The Other Side of Discipline

We treat the word discipline like a four-letter word. Unless, of course we are the ones applying the discipline to others. Then, we get it. But when it comes to receiving discipline, our reaction is always a bit of a cringe. A brace for impact.

Scripture talks about how the Lord ‘disciplines those He loves’ (Proverbs 3:12). But, come on. It isn’t fun. We know discipline is necessary. But it hurts. A father needs to discipline His children; it is how they learn. But we don’t like it. We avoid it. Obviously, the best way to avoid it is to do right. But even when that fails, we resort to lesser methods – lying, hiding, etc.

When I picked up Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline, I rolled my eyes at the title. I thought it was going to be something like ‘we should be delighted by the pain of the Lord’s discipline’, which seems a bit of a stretch. I mean, I know it is good for me, but celebrating it feels like a big ask.

As I read the book, it was quickly apparent that Foster isn’t talking about that kind of discipline. He is talking about The Disciplines – prayer, Scripture reading, confession, etc.

My confusion about discipline made me realize that, mostly subconsciously, we think of The Disciplines the same way we think of discipline itself. Negative. Punishment. Painful.

This is why we spend so much of our life avoiding the hard work of what we know we should be doing. Perseverance. Sacrifice. The disciplines necessary to live the life we want feel like punishment. The grind of intentional living feels negative rather than positive.

It is interesting that prayer and Scripture reading are known as disciplines, the same word we use for correcting. Perhaps it is because we have a choice. Perhaps life takes work and we can either do that on the front end or the back end. We can own The Disciplines and set our life on course or we can make the errors and wait for the painful consequence of discipline as a result. Discipline can either be intentional living or correction.

Most of my life, I have been so afraid of discipline that I allow myself to run off course. Ironically, it takes an external discipline to pull me back on track.

Maybe one of the reasons we are waiting for the easy way out is because we are afraid of the sacrifice of discipline. We are nervous to commit, worried of the cost of what we are leaving behind. To live the life we were made to is not all natural, at least not in the sense we often think of it. We mistakenly think the entire road should just come to us. But that is not how life is designed, not how we are made.

We are made for discipline. The sooner we understand that, the better off we will be. The choice is ours – discipline through intentional living or discipline through the irritated rash that comes from rubbing against what life is really all about.

After reading Foster’s book, I was inspired to look for and find joy in The Disciplines. To look at the boundary lines of discipline as freeing rather than confining. I saw a movie recently where King Arthur says, ‘there are laws that bind men and laws that set them free.’ I’ve spent so much time afraid of the former that I avoid the latter.

Discipline is the key to freedom. It is the key to peace, to joy, to love. We cannot realize a vision, a dream, a goal, without naming it and meticulously marching the narrow road that leads to its actualization. When we divert from our journey it is, more often, not because we don’t believe in our vision but because we do not want to be hemmed in by the discipline. But as we run from it, we find it in a harsher form. In order to grow, we must discover a vision we are willing to commit to. And discipline is the practical face of our commitment.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

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