Monday, October 20, 2014

Downsides of Discipline

One of the TV morning news shows recently teased about “simple ways to exercise and do it consistently.” I didn’t wait to hear what these “secrets” were, but I doubt they had anything to do with thumbs working smartphones or the remote control.

The reason I chose not to watch this “investigative report” is because I already know better. There’s no such thing as a “simple” way to commit to meaningful exercise on a regular basis. After nearly eight years of a 4-5 times a week exercise regimen, preceded by about nine years of power-walking at least three times a week, I’ve adopted the following philosophy: “I hate to exercise – but I love to have exercised.”

As far as I can tell, the only secret to effective exercise is a little word many of us hate to hear: Discipline. The discipline of selecting an appropriate time and place; the discipline of putting in a sufficient amount of time and effort; and the discipline of maintaining a commitment to keep at it consistently and frequently, three times a week or more. There’s no simple way around that.

The problem is, it seems if there’s something many Americans don’t like, it’s discipline. We want the quick fix, not a slow-but-sure solution. We want results in the short-term; nothing long-term will do. Nice and easy, not strenuous and difficult.

But I like a quote by Dorian Yates, a much-decorated English professional bodybuilder. Apparently responding to those favoring the quick and easy route, Yates stated, "Moderation in bodybuilding is a vice; moderation in discipline is a failure." He didn’t become a world champion by training in moderation. To excel, whether it’s bodybuilding, academics, a career, parenting, or even a hobby, requires a commitment to work as hard and long as necessary, and that requires discipline.

This photo of a rose trellis shows how
this "discipline" enables the roses
to grow full and beautiful.
Imagine a rosebush without a supporting trellis to provide “discipline” for its growth. Tomatoes won’t grow well on a plant that’s lying on the ground – that’s why we tie them to stakes, so they grow strong and tall. Stakes supply the “discipline.”

The Bible speaks a lot about discipline – most of it in a positive sense. For instance, Proverbs 22:6 urges parents, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." The literal meaning of this is to teach them to follow their natural bent, to discover who and what they’ve been created to be. But to do this – to discern this “bent” and guide them to pursue it properly – requires discipline, both for child and parent.  

Earlier in Proverbs we’re told, “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17), and “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). I don’t see any ambiguous meaning here.

In John 15:1-2, Jesus told His disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Dr. Bruce Wilkinson years ago wrote in his book, Secrets of the Vine, that sometimes this pruning process feels painful, but it’s done as a form of discipline, much as pruning a rosebush or grapevine isn’t done for harm but to strengthen and make more productive.

And Hebrews 12:5-8 declares God uses discipline to demonstrate His love and concern for His children: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”

The Scriptures do declare, “God is love” (as I plan to explore in a future post), but part of His love is to discipline us by training us up in the way we should go.

So if you’re going through a tough time, experiencing a season of God’s discipline, don’t despair. It might be His way of saying, “Child, I love you just the way you are. But I also love you too much to leave you that way.”

Just as in exercise we set physical goals and then discipline ourselves to follow the necessary steps to attain them, God often exerts discipline on us to get us to where He wants us to be. When the going seems hard, we must remember the adage: Father knows best.

No comments: