, thoughtful, kind, persistent, faithful, or joyful, you go into training.
1 Timothy 4:7-8 …train yourself to be Godly.
1 Corinthians 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
You train by exercising your spiritual muscles. You do that by consistently,
putting your place in a position for God to change your heart.
And just like training for the NFL doesn’t happen in a day, you generally don’t get patient in a day. Or loving. But as you abide in Christ through consistent, persistent spiritual disciplines, He changes your heart over time.
Put away, “If I just try harder.” Instead, think, “If I just train consistently.”
“ Just like an athlete, if I keep training, practicing spiritual disciplines day in and day out whether I feel like it or not – I will change and become more and more and more like Christ.”
And do, “just do,” that.
Amen and amen.
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