by Major Janet Munn
When you hear
the word “discipline” what comes to mind? Punishment?
Self-denial? Difficulty? Usually the word conjures up negative
feelings of discomfort. One definition of “discipline” is: to
instruct, train, correct.
The word disciple occurs some 269 times in the New
Testament with almost all the references found in the Gospels
and Acts. “Disciple” means “a learner”. It implies that the
person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that
he/she is also in practice an adherent (Practical Word
Studies in the New Testament).
For physical training/discipline 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 4:8
“The disciple is to discipline him/herself in godliness as
much as an Olympic athlete exercises his/her body. How much
energy, effort, time, and dedication do Olympic athletes put
into their training? Their sport is their life—unequivocally
so. So it is with the disciple: godliness is to be our life.
All of our energy, effort, time, and dedication are to be
given over to godliness” (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
We could say of Lance Armstrong, five-time winner of the Tour
De France, “His life is cycling. His life is disciplined
preparation for the Tour De France.” When people think of you,
do they conclude that your life is Jesus Christ? Is your life
all about the disciplines leading to Christlikeness? Lance
Armstrong could not simply hop on his bicycle on the day of a
race and expect to win. First he must have consistently and
intentionally invested in athletic disciplines. As
Christ-followers, we cannot expect to do simply do what Jesus
did. First we must consistently and intentionally invest in
the spiritual disciplines in which Jesus participated. The
spiritual disciplines are a key part to the ability of
believers to live like Christ in the world.
As we consider intentional participation in the spiritual
disciplines, here are some foundational truths about God, His
purposes in our lives and His provision for a victorious
Christian life: 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that God has not
given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and
self-discipline. We have within us, by the Holy
Spirit, the power to discipline ourselves. Peter writes, “His
divine power has given us everything we need for life
and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by
his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3). His power is within
us providing us with more than enough for disciplined living.
And in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that he who
began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until
the day of Christ Jesus.” God is powerfully at work with
and in us to complete the image of Christ in His
We are not alone in the disciplined life! God Himself is
working with us by His indwelling Spirit, and He assures us
this is true by His Word of promise.
Consider the prodigal son, Luke 15. It took only a few hours
to get the prodigal out of the far country, but undoubtedly it
took many years to get the far country out of the prodigal.
“He was instantly forgiven and justified, declared to be not
guilty and given the tokens of acceptance: the ring, the robe
and the reception. But almost certainly there were habitual
thoughts to conquer, attacks of guilt for wasting the
inheritance and the lingering censure of his brother” (The
Complete Book of Everyday Christianity).
This is where spiritual disciplines are essential. They may be
defined as life patterns that direct us to God and disciple us
more fully into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
E. Stanley Jones observes in Conversion, “You cannot
achieve salvation by disciplines—it is the gift of God. But
you cannot retain it without disciplines”.
THE DISCIPLINED JOURNEY
In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard offers a
helpful way to survey these practices by considering spiritual
growth as a journey with three movements: first, the journey
upward (to know and love God better), including the
disciplines of solitude: planned availability, thanksgiving:
waging war on discontentment, confession: being honest with
God, and Bible meditation: crawling through Scripture.
The second movement in the journey is the journey inward (to
know and love ourselves better), to include the disciplines of
journal keeping and walking through life with Jesus (healing
Finally, the third movement is the journey outward (to know
and love others better). This movement involves the
disciplines of intercession, forgiveness, hospitality, social
action and spiritual gifts. The order is significant.
Richard Foster divides the disciplines into two categories:
disciplines of abstinence (to counteract tendencies to sins of
commission) and the disciplines of engagement (to counteract
tendencies to sins of omission).
The disciplines of abstinence include solitude, silence,
fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy and sacrifice. However,
these disciplines do not lead to balance in the spiritual
life. One struggling disciple held the following conversation
with the Lord, “Well Lord, so far so good. I haven’t said
anything hurtful or unkind yet today. No conflicts with family
members or co-workers. I haven’t lost my temper, had a lustful
thought or jealous feeling. But it really is time to get out
of bed and start getting ready for work!”
It is not enough to lie in bed and live “holy” lives. We have
to get out of bed, and engage the world, interact with people
in a holy way, in a way that matters. Thus, the disciplines of
engagement are vital. These include study, worship,
celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and
YOUR FATHER LOVES YOU
What is the Father saying to your heart regarding your life as
a disciple? Hebrews reminds us that the Lord disciplines those
He loves. He loves you dearly and calls you to a life of
discipline . . . and victory. Ask your Father how He would
have you grow in the practice of spiritual disciplines.
Disciplines are not the means of sanctification—that is God’s
work—but rather are ways of making ourselves available to God
in spiritual growth. May it be said of you, “Her life is Jesus
Christ. His life is all about disciplines toward
Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline (San
Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).
Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines:
Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: Harper &