by Elliot Hoeks, Resonate Cheney staff
In an earlier blog titled BEING A DISCIPLE MEANS BEING DISCIPLINED we discussed what the Bible has to say about discipline. It is clear that as followers of Jesus we should be a people marked by discipline.
The question now is, what’s next? What steps should I take to become more disciplined? The goal of this post is to give you some practical, actionable steps to take in your journey to becoming more disciplined.
1. Confess where you lack discipline.
When you think “I need to be more disciplined,” what areas of your life come to mind? Spend some time considering this question and write your answer down. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how he would like you to grow in discipline. Once you have completed that list, spend time confessing those things in prayer.
Consider also if there is anyone in your life who your lack of discipline has hurt, and repent to them as well. If you cannot identify anyone in particular, repent to those who disciple you (e.g. Small Group, Close Friends, Pastor). James 5:16 (ESV) tells us to “confess [our] sins to one another and pray for one another.” As we confess and repent to one another the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts.
If you need help getting started, here are some common areas we lack discipline in our culture:
Getting up on time
Consistent time reading the Bible and in Prayer
Honoring others in how you communicate
Following through with commitments (let your yes be yes, Matthew 5:37)
Keeping ourselves from Gossip
Making plans for the future (Not urgent, Important)
Caring for the needs of others
Giving of our time, talents, and money
2. Ask for the Holy Spirit to produce discipline in you.
Remember that discipline (or self-control) is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). This means that it is a gift of God that the Holy Spirit produces in you. If you are a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in you and wants to produce discipline (and much more!) in your life. You are incapable of being the disciplined person that God has called you to be on your own. But by the power of the Holy Spirit you can be.
Jesus told us to “ask, and it will be given to you,” (Matthew 7:7) because we have a good Father who wants to give us good gifts (Matthew 7:10). Surely God wants you to have the good gift of discipline, so ask for it!
3. Start by doing something; don’t try to do everything.
When working on personal discipline, it’s tempting to make a lot of changes all at once. We convince ourselves this is the most effective way to bring about change, but in reality that’s too much change to keep up with so we become paralyzed and quit. Start instead with something small and be consistent with it before adding something new. But you must start with something.
I love the phrase “practice discipline” because it reminds me to treat discipline like a sport. You must practice in order to get better. If you don’t know how to swim, you wouldn’t just jump in the deep end and hope everything works out. That’s a recipe for disaster. You would first get in the shallow end and practice floating, paddling, and learn what it feels like to put your face in the water. In the same way, to excel in discipline we should start small, and then practice, practice, practice.
To put it bluntly, don’t completely overhaul your schedule all at once. “I am going to get up at 6:00 am, never eat dairy or gluten again, pray for 60 minutes a night, exercise 5 times a week and read 15 chapters of the Bible daily.” If you try to start all of this at once you will discourage yourself because you will fail. Start with one thing. (Example: I am going to pray for 5 minutes while I eat breakfast.) Add things as your grow in your ability to be more disciplined.
TIP: A huge part of discipline is our habits. Good habits can help lead us to greater discipline. Bad habits can keep us from it. When good habits are built, and bad ones are destroyed, it will help us to grow in discipline. We should consider our habits and how they contribute to our discipline. When you want to quit a bad habit you should increase friction to keep you from doing that thing. (Example: Move social media apps to a folder on the last page of your phone. Better yet, just delete them.) When you want to start a new habit, you should decrease friction to make it easier for you to do that thing. (Example: Put the Bible app on the first page of your phone, in the bottom-right spot, so it is easiest to open.)
4. Get your community involved.
We already talked about confessing to your community. This produces a heart-level change. Another way that our community can help us grow in discipline is through encouraging one another and bearing each others’ burdens (Proverbs 27:17, Galatians 6:2). Practically this plays itself out in accountability.
Communicate your discipline goals to those in your community and invite them to join you, or support you in them. For example, maybe you are going to start with getting up by 7:00 am every morning. There is someone in your community that loves mornings naturally and is up by 6:00 am every morning. Ask them to call you at 7:00 am. Better yet, commit to meeting to read the Bible together at 7:00 am a few times a week.
5. Stop letting the lie of perfection keep you from trying.
Failure often makes you want to quit. Many of us set lofty goals that are nearly impossible, and then when we don’t achieve them perfectly we quit entirely. Remember that New Year’s resolution you made to work out every single day this year? You got seven days in, and then something came up and you didn’t do it that day, so you quit entirely.
The same thing can happen when we practice discipline. We feel convicted by all of the ways we haven’t been disciplined so we make a bunch of changes. It works for a while, but seasons change, things come up, and we fail. In this moment you have a choice. You can quit trying because you believe the lie that if you can’t do it all you shouldn’t do it at all. Or you can walk in the free gift of grace through Jesus and get back in the game. Don’t let shame keep you from a life of growing in discipline.
Nobody can be perfect. We will all fail. We are all weak. And that includes our abilities to be disciplined. Instead of letting failure keep you from trying, let failure remind you of your need for Jesus, and turn to him for forgiveness and strength, for Jesus power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
1 Corinthians 9:25-27 (ESV) - “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”