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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Discipline for All?

I had an interesting conversation on my vacation that has still been swirling around in my mind. I was sitting around the campfire one afternoon with several family members, discussing just about everything under the sun, when the topic came around to going to church. I mentioned that I thought church attendance was a healthy discipline. Someone commented, "Discipline works well for some."

This caught me off guard. I had never thought of discipline as something optional in life. As I have pondered this, here are my thoughts. I think that ultimately we can experience two kinds of discipline. The first kind I would call "tough luck discipline." This is when we get up as kids and we say to our moms on a rainy Monday, "I don't want to go to school today!" To which our moms always responded...you got it..."Tough luck! You're going." We engage in something in a routine way not out of choice, but out of force. I can't help but wonder if the person who commented that "discipline works for some" had the "tough luck" kind in mind. We can be forced by parents, schools, and churches to do certain things whether we really want to our not. This kind of discipline may produce some results (such as getting a diploma) but rarely does it produce much joy.

On the other hand, a second kind of discipline could be called "Purpose-driven discipline." In this kind, we choose the routines and behaviors to which we will commit ourselves. We have a goal, or a purpose, in mind, and so we voluntarily do things we might otherwise not feel like doing. Ironically, these can be the exact same activities as "tough luck discipline." The primary difference is motive. In purpose-driven discipline, we have something we want to achieve, and we commit personally to doing what it takes to get there. I would venture to say that nearly every achievement in our lives can be traced to purpose-driven discipline, whether that achievement is at work or in our spiritual life.

By now, you might be asking, so what? What does it matter? I guess what I have been thinking through is how often my disciplines, whether they be prayer or running or something else, can become frustrating, boring, and even discouraging. When this happens, it is helpful for me to stop and ask, "Why am I doing this?" In this question, I'm not throwing my hands up in despair; I am refocusing my heart and my mind. Too often, I allow a self-chosen purpose-driven discipline to become a tough-luck discipline in my life. I think I have no choice and so I become down on myself and my motivation is gone. When I remember why I have chosen a certain behavior, I can again pursue that discipline with joy.

What do you think? Is discipline for everyone? Or is it optional these days?

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." II Tim. 1:7

May you find joy on the journey,

Nick