The word discipline brings to mind two different meanings: 1) self-control associated with restraint/order/obedience/etc. and 2) regulation enforced by an authority figure, which includes instruction, correction, punishment (There is also the meaning referring to a subject area, but that’s not related to the discussion here).
The form of discipline that seems to cause the most trouble in our lives is the area of self-control. Sure, we can blame our problems on inadequate/parents/teachers/pastors/etc, but ultimately we will be held accountable for our own actions, and our own actions are the ones that bring us troubling thoughts.
So when we talk about needing more discipline, we mean that we wish to be more obedient. Not that someone would slap us on the wrist more often, but that we would be able to restrain ourselves so as not to require chastening.
In the Bible, self-control is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit. Many church-goers learn to list the fruit of the Spirit in childhood, yet sometimes they don’t understand the full context.
Here is a song I learned in childhood (from the Agape story series):
“self-control should be our goal
Self-control will help us
Self-control should be our goal
To be more like Je-sus”
Even as an adult, I sometimes wonder how to access these manifestations of the Spirit that sound so virtuous. The fruit of the Spirit is what is produced when we live by the Spirit. It’s not our fruit, it is His. Without Him, we cannot make it come about. The way to live by the Spirit is to die to one’s self.
When you ask the Lord for more discipline, what are you really asking for? You are asking to be able to display more order and restraint in your life. How does this come about? The only way is by dying to yourself, by taking a desire that you have and cutting it out. If the offensive thing were not desirable to you, you wouldn’t need discipline.
When you find yourself unable to resist, the Lord may help in different ways: 1) By removing the temptation, 2) by giving you the strength to resist, 3) by enabling painful consequences to occur in your life to motivate you to learn from your mistakes and be more obedient.
I think that sometimes when we say we need more discipline, we mean that we have a sin problem in some area of our lives. Why not simply confess that sin and ask for forgiveness?
Other times discipline means not giving up something up, but doing something that is contrary to our nature, like showing compassion to someone we don’t like very much. Or simply being faithful in daily duties when we would rather be doing something more pleasureable.
It is possible to develop habits and routines on our own strength. For some people living a rigidly controlled life is even a natural and desirable option. But is this the same self-control that the Bible mentions? Oswald Chambers has some words about this.
“There are times when we are conscious of becoming virtuous and patient and godly, but it is only a stage; if we stop there we shall get the strut of the spiritual prig. The right thing to do with habits is to lose them in the life of the Lord, until every habit is so practiced that here is no conscious habit at all.”
“Your god may be your little Christian habit, the habit of prayer at stated times, or the habit of Bible reading. Watch how you Father will upset those times if you being to worship your habit instead of what the habit symbolizes-I can’t do that just now, I am praying; it is my hour with God. No, it is your hour with your habit. There is a quality that is lacking in you.” (My Utmost for His Highest, reading for May 12…sorry to spoil it for those of you reading on schedule!)
I had a youth group leader once who used to pray for God to give us extra challenges in order to bring us closer to Himself. Think about praying that way sometime, for yourself or for others.
Asking for more discipline is a serious request, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s just another way of letting God rule in our lives, to bring Him glory. And that is the reason we exist.