The Bible tells us that discipline is the way that God as a loving heavenly father challenges and corrects us to help us grow in him.
“For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6).
The apostle Paul talks about the need for self discipline as we seek to grow He likens it to an athlete preparing to compete.
“24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Here are some of the ways that we experience discipline in our lives
The Discipline of Circumstances
Life circumstances constrain us causing us to think carefully and prayerfully about decisions and making us rely more and more on God. This happens corporately. Sometimes as a church we find that we are constrained. In 2012, we found that our building was getting too small but we also knew that we did not have lots of money to spend on a re-build. We were constrained to think about our purpose for existing leading to a greater missional intentionality as we began to plant congregations.
In our individual lives, the constraints of work, health, age, family life etc should cause us to prioritise carefully. This means that we should learn to appreciate our work even when it seems humdrum and at first glance pointless -it is acting as a discipling pushing us towards routine. We can learn to love the process of getting older and adapting to changes in our physical sharpness. I remember playing 5 aside with some of our young people when an older guy turned up. He was in his 70s but he played us off the pitch (mind you it turned out he used to play professionally). You see he had learnt to adapt, he probably could not run as quickly as some of us but he had disciplined himself to read the game well and to keep control of the ball. He was disciplined. As we get older, we may find that we have to adjust and that may mean a greater dependence on and a prioritisation of prayer and Bible study.
The Discipline of suffering
This is one of the specific aspects of circumstances. Suffering can be caused through illness, tragedy or intentional persecution. Indeed, Paul told Timothy that anyone wishing to live a godly life would face persecution.
This means that when I face trials, I know that God uses them for my good. He uses them to refine me. I am challenged: “Will I trust God or not?”
We will want to get alongside other believers and through our own experience of being comforted in our suffering to comfort them in their suffering.
I know that suffering is not about condemnation and is not there to crush and destroy me. This means we can go through pain, illness, loss and bereavement with hope.
The Discipline of plural leadership
This is specific to church leaders but I guess can apply wider when we think about the way that whole body ministry works.
Plural leadership means that I am accountable to others. It challenges my base human desire to be in control, to be my own boss, to do what I want. Plural leadership mans that I cannot rush into things. I learn to be patient and humble. I learn that not always getting my own way is a good thing. I leanr that I have to give reasons, to argue to persuade. I learn to listen.
The Discipline of body ministry
This puts the last point into the wider context of church life. We are all meant to be accountable to one another. We spur one another on to holiness. We encourage and exhort. We challenge and correct. A disciplined life is not for loners but rather is a communal life together.
The Discipline of God’s Word
Most importantly, it is through God’s Word being proclaimed and preached, read and studied that I experience God’s discipline. It is hear that he convicts and rebukes me. It is here that he teaches me. It is here that he calls me to follow him more closely.