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Four Areas of Christian Discipline
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Saturday, 13 December 2008 00:00

Discipline is a dirty word in today's shallow, selfish society. Nevertheless, for a Christian, discipline is an inseparable aspect of who we are. In fact, the entire word "Christian" is simply another word for "disciple" (Acts 11:26 ), and disciple is simply a branch form of the root word "discipline". So discipline and being a disciple (or Christian) go hand in hand. To be a Christian, you must be disciplined. But the question is how, and in what ways? There are tons of different disciplines practiced throughout the world, throughout history, reflecting the values of the various religions, races, and cultures that have made up society. Many of these disciplines are good, but they are not all equal in value and importance. This article outlines four different areas of discipline for Christians that should help to make one's walk with Christ more fruitful and effective, in every aspect of one's life.

Spiritual Discipline

For Christians, though there is more to life than "spirituality", there isn't much more! Without the proper relationship with God, everything else that we have or do is quintessentially meaningless, ultimately. So in prioritizing how to discipline our lives to make us more effective for God, we have to start with the spiritual stuff. That's just "keeping it real". And so that is what we will do here in this study. :)

In the 6th chapter of Matthew, Jesus cites three different things that we can do to deepen our relationship with God. These three things are praying (speaking/seeking to listen to God alone), fasting (missing meals), and giving to the poor (or acts of charity -- pay special attention to the fact that all three of these acts are supposed to be done secretly). We as Christians need to discipline ourselves to CONTINUALLY do these things, if we are to stay in touch with God. If we slack off in any one of these areas (i.e. praying, fasting, or giving to the poor), our spiritual livelihood will suffer as a result. The choice, initiative, and wherewithal lies entirely with us, and is the truest testament of our personal faith and sincerity (or lack thereof). Critically examining our progress in this secret area of personal discipline will help to ensure that we maintain that vital link with God, which only God and we can ever truly have the full story on.

Other additional disciplines that can greatly strengthen our spiritual walk include things like reading the Bible, or other inspirational writings (e.g. the articles under the "Teaching" section of this website), and even things like confessing things that we have done wrong recently to other people... though that somewhat coincides with the next area of Christian discipline that I will be covering in this article. Nevertheless, if we are faithful about keeping up with any and all of these little spiritual disciplines, then we can be confident that the resulting fruit in our lives will be positive, equipping us to "fight the good fight of faith", for Jesus. (1 Timothy 6:12 ) A few good questions to ask ourselves from time to time include ones such as: How many meals have I missed in the past week? How much time did I spend in private prayer with God? How much money, or in what way, did I give to help the poor? Obviously, these are just guideline questions; but the important thing is to try to keep account (which is the root word for "accountability", I might add). This is the first step to true spiritual growth.

Social/Inter-personal Discipline

The second area of Christian discipline that I would like to address deals with how we relate to other people, being chiefly interpersonal in nature. God is Love, and while the giving and receiving of this love may start with just God and us, it must soon be passed on to others, if it is to remain in our lives. Below I will share a few practical disciplines for the goal of helping us to better love and relate to other people.

The first discipline I would like to write about has to do with service. So contrary to what society would have us believe, the true position and place that we should be striving to obtain (for any true Christian, that is), is that of a servant, and even slave! (John 20:24 ) Voluntary slavery really should be the chief ambition of every follower of Jesus; but where in the world do you hear anyone preaching that?! The truth is that we are all so focused on the ultimately selfish, "cuddly" aspects of relationships (e.g. emotional experiences, sentimentalism, etc.) that we fail to realize that the most practical way to express love for others (according to Jesus) is simply to serve others, in love. (John 13:12-17 )

But there is more to love than just service. Jesus gave us several commands to help us love more effectively, the spirit of which is extremely important for us to internalize as Christians. One such discipline is the practice of giving TWICE as much as we are asked, when we are asked for help. (Matthew 5:40-42 ) It is so easy to want to give the minimum, whereas true love goes above and beyond the call of duty. (Luke 24:28 )

Anyway, giving and serving aside, another practical discipline that is important for us to practice as Christians, would be the practice of sharing deeply with others about what is really going on deep inside of our hearts. Opening up to at least one other person in this fashion, regularly, can work wonders for both our spiritual and emotional health, and is also one of the greatest combatants to the feelings of loneliness that often challenges individuals trying to live single lives for Christ (that is a different topic in itself). But single or not, the point is that we need to share deeply with other people, both for our own benefit, as well as for the benefit of the person with whom we share the experience. When this type of sharing includes confessions of faults, the Bible testifies that healing of some sort is bound to come from it. (James 5:16 )

All of the disciplines mentioned here should lead to positive fruit in our relationships with other people, if they are practiced faithfully. To help you measure your progress, you might want to ask yourself such questions as: How and in what ways have I served others this past week? When asked for something, did I give more than what was requested, just what was requested, or did I not give anything at all? How many people did I share deeply and meaningfully with over the past week, and how many faults (because we all have them!) did I confess, so that I and the other person might be healed? Persistence with asking ourselves such questions should serve as a source of motivation to stay faithful with our own chosen inter-personal disciplines. The result should be better relationships with all that we come into contact with.

Physical Discipline

While our relationship with God and with others should be our highest priorities as far as focus, problems arise if we consistently neglect our own physical needs. It is important to make time and effort to care for/sustain the temple that God has given to us in order to house our spirit (i.e. our bodies). Below are a few practical disciplines to help us with that goal in mind.

Paul writes in the New Testament that bodily exercise profits little, while godliness is profitable for all things. (1 Timothy 4:8 ) "Churchies" hoping to find an excuse not to exercise love to quote the verse, when in fact the verse still says that bodily exercise is profitable! So ha! No loop-hole for laziness from Paul!

Anyway, as a community, our most popular form of exercise would have to be running/walking. Each week, all healthy and able-bodied members go on a timed two-mile "phantom" race, which is a kind of competition of sorts, scaled using a handicap system. The competition is just a fun way to encourage and inspire each other to maintain/further develop one's physical fitness. (Some also see the exercise as a sort of spiritual experience.) By measuring and comparing our results, further progress can be achieved. A side benefit to choosing running/walking as one's primary method of exercise, is that it can be done virtually anywhere, and for free! Depending upon the intensity and frequency which one runs, remarkable results can become a reality in minimal time. But of course, running is not the only way to keep physically fit.

Besides running, several members of our community enjoy doing other exercises, such as push-ups, as a way of keeping in shape. Obviously, apart from contributing to one's aesthetic endowment, an exercise like push-ups serves a practical use in the form of making pushing and pulling easier. But other popular forms of exercise include swimming, biking, and hiking. The activity chosen is not so important, while progress and improvement within that activity is. We are usually most inspired when we are doing what we enjoy, so don't forget to take that into consideration when choosing which physical activity you would like to make your primary focus. Just remember to chart your progress, so that you can see where you are improving (or regressing). Also, particularly relevant for older people is the need to (generally) accept the reality that looking after your health may also involve being realistic about how much to expect, and learning to accept that you will be getting, in some ways, worse and worse each day. But you can still slow down the deterioration through sensible exercise.

Apart from exercise, there are a few other aspects of our health and well-being, which need to be taken into consideration, as well. One example would be the area of nutrition. While it is good to be "poor in spirit" with regard to what we eat, it is also important to exercise wisdom and self-discipline as far as what we choose to eat, while we have the luxury of choice. Simply going for what is easiest, or for what most greatly appeals to our "flesh", may bring us temporary pleasures in the short-term, but is sure to undermine our Christian service in the long-term, if left unchecked. Self-discipline in the area of nutrition is one of the easiest ways to ensure our long-term usability for the kingdom.

Finally, it is important that we keep adequately groomed/clean, and maintain sufficient amounts of rest and recuperation. Regular showers, regular sleeping hours, and regular changing/washing of clothes may seem simple and basic at a glance, and yet they can easily be neglected, if one is not diligent. Don't let this happen to you!

To sum up, stay fit with regular exercise, keeping in mind that we do most enthusiastically and effectively what we enjoy. The more measurable the form of exercise, the better, as far as charting progress goes. Also, don't underestimate the importance of consistency. Keep in mind the long-term while contemplating short-term nutritional choices, and stay faithful with regard to cleanliness and hygiene. Don't be afraid to regularly ask yourself such questions as: How much exercise did I get last week? How does that compare with the previous week (i.e. have I made any progress)? Have I been mainly motivated by my "carnal desires" in choosing what to eat, or have I made such choices (assuming you do have the luxury of choice) on the basis of what will most effectively (and affordably!) contribute to my long-term physical health? Have I been maintaining regular sleeping hours, and/or taking care to stay properly cleaned/groomed? Such questions should help to inspire us to be more disciplined with regard to our physical health, which should carry over into every other area of our lives. Splendid!

Mental Discipline

Lastly, we come to address the final area of discipline for this article, which is mental discipline. We are commanded by Jesus to love God with all of our mind, in addition to all of our "heart", "soul", and "strength"; so that means no room for neglecting our mental abilities, if we are to truly serve God to the best of our ability! Below are a few practical disciplines to help progress along those lines.

Within our community, one of the favorite (and most competitive!) forms of mental discipline would have to be chess. Like with running mentioned earlier, members play on a handicap system, meaning that both participants have an equal chance of winning at the beginning (regardless as to whether or not one is actually "better" than the other). We have found chess to be an excellent method of strengthening one's mental faculties (with the competitive aspect perhaps being a key reason!). But, of course, chess is not the only form of mental discipline available to those seeking to improve.

In addition to chess, several members enjoy playing games like sudoku, or other brain-teasers, as a way of improving mentally. The game of choice is not so important, while intensity and focus are (at least in terms of progress and improvement, that is). Pick one that most appeals to you, and then stick with it, charting your progress as you go along. Timing yourself is an additional discipline that can be helpful for furthering one's progress and development in this area.

To sum up, loving God with all of one's "mind", is right up there with the command to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength. No matter what that may mean in practical terms, the bottom line is that we can not afford to turn our brains off, if we are to be fully functioning Christians. Take time to improve your mental discipline, and you will be of better service to the kingdom as a result. Don't forget to chart your progress, and watch yourself improve! Also, don't forget that the greatest area of mental development just has to do with learning new skills, mostly through reading, but also through experience. Like a recent study on near death experiences has revealed, learning (apart from loving) seems to be the primary reason why we are created.

Finally wherever possible seek to practice disciplines that combine more than one of the four areas mentioned above. For example, reading one of the prophetic books of the Bible (e.g. the book of "Daniel" in the Old Testament) is a spiritual discipline, at the same time that it can be extremely challenging mentally, thus making it a mental discipline as well. If you rotate disciplines, then you can be using different parts of your body, mind and spirit in a continual and sustainable way. Getting a good balance and being consistent with our chosen disciplines will help us to persevere in the long run in our spiritual walk.

Good luck!
 
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