In the Christian life how we finish is more important than how we start. Like an athlete who has never done any training, many come out of the blocks of conversion at amazing speed, but after a short while drop out of the race with exhaustion. In order to avoid this we need to train.
Sometimes believers never get into a training mentality because of an erroneous idea that the Holy Spirit should do what is actually their job! The Spirit does help us, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to be passive. We do need to have a training mentality – there is work, disciplines, practices we need to do, in co-operation with the Holy Spirit, that will get us spiritually fit and help us grow in character.
Unfortunately, the word “Discipline” often has negative connotations, but this should not be the case. Discipline is the foundation of success. If you want to play a tune, you need to learn the scales. If you want to win a race, you’ve got to get the training miles in. If you want to pass exams, you have to do some study. Discipline increases our effectiveness and stamina.
Discipline is actually the path to freedom.
Often I have stood on a beach and watched windsurfers fly across the water at incredible speed – they look free. On the couple of occasions I have tried windsurfing I have spent almost all my time falling into the water! It takes discipline to learn how not to fall off.
And discipline develops patterns of behaviour – endurance, stamina – that help in every area of life. For example, learning physical discipline (staying fit, not over-eating, etc.) aids mental discipline, and vice versa.
I have a regular 10k run route from my house. This takes me through Chislehurst where I have to run up Old Hill. It is a beast of a hill. Every time I run it I want to stop and walk, but I never do. And the reason I never do? Because I never have! If just once I stopped and walked, I guess that I would always stop and walk. So I have trained myself to run, and it now seems impossible that I will ever stop and walk up Old Hill. This physical discipline also helps me mentally. For example, I have never looked at internet porn. Often I am tempted to – often I would really like to – but because I have never done it, I never do it. I know that if I looked once, I would most likely start looking a lot. Running up a hill and not looking at porn might seem two unrelated things, but the discipline to do them comes from the same place – training.
So what do we need to train?
I do think we should train our bodies. We don’t need to be health and fitness fanatics, but as Paul writes, “there IS some benefit in physical training.” (1 Tim. 4:8) A lack of discipline here always gets reflected in a lack of discipline elsewhere.
We need to train our minds. This probably takes even greater effort than training our bodies; learning to think better is not easy. We are constantly bombarded with nonsense, and our minds can soak it all up uncritically. Instead, we need to train ourselves to think right, we need to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” (Rom. 12:2 John Piper is excellent on this.)
We need to train our emotions. This will be more or less difficult depending on our personality type. Some people are just more naturally emotionally in tune, while others find it difficult to understand their own emotions or the emotions of others. (Here’s a very funny video about this.) We have to be able to listen to our emotions, and the emotions of others; but we mustn’t be ruled by them.
We need to train our ego. Paul never seemed to have an ego problem. In fact, he makes a joke of it, in 2 Cor. 11 & 12 where he boasts about his sufferings. Paul actually had plenty of reason to let his ego go wild, but instead he recognised his weakness and found his strength in Christ.
We also need to train for spiritual development – it is the spiritual disciplines that will get you through life’s hurdles. But rather than me blogging on this, read some Dallas Willard!
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