Although I never served in the military, my father served for more than 22 years, so I’ve always said he served enough time for us both. Growing up as an Army brat, I gained an appreciation for many of the principles that embody effective military service. One of them is discipline.
We’ve all seen on TV or in the movies the images of boot camps where new enlistees are trained to follow orders, whether it’s marching in step, standing at attention, dressing sharply, making their bed every morning according to rigid specifications, and many others. As much as anything, these are designed to teach discipline. In wartime there’s no place for individuality; it’s all for one, one for all.
We see the same on display for championship sports teams. The best teams feature athletes who understand their respective roles and work together. Understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Even star players must rely on the support of their teammates, and that calls for discipline.
So it’s sometimes dismaying to see the precipitous decline of discipline in our society today. Parents who refuse to discipline their children, explaining, “I want them to learn to make their own decisions.” When they’re two or three years old? Come on! Seriously? As a result, we see whining kiddos in the grocery store, annoying everyone around them while the parent scans the shelves, apparently oblivious to the commotion “little Billy” is creating.
And it doesn’t get better as they get older. Teachers report about the chaos in their classrooms and inability to manage them because they haven’t learned such things as respect, self-control, attentiveness and being quiet. Judging from video clips I’ve seen of students on college campuses, it only gets worse.
Discipline, we are led to believe, is outdated and restrictive. Certainly not in line with “Me Generation” thinking. However, it’s something the Bible addressed thousands of years ago and I believe it remains crucial for 21stcentury living. Especially with so many distractions vying for our attention, we desperately need discipline just to keep on track.
For instance, Proverbs 3:11-12 tells us, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves as a father the son he delights in.” Could it be that parents refusing to properly discipline a child are lacking in love, that they would rather avoid the hard work and inconvenience of having to say “No” or insisting that rules be followed?
Another passage, Proverbs 22:6, admonishes parents, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” This doesn’t necessarily say that if we take our children to church regularly and teach them to pray, this guarantees they will be lifelong followers of Jesus Christ. It does literally mean to teach them to follow their natural bent, to determine how God designed them so they can enjoy fruitful, rewarding lives. (Hopefully following Jesus will be a part of that.)
Consider a grapevine that is regularly pruned for greater fruitfulness, and attached to fencing or stakes so it will grow properly. Jesus referred to this when He said, “I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener (vinedresser). He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1-2).
To the uninitiated, the idea of cutting back or pruning a vine, a rosebush, hydrangeas or other plants seems counter-productive. But for experienced gardeners it makes absolute sense because they know the process stimulates future growth and health.
Years ago I heard Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, author of Secrets of the Vine,explain the difference between discipline and punishment from God’s perspective. Both can feel the same, he said, causing discomfort or even some pain, but their purpose is very different. Discipline – pruning – is designed to correct us and cause us to grow the right way spiritually, while punishment is executing judgment for wrongs.
The writer of Hebrews expressed it succinctly: “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…. 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).
So why don’t we recapture this virtue of discipline, whether for training our children, for mastering a vocation or craft, or most important, for growing into the followers of Jesus Christ that God intends for us to be?