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Reflection February 3, 2019
A Spirit of Discipline by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of self-discipline.” The author of 2nd Timothy underlies the fact that we’ve been given a spirit of self-discipline, a desire for self-discipline, a longing for self-discipline.
We know that being a disciple of Christ requires discipline. These two words go together. Without some semblance of self-discipline, we invariably go astray. Without some semblance of self-discipline, we cannot fully embrace the spirit of power and the spirit of love promised in 2nd Timothy.
One way of understanding self-discipline is to pay attention to what nourishes us, what strengthens us, what heals us. In a sense, self-discipline can be seen as attending to those people and things that nourish us, strengthen us, heal us. And self-discipline is also about avoiding those people and things that wear us down, that debilitate us, that sicken us.
The psychiatrist and writer, M. Scott Peck, in his book, The Road Less Traveled, writes: “self-discipline is….love, translated into action…” Peck suggests that self-discipline is a basic set of tools we need to be able to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. He argues: “When we teach ourselves…discipline, we are teaching ourselves how to suffer and also how to grow.”
Peck notes four tools necessary for self-discipline: 1) delaying of gratification, 2) acceptance of responsibility, 3) dedication to truth, and 4) balancing.
1) “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with…It is the only decent way to live.”
2) The acceptance of responsibility entails doing what we must in any given situation; not blaming others for what we have done, and accepting our own life.
3) A life of dedication to the truth means a willingness to be personally challenged and have our most cherished assumptions shaken. As Jan Hus, the Czech reformer and priest who was burned at the stake in Constance, Germany in 1415 for heresy wrote: “Seek the truth, listen to the truth, love the truth, abide by the truth, and defend the truth unto death.” Important words! We must be dedicated to the truth. After all, it is the truth that sets us free as Jesus proclaims in John: 8, 32.
4) Balancing is the discipline that gives us flexibility. This is both a physical trait and a psychological/spiritual trait. We must stretch ourselves often!
Flexibility was very important in my martial arts studies. Becoming a certified third degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Taekwondo was not an easy thing. I worked very hard for years to increase the flexibility of my legs so I might kick higher than before. I must admit, though, that much of that flexibility has departed as I’ve advanced into my elderhood!
Some years ago, I attended an all-day workshop titled “Aging Body, Aging Brain.” At that workshop, the presenter argued that most of us are actually committing suicide because of the lifestyles we keep. This is probably an overstatement but it’s still worth pondering. As Proverbs 5:23 asserts: “They die for lack of discipline.”
Let me add what I believe is the most important self-discipline we can achieve. The most important self-discipline is allowing oneself to be loved. This is harder than it sounds.
Many of us may imagine it’s easy to let oneself be loved by God and by others. This is not the case. It’s hard allowing oneself to be loved. We may feel unworthy of the love being offered. We may be unwilling to allow ourselves to be loved because it feels like a debt that we might not be able to pay.
Many of us, myself included, are better at giving love than in receiving love. In the bestseller, Recovering Love: Transforming Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved, the authors, Harville and Hunt, note that many people “disown compliments, minimize gestures of affection and create obstacles to true intimacy.” The authors suggest these obstacles to intimacy are the result of the self-rejection plaguing so many in our society.
Many of us have trouble allowing ourselves to be loved because we find it difficult to trust the love or the affection being offered. Do we really believe in our hearts and souls that God loves us without conditions? Or do we need to win God’s approval before God will love us? Do we really trust in the promise and the power of God’s love? The love of God comes to us most clearly through the love of others.
I know that even with my many flaws, with my many failings, I am lovable to my family, my friends, and even many of our beloved church members. The true promise of faith is to receive this love, to let it wash over me like a great geyser of grace. I don’t deserve the love that has come my way. I don’t deserve God’s love. My task is not to debate this love. My task is to receive this love, to let myself be loved. This is the most important discipline!
This discipline is essential for a well-lived life. We need to trust a world that is not very trustworthy. We need to cleanse our souls of the sickness of cynicism. We need to heal the self-rejection barricading the doors of our hearts and souls.
This healing is not always easy! But, together with God’s infinite power, we can do it! We can let God love us. We can let others love us. We can become adept at receiving love. And the more love we receive, the more love we have to share with others.
As Jesus, on the night before he died, taught us: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Words to live by!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor