Not exactly the word anyone wants to receive when praying for God to provide a word to focus on in the coming year, especially when previous “One Words” for the year were such encouraging sounding ones like delight, faithful, and thrive.
I was a bit tempted to brush it aside, say very funny God, so what is the real word? But deep down, I could see how God had already begun challenging me in this area. So instead I asked Him to open my eyes and my heart to what His word says about discipline and how He wanted me to embrace it.
“… because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Proverbs 3:12b
I sort of knew this verse, but I never realized that it connects discipline with delight–in 2017, my word was delight. That word was such a fitting focus this past year as God challenged me to delight in Him at a new level, and to delight in my children and the blessings God has placed in my life rather than always focusing on what I need to accomplish. It was such a soothing reminder that I, as God’s daughter, am His delight. Truthfully, the connotations of discipline and delight seem worlds apart to me, enough that it seems a stretch for these words to follow each other in sequential years, but what more confirmation did I need but a verse that pairs the two!
One of best illustrations of discipline in our world is that of a world-class athlete. Their performance springs partially from natural talent, but that natural talent alone will not take them to the medalist podium. How do they get there? Living a life of discipline that infiltrates their every day, from the actual, daily training to the choices they make in what they eat, how they spend their time, even how they rest and recover their bodies for optimal performance.
I’m fascinated by the idea that the best athletes in our world may perform alone in the spotlight, but a partnership is the foundation of that daily discipline. They each have a coach, a partner of sorts who shares the same purpose—to make them faster, stronger, more precise, to win the gold. The coach provides the plan, gives the athlete performance goals, creates a workout plan and nutritional plan, whatever the athlete needs to be successful. Some of those drills and plans might be uncomfortable to execute, but meeting those goals serves an important purpose, so the coach is also there to provide accountability for the athlete to stick to the plan and stay focused on the goal. To set them back on track when they stray from the plan.
Scripture uses this same athletic analogy. Sometimes overtly weaving in the concept of discipline, other times it is the unspoken foundation.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:24
Train yourself to be godly. 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. 1 Timothy 4: 7b-8
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
Mere verses after this race analogy in Hebrews 12 we read, “but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace by those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:10b-11
We are the athletes. The Holy Spirit is our personal coach—providing the plan, encouraging us to stick to it, keeping us focused on the goal. It’s not all rosy of course, Hebrews 12:11 is pretty blunt about that—no discipline seems pleasant at the time, as every athlete knows. There might be a runner’s high, but there is a lot of discomfort and sometimes pain and always hard work to get to that point.
So I share this One Word for 2018 with a little bit of trepidation… I know that discipline is anything but comfortable. But like an athlete dreaming about landing the medal, I’m also energized with these thoughts:
- I’m not alone—a disciplined life is not just a result of my determination. It’s not solely up to me to muster up the self-discipline to succeed. The Holy Spirit is the coach, pushing me onward. His work in my heart can produce the fruit of self-control.
- Discipline has a purpose. Discipline naturally produces transformation and it accelerates us toward the things God wants to accomplish in our lives. I look at the ways that God is prompting me to focus on discipline this year—how I spend my time, how I care for my body, how I prioritize certain practices—and I can see glimpses of how that will prepare me for the dreams and desires God has planted in my heart.
- Discipline best follows delight. Imagine putting a kid in a pool, never teaching them to play and enjoy the water or to love the feeling of gliding through the water, but immediately forcing them to swim endless laps the moment they can execute a simple stroke. That is discipline without delight. So often a stellar athlete discovers their natural talent in childhood as they engage in an activity that they enjoy. Yes, discipline transforms that play into performance, but I love to see the spark in a competitor’s eye that hints that there in the core, it is still delight that drives them. The focus on discipline this year is not meant to make me regimented and dour, abandoning delight, it will only be truly successful when delight is the foundation.
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7
Wherever this New Year takes you, may it take you closer to God and closer to the purposes He has planned for you. May you run the race He has marked out for you with perseverance, with your eyes fixed on Him. May you be filled with power, love, and yes, self-discipline.