Spiritual discipline

Discipline is one of those uncomfortable words that most people shy away from, but a few years ago this word gained a whole lot more respect and appreciation from me.  Donald O. Clifton, the father of Strengths-Based Psychology and the grandfather of Positive Psychology, developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder, Gallup’s online psychological assessment.  He put out 35 themes, each characterising a different kind of strength in human behaviour.  One such theme is the strength called discipline.  Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?  It talks about a person’s natural wiring to need things structured.  A person with this strength has a natural pull towards timelines and deadlines and has a deep appreciation for precision.  In the detailed explanation of this strength it says, “your world needs to be predictable. It needs to be ordered and planned”.  That doesn’t sound too painful now, does it?

Most people will see discipline as a very negative thing.  They mostly confuse it with punishment.  Punishment is simply the result of when you did something that was unlawful and you receive negative consequences for it.  Merriam-Webster defines it as “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution”.   This is vastly different from discipline, although discipline might in certain occasions include some punishment.  Discipline is mostly an act of love.  The Message Bible says it well in Hebrews 12:6, “It's the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.”

Punishment by itself is a negative thing.  Discipline however, though it might be painful and unpleasant, is positive and encouraging.  We need to understand that discipline is a necessary part of life for those who want to grow in maturity.  God knows this better than anyone, and therefore disciplines the children He loves.  In other words, He teaches us boundaries, proper behaviour and order.

According to the definition of the Strengthsfinder assessment, disciplining someone will help them to order their lives better.  Having completed the online assessment, my wife turned out to have this signature theme as one of her strengths.  I could have told you that without her taking the test.  By just looking at the way she is disciplined in her health has made me thank God over and over for giving me a wife with this particular wiring.  

In strong contrast, my natural wiring is to fly by the seat of my pants.  I am much more of a free spirited person than my wife.  When I was in my early twenties I remember asking a good friend in our church in a joking fashion why he was so overweight.  He emphatically told me that by the time I would be 35, I would also look like that because according to him, it is absolutely unavoidable.  I have to admit, that nearly happened to me.

Having spent so much time in church all my life, I can confidently say that church parties often present the most unhealthy food choices.  The amount of sugar and fat presented on the average church’s hosting table will blow your heart out, but make you die with a smile on your face. I have to say, I used to love those foods.  Yes, I used to relate well with these choices but over the years I gradually came to a healthier revelation on the topic of food.   But, like all things, our behaviour is determined by our internal motivation.  

When I was younger, my motivation was not to look after my body.  I had not developed that internal discipline yet.  My one and only motivation was the immediate pleasure I had in front of me. This in itself is the main reason why so many people do not want to embrace discipline.  Discipline very seldom brings an immediate satisfaction or pleasure.  This is the main difference between those who desire maturity and those who give up on it.  Immature people live for the moment and their immediate desires.  Their prayers usually revolve around asking God to meet their immediate needs.  Sacrifice is not a word or attitude easily embraced by the immature.  When an individual lives a life that stretches wider than their own desires and temptations, they will sacrifice for the sake of a long term, bigger goal.  Their prayers are usually determined by the needs of God’s Kingdom.  To live like this takes a pretty mature character.

In the case of people like me who are not naturally wired to be so disciplined, I would like to suggest partnering with someone else with that strength.  I am not very disciplined in the area of health, but I am fairly fit and healthy because I have allowed my wife to look after me in that area.  She makes sure I get to the gym and eat right.  I have no problem to admit this, even if it might make me sound like a weak person.  The reality is, I am healthy because I am embracing someone else's discipline.  So if you want to say I am weak for allowing my wife to influence this part of my life, please remember to call me weak and healthy.

The main idea here is to recognise the value which discipline brings into our lives.  Discipline is very painful when you do not want to be disciplined.  When an athlete builds discipline into a training routine, determination will be the result and fruit will follow, no doubt.  When discipline is properly embraced, no matter how difficult it is, it will eventually make life easier.  Sooner or later you will develop trust in your coach that will replace the initial frustration and anger you felt.  The ultimate purpose of discipline is to build trust.

God desires to father us into a deep relationship with Him.  Trust will serve as the solid foundation.