Discipline Thy Self

Posted: November 4, 2009 in self
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Rowing Toward GodSelf-discipline

I grew up reading. I read over one hundred books in the 4th grade. I loved to read.

One day in my high schoo English class, my teacher asked me to read out loud a section of the literature we were studying. I remember it well. I was sitting on the right side, along the wall trying to blend into the paint.

I was a reader, but when she said my name, my mouth went into a draught. My heart began to protrude through the veins in my neck. I forgot my mother’s maiden name. I lost control of my lips. I had to read so I began. On one particular aspirated consonant I think I spit on the girl in front of me. I died twice in the next three minutes.

I have never told anyone how afraid I felt that day until writing this. But I’m in good company. More than 90 percent of Americans say they have been shy at some time in their lives. Almost half say they’re shy now. Many feel weak, not powerful, shy not confident.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 It wasn’t until half way through my eleventh grade I realized high school was not going to last forever. I also came to the awareness that my teachers were keeping records. It came as a shock. Grades matter? They will follow me into the next stage of life?

 I had invited Jesus to be my savior when I was eight. I wasn’t living my life for God in high-school, but now I know that I that is when I heard a whisper inside. It was as if someone said, “Get ready.” Someone  was moving an awareness in me. I Began to sense that I had a spirit of power and self-discipline inside me.

 I decided to aim high. I took typing. I learned the keyboard.

 To be disciplined means to adhere to a certain order. Discipline refers to systematic, orderly instruction given to a disciple. Self-discipline refers to the regular training that one gives one’s self to accomplish a certain task. Hit those keys without looking. Memorize that keyboard.

Self-discipline isn’t one choice, it’s a million choices in the same direction. In late high school, I began to make that choice again and again, the choice to try.

Ben Franklin was the master of self-discipline. But his self-discipline was different than Christian self-discipline. The beginning point for Ben was self and the motivation was self-improvement. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

But for us God followers, the beginning point of all order and discipline in our lives is not “early” but it is God, his voice, his plan, not ours.

Before you know it, after high school, I landed in college.  I majored in English. Over the next five years I read hundreds of books and papers, almost every one at the last minute. I took a credential in teaching, and an  MA in literature. I began a life of scholarly discipline.

I remember a moment of few years ago of exquisite beauty. It was a moment of identity, of fulfillment. I got a phone call. It was from one of the editors at Leadership Journal, Christianity Today’s magazine for pastors. They wanted  to publish the article I wrote and sent them on reading groups. It was entitled,  ”It’s Not Ophra’s Book Club.”

 Someone else would read what I wrote. Other leaders and pastors would benefit from these ideas. It wasn’t something everybody cares about, strives for. But for me it was a beautifully satisfying moment. It was a moment I had been looking forward to for a long time. The high school kid who didn’t study and who was afraid to read, who took typing, had finally typed what others would read.

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

I remember sitting in Starbucks in Eastlake in the spring of 2006. I sat with my coffee looked out window at the tall, ornamental grass glowing in the sun.   A friend of mine had just told me that he wanted to go back to South Africa. And then he said something surprising. He wanted to know if I wanted to go with him.

He had taught school their in the 1980’s and worked for Campus Crusade for Christ. He wanted to go to Johannesburg and Soweto and to Swaziland.  There was much need there to train and encourage pastors.

I have never really wanted to go to South Africa. I looked out over pampas grass growing outside Starbucks. It was beautiful in the sun. I thought of the veld, of the beauty I had seen in pictures of Africa. Every so faintly, not a voice, but in my mind, God whispered again, “Get ready. I have people for you.”

 Over the next few months I got shots, bought malaria medicine, had my passport renewed, prepared sermons, bought clothes, read books on Africa, prayed, went to planning meetings, spoke to pastors in Africa on the phone to see what they needed, wrote letters to  raise money. And I went to a lawyer and had my estate put  in a trust.

 With much self-discipline, I prepared myself. And then we flew, for two days.

I’ll never forget one Sunday morning in Soweto. I stood in a tent on a dirt floor in a suit. My wife and my fellow travelers and I were the only whites in the tent church.  In front of me was the pain of AIDS and death and loss of children and loss of dreams. I looked out at the pain of Africa, at the people God was sharing with me, and I remembered the pain in my own family and  my own heart and all the hard things God had taken me through.

I preached a message called “Pain Gain,” translated into Swahili. It was as if my whole life led up to that moment, all the pain of loss and all the study and all the risks of coming to Africa met. At the end, half of the church came forward, crying, praying, seeking healing. Then they prayed for me and my team. I cried. It was a moment.

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

When I was little, my parents moved to Missouri where my dad took the job of running a Christian campground. We built a home there, for economy  we put in a wood burning furnace in the basement. It was a fire breathing dragon; it ate big logs and kept us toasty warm.

 My job, as a small boy, was to split and haul wood into the basement. I had to bring the stacked wood up to the red line my dad had marked on the wall. I spent many afternoons in  the winter snow and cold, splitting big logs with an ax and a chisel.  I remember so clearly the “thunk” as the wood I threw it up hit and it the wall.  It was the sound was the sound of  self-discipline, and in this manner I learned to work with my hands, and with tools.  It was regular, it was systematic, it was required – by my dad. And God whispered, although I didn’t hear it then. “You may be headed out into life to be a brain worker, but I am going to need you to know how to use your hands.”

After I married and had first daughter my wife  and I bought a house. We bought work. It had been built in the 1940’s. Again I took  up tools. I tore off old dark wood paneling and  I sheet rocked the kitchen.  I took out an old sink in the bathroom and put in a new one. I peeled  back a flat roof and repaired it.

 In the last few weeks I have had a lot to do. I have counseled  people; I have studied, I have written, I have taught classes. I have done brain work, and people work.

But also, in my spare time, I have gone about my church, and I have gotten down on my knees on the floor in  the preschool room and scrapped dirt off the floor with a razor blade.  I have fixed door handles. I have climbed up on the roof of one of the buildings and checked it out for repairs. I have worked on bids to replace the awnings. I know how to work and I have worked like l learned to work throwing up wood against a wall.

And I have had some moments, while working, when God whispered again. He has said, although I didn’t hear an audible voice:  ”I taught you years ago how to work, how to work hard. I taught you how to use your hands in a disciplined way. Now may passion for my  house consume you. You’ve fixed your own houses. Now renew my house. And I don’t want you to do it alone.”

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 1 Cor. 9:26-27 says this in the Message version, “I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. “

 God has put in us the ability to control ourrselves, to discipline ourselves.  We Christians are not by our new nature lazy, afraid, or uncaring. God has put his spirit in us, he has given us power and control over our impulses, our bodies and our thoughts.

If you open to his voice, God is currently speaking to you, whispering your next adventure to you, gently telling you, “Get ready.  Get self-disciplined. ” And if you listen to his prompting something new will begin. Within your bordered self, a you, a unique personality will begin to be formed by the work you discipline yourself to do. A being will be freed and personage empowered. We change through self-discipline, initiated by God.

 We are a people following a voice. We are a people living within God, infused with God,  a God who himself puts a spirit of self-discipline in us. It is a God directed, God empowered self-discipline.  

 It changes us: it changes the world.

  1. Sue Hekman says:

    Very powerful, Randy! And challenging. Thank you for your reasoned AND inspiring thought.
    Those two traits are not often found together.

    I especially love the line “Self-discipline isn’t one choice, it’s a million choices in one direction.”

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