Writing this series on spiritual maturity has been challenging in many positive personal aspects of my own life. It is hard to stare into the holy Word of God and not be changed when guided by the Spirit. Sometimes we do reading plans to read through a section or perhaps the whole Bible but we may as well be reading the dictionary. We simply read it to say we have read it instead of reading to learn more about our God. We must be careful how we approach everything related to our training and relationship in Christ. There must be a willingness to learn, to change, to grow. One of the things that is important to understand is that the Christian life is a disciplined life.
I always approach the subject of Christian discipline with some trepidation because so often we change discipline to legalism. We are all looking for that "To Do" list that makes everything easier whereas we are to live by the Spirit, which means that we are governed by such things as love instead of the law. (That is a subject for another blog.) The discipline of which I write does include some physical aspects. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
To become a mature Christian we must have the discipline of Bible study. We cannot grow without knowing the Word of God. It is also helpful to spend time memorizing certain key passages that the Spirit can bring back to our memory as needed. This is a daily discipline.
To become a mature Christian we must have the discipline of prayer. It is often in prayer that we will gain great insights into God and his character. It is where we wrestle to understand things in our lives. It is where we enjoy intimacy with our God. Without such intimacy we cannot move into maturity. This is a daily discipline.
To become a mature Christian we must have the discipline of worship. Worship brings a wanderer back to the throne of grace. Worship re-aligns our heart to God's. Worship renews us and washes away the muck of this world. Without it we cannot hope to move into maturity. This is a daily discipline.
To become a mature Christian we must have the discipline of witnessing for Jesus. That is why we were left here, to make disciples, to act as beacons, to be a witness to his love and glory, to preach the Good News. We find maturity in fulfilling this purpose. This is a daily discipline.
These are physical disciplines but there are other forms as well. We need the discipline of thought. I like how Paul words this; it gives me a great mental picture:
Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:26)
Many of us are like the man beating the air or the one running aimlessly. We allow or thoughts and emotions to carry us wherever they will. We allow thoughts of despair and disaster to chase us around. We allow fear to overwhelm us and dull our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. We do not take these things in hand and deal with them swiftly. We entertain deceptive thinking that draws us away from the certainty of God's promises, the solid nature of his Word. We are a people who have the appearance of faith but lack the discipline to live it.
Every thought, every emotion should be held up against the promises of God. If we truly love Jesus then we trust what he has promised. If we trust him then we will discipline our mind and our heart by forcing the Word and the Spirit to have dominance over everything else. We think we are more than what we are but without a disciplined mind and heart we will not become what he has called us to be. There needs to be discipline. Paul wrote:
Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
I don't know if Paul literally beat his body or if he was simply being poetic here but I understand what he is saying concerning such discipline. The athlete has to shape their body to do what the mind tells it to do. They have to build specific muscles, train the body to twist, turn and move in a certain way. They have to eat certain foods and deny themselves their wants for their needs. They give up time with friends to train. They give up certain pleasures to work toward their goal. This goal, if they achieve it, will only last a short time but what we are working towards will last for eternity.
Perhaps that is part of our problem, we do not understand our goal. Our goal is to be faithful to the end, faithful to the tasks to which we were charged by Jesus Christ. People may not realize it but there is more to it then the salvation of our souls. There are rewards we are earning, jewels for our crown. Some people say they are not interested in rewards but I am. I want to make my Jesus proud of my life, how I have lived, what I have done, how I have remained faithful, how many people I brought along with me. I don't want to limp over the finish line, I want to cross it with great gusto, with joy in having run a good race. I want to hear him say "Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter in." I want as many jewels as I can get so when I place my crown at his feet there is great value to it. I want to make him proud.
The Christian life is a disciplined life because we are warriors who are being trained. It is like training on the job that never ends. A soldier must always keep training, exercising his body for strength, practicing his fighting to increase skill, disciplining his mind for single purpose. This is who we are, spiritually soldiers engaged in a war that will end all wars. We need to take it seriously and we need to invest ourselves in it 100%. There is no place for fence sitters or spectators. You have been called to serve mighty warrior so get your discipline on and join the fight. Every loving action you take, every encouraging word you speak, every forgiveness, correction, instruction you hand out are strikes against our foe. Become a person of spiritual discipline so you do not look like a fool beating the air. If you are disciplined you will not be fighting against your own thoughts and emotions but instead you will be focused on striking against the enemy of our soul.