Pursuit Of Self-Discipline
Currently I am planting a church in NW Arkansas. This is not my first rodeo in ministry or in life. I am a little older than most church planters (47) and I have 17 years of ministry experience prior to planting. Add to that almost 12 years as an Army National Guard chaplain with a trip to Iraq and a few years on active duty as a chaplain trainer, and you may conclude that I am a person with great self-discipline.
Well, guess what? I would have thought the same thing until the Lord called me to plant a church. Never had pride, unbelief, and fear been so evident than when we began to plant. And these are sins and shortcomings that I knew were there in one way or another. When those particular sins raised their heads it was no surprise to me, or anyone else. But when God convicted me of a lack of self-discipline, that just couldn’t be true. I had for years pulled double duty as pastor/seminary student, soldier/civilian – always having to live in both worlds. I had done that and done it relatively well.
That is until I had nowhere to go and nothing to prove. I was in the middle of a transfer with the military and had no office to “report” to in the morning. I finally had the chance to find my own office, my own start time and be free! But it was soon evident I was no good with freedom. I would get into a routine and then life would happen. Frustrating times where there was no routine and no accountability. Depression has come, times of sadness, despair, and wondering. Why couldn’t I, veteran pastor and soldier, get my act together?
Well, it was simple: I have never had my act together. My discipline was solely the work of allowing the expectation of others to regiment my schedule. From getting up to go to school, then getting up to go to work in the factory or the shop, it was all because I had to. Even in the church, it was expected that I go here and there and sadly I did those things because they were, well, expected of me. It was not that my heart was not “in” work, it was that I was merely letting life be my oarless raft guiding me on my journey.
So how do I fetch my oars and start disciplining myself and therefore ordering my life on my own?
1. Know that self-discipline is a spiritual gift
The first thing we must realize is that we cannot pursue self-discipline on our own. Self-discipline is a gift from God (Gal 5:23). To pursue self-discipline we must first know that it is due to our being reconciled to God that we can have it. God gives us the ability to be under control and disciplined because he is now in control. The Holy Spirit now guides us as opposed to our pre-redeemed state of being controlled by “the prince and power of the air” (Eph 2:2). Our self-discipline is directly linked to our rescue. We can now be “in control” because of the Spirit indwelling us.
2. Self-Discipline is grace empowered
While we do have the gift and it is in our possession, the ability to act on that gift is also a gift of grace. 1 Corinthians 15:10 shares with us that any work in or through us is empowered by God’s grace. Now that takes the pressure off! I cannot sustain self-discipline on my own, but God can. It is only by grace that we are in Christ and only in Christ can we bear any fruit (John 15:5), including the fruit which comes from self-discipline.
3. Self-Discipline must be practiced
Now that the foundation of self-discipline has been laid we know must practice it. For the grace empowered believer we must now pursue and nurture the gifts that have been given to us (2 Peter 5:6). 1 Timothy 4:6-10 informs us of the training, striving and toil that is needed as we pursue grace-empowered self-discipline so that we can glorify God in our bodies
(1 Cor 6:20).
4. Self-Discipline must have a gospel focus
To sustain self-discipline through the different stages of life there has to be a reason that encourages us. What better reason than that Christ died for my sins? (1 Cor 15) The gospel is the fuel for our sustainment in any endeavor. The good news of the gospel is what cuts through all the circumstances and trials of life, reminding us of the hope we have. It is that hope, the already but not yet, that illuminates and strengthens our journey through life.
The truth that I am not self-disciplined was a tough pill to swallow. However, God in his grace has revealed his truth through Scripture that I can be. I can be self-disciplined in a manner that transcends man’s expectations for me. And that manner is by being reminded of who I am in Christ and the implications of that in my day to day life.
Bill is a sinner saved by grace, husband to Jennilee, dad to 6, pastor/planter of Sovereign Grace Church of NW Arkansas and US Army Reserve Chaplain.