1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV) – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
In continuing to look at what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about running a race in such a way so as to obtain the prize, we recollect that last month we looked at running with perseverance. Today we’re going to look at running with discipline.
There are three main types of discipline – preventive, supportive, and corrective. Preventive discipline is all about focusing on that which is most important, so that we don’t get off track and so that we can run our best. Supportive discipline can be either internal or external, and is that which helps us to gain self-control and get back on track. Corrective discipline is the painful kind, which involves dealing directly with a problem or situation.
My first observation is that the more diligently we apply preventive discipline, the less of the other two we’ll need. Similarly, the more diligently we apply supportive discipline, the less corrective discipline we’ll need. I think we can all agree that corrective discipline is painful and undesirable in most cases!
Preventive discipline requires that we focus on that which is most important. Certainly we must fix our eyes on Jesus first and foremost. But the Bible also instructs us to watch over our hearts, to make plans, to gain wisdom for our ways, and to attend to the condition of those whom and that which God has entrusted into our care.
Proverbs 4:23 (NASB) – “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
Proverbs 21:5 (ESV) – “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”
Proverbs 5:21-23 (ESV) – “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.”
Proverbs 27:23-27 (The Message) – “Know your sheep by name; carefully attend to your flocks; (Don’t take them for granted; possessions don’t last forever, you know.) And then, when the crops are in and the harvest is stored in the barns, you can knit sweaters from lambs’ wool, and sell your goats for a profit; there will be plenty of milk and meat to last your family through the winter.”
What is God inviting you to focus on today? Is there some aspect of His character that He wants you to remember? Is there something troubling your heart that you could give over to Him? Is there a plan of action that needs to be thought out and set in motion? Do you have a need for wisdom in a particular area of your life? Who do you need to most carefully attend to in this season?
Supportive discipline helps us to gain self-control and get us back on track. And self-control, although a fruit of the Spirit, needs to be practiced, just as patience and love and goodness and all the others need to be practiced. It’s not doing the great things, globally-reaching projects, or grand schemes, that brings about the blessing of God. It’s in the myriad of small things done in great love. As Mother Teresa famously said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Again and again and again. That has become my rule of life in recent years. It’s simple and it’s sustainable. What task is God inviting you to do join Him in today? Do it with great love. And then do the next task with great love. Be excellent over the long haul. Be steady and stick with it. Our job is to be diligent where we are and with what we have. God is present with us, whether we’re doing what we consider sacred or doing what we consider mundane.
Perry Engle, a Brethren bishop, blogged this: “Nicolas Herman was a French veteran of the Thirty Years’ War. After being injured in the war, he ended up in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. He didn’t have the necessary education to become a cleric, and so he resigned himself to being a lay brother. He spent most of his years at the monastery washing dishes and repairing sandals. Once there, Nicolas took the lofty religious name of ‘Lawrence of the Resurrection.’ People who knew him simply called him Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence wrote about the spirituality of everyday tasks. His little book, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God,’ is a collection of his writings compiled after he died in relative obscurity in 1691. In his reflections, this man who never attained the position of pastor or priest told of experiencing the presence of God in tasks as mundane as washing dishes. One of his most famous sayings refers to time spent in his kitchen: ‘The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.’”
We don’t know what God will do next. We do know that He asks us to be faithful where we’re at.
Ecclesiastes 11:6 (ESV) – “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”
Proverbs 10:4, 22 (ESV) – “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich . . . The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.”
Proverbs 13:11 (ESV) – “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”
Proverbs 13:4 (ESV) – “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”
Proverbs 12:24 (NLT) – “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.”
Proverbs 12:27 (ESV) – “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.”
Proverbs 12:24, 27 (The Message) – “The diligent find freedom in their work; the lazy are oppressed by work . . . A lazy life is an empty life, but “early to rise” gets the job done.”
In what area is God inviting you to practice self-control? What would help you to get back on track?
Corrective discipline involves dealing directly with a problem or situation. We can trust God when He disciplines us because He is perfectly just and perfectly loving. His discipline always flows out of His love for us. Because none of us has been consistently disciplined with perfect love and justice, we tend to have a hard time with this kind of discipline. For this reason, God has given us lots of assurances.
Revelation 3:19 (NLT) – “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.”
Proverbs 12:1 (NIV) – “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT) – “My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”
Let’s run with discipline. This will not happen through inactivity, the passage of time, or chance.
Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV) – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
It takes work, but it’s worth it, because we’re working for God. And He loves us – perfectly, completely, without limit. Let’s encourage one another to work with all our hearts at the tasks before us. We have been given the greatest privilege in the world, to make disciples of the young ones God has entrusted to us.
Hebrews 12:1-13 (The Message) – “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.
So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!”