I’m not the most healthy or disciplined guy. Those who know me are not surprised by that statement. My fiancé Jamie (that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that. So cool.) has been encouraging me to do better in that department. The girl has this well-oiled evening routine every night as she gets ready for bed. I just watch TV or read until I can’t stay awake and just conk out. I do run from time to time, and I’m making progress (albeit very slow) towards eating better than I used to. Jamie encourages me to cook my own meals instead of purchasing fast food or something like that.
When I’ve followed her advice, I have felt so much better. There’s something about cooking your own meal and going for a run that relieves stress and makes you feel better about your life. There’s something far more restful about going to sleep devoid of screens and distractions, instead thinking about the Lord and what He has been doing.
There is benefit to discipline. There is usefulness to exercise, eating healthy, a bedtime routine, and periods of screen-less time. But there is a type of discipline that is even greater, a type of discipline that yields even greater rewards. Look with me at a passage from 1 Timothy.
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. – 1 Timothy 4:8-10
Rewind to my time at OBU, and this is a topic I taught on at OBU’s Men’s Ministry. Now, I definitely did teach it with my heart in the right place, but there was an aspect of me that felt like I had it made in this department of my life already. I took this passage to the extreme and felt that as long as I was studying the Bible and learning more about His Word, then I was a disciplined man. I was wrong on two accounts.
First, Paul tells Timothy that physical training does indeed have value. I knew I needed to eat better and exercise more, but I traded those things in for Bible study and the like. I neglected physical discipline. I neglected fighting the sin of slothfulness. I neglected fighting the sins of gluttony and laziness. I’m not saying that not exercising or not eating healthy is explicitly sinful. Rather, I’m saying that for me those were a neglect of God’s gift of my life and health.
The second way I was wrong about my state of self-discipline is in the fact that my spiritual health was focused on one thing: the study of Scripture. To this day my favorite thing to do is to study God’s Word via commentaries, books on theology, Bible studies, or podcasts. That being said however, I have noticed recently how unhealthy my spiritual life has become due to that fact. Now I’m not a big weightlifter, but if you work just one type of muscle every single day you’re in the gym, neglecting the other muscle types, you’re going to likely be a bit unhealthy. And you’ll likely look really weird too.
The same goes for me in my walk with God. I’m prone to dive into studying Scripture, but if I’m not worshipping, praying, fasting, communing with others, or serving, I’m going to be one unhealthy Christian. My mind will be full of great truth, Biblical knowledge, deep understanding of Scripture, but I won’t know how to commune with God or others. That’s deeply problematic. I need every discipline to have a healthy spiritual life, a healthy walk with God, and a healthy walk with my church community.
I was wrong back then about my discipline.
I am not naive to my areas of spiritual malnourishment in the present day either.
I want to focus on one more aspect of this passage.
Paul describes this process with the language of laboring and striving. It takes effort. It takes dedication. This is true of any discipline. That’s why I’ve never actually made it to a half-marathon. At least once a year I fall short in this goal and this desire because I’m just simply not dedicated enough to keep getting up in the morning to run before work. It takes more effort to make food at home then to pick up some Chick-Fil-A. It takes more effort to follow an evening routing and put up our phones rather than just watch TV till our eyes born.
Effort. Laboring. Striving.
The same is true of our spiritual discipline. Here’s where it gets super cool to me though. Paul says that we labor and strive because we have put our hope in the Savior of our souls.
For me, partaking in spiritual disciplines reminds me that I don’t have the strength to do that very thing without the grace of God at work in my life. Every time I spend time studying God’s Word, or in prayer, or in church community, or in rest, I am reminded of God’s grace and I give thanks that God would lead me closer to Himself. The only way I’m able to labor and strive after Jesus is because Jesus has given me the grace to labor and strive.
I’ll close with this great quote by Richard Foster.
A spiritual discipline is an intentionally directed action which places us in a position to receive from God the power to do what we cannot accomplish on our own.
It takes effort to be healthy, active, and properly nourished physically.
It takes effort to chase after Christ through the practice of spiritual disciplines. But it is worth it.
What are some of the reasons you grow undisciplined spiritually?
What spiritual discipline do you need to focus more on this week, and what can you do practically to grow in it?
Labor and strive, secure in the hope of Jesus.
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In His Name,