Monday, March 27, 2017

What All of Us Need, But Usually Don’t Want

Do you know the difference between talented people and accomplished people? We could suggest several factors, but one of the most important can be summed up in one 10-letter word: Discipline.

Talent prompts people to dabble in an activity from time to time, whether it’s artwork, craftsmanship, athletic pursuits, making investments, public speaking, or whatever else you can think of. Discipline is what enables people to take innate talents and develop them into abilities that enable them to excel far beyond their peers.

The phenomenon we call “March Madness” is a good example. Across the country are many college basketball teams with talented players. These athletes can dribble, slam-dunk, and soar through the air with astounding dexterity. And yet, their teams fall short on the scoreboard again and again; for many of them, the closest they’ll get to “the Big Dance” this year is a widescreen TV. It’s because, despite their collective talents, they’ve not learned – through the powers of discipline – how to refine those skills and become a cohesive team that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

To grow properly and fruitfully, even tomato
plants need "discipline."
Think of acclaimed musicians, or celebrated dancers: They may have been born with natural talent, an inherent knack - evident from their very first attempt – most of us could only dream of having. However, that talent won’t amount to much without the discipline to work on and master the fundamentals of their craft, learning through time and repetition to perform flawlessly even without conscious thought.

It’s not much different in everyday living. If we expect to experience joyful, fulfilling lives, it’s going to require considerable discipline. I thought about this recently while reading a wonderful chapter in the Bible, Hebrews 12, which speaks about God’s discipline of 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…. 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…. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, 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 for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11).

This passage could serve as the focus for numerous sermons. But the key point is God, in a demonstration of His love, disciplines His children – not to harm or frustrate us, but to train us to become everything He intends for us to be.

We live in a time when many people have forgotten, or never learned, the virtues of discipline. Children, even as toddlers, are encouraged to do whatever they choose. Many teenagers aren’t fettered by curfews or other parental controls. Young people entering the workplace are taken aback when superiors place rigid expectations on them, or require them to carry out their jobs according to specific guidelines. They fail to appreciate how discipline can enable them to grow and flourish as individuals – discipline exerted by more experienced people that have learned to distinguish the right ways from the wrong ways.

The Scriptures tell us even Jesus understood the importance of discipline. We’re admonished, “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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Imagine a rosebush, or a tomato plant, trying to grow without the “discipline” of a trellis or stake to keep it growing upright. It wouldn’t be very pretty, or fruitful. In like manner, God knows if we’re to realize our full potential, we must accept His discipline. It keeps us on the right path, enables us to learn dependence on Him, and prepares us for a life of service that exceeds anything we could have imagined or hoped for.

The apostle James points out, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). As the writer of Hebrews assures us, “God disciplines us for our good.”

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